The nervous tension has been slowly building since your alarm clock shook you from your slumber this morning, the atmosphere on the much travelled road to the ground has got the blood pumping, you’re running a little late and the queues at the turnstiles are long and snaking, there’s a danger you’ll miss kick off. The queue moves quicker than expected however, and you reach your usual seat just in time to see your heroes take to the field. Eleven brave men, about to enter battle for your club, for the shirt, for the crest. This is what being a football fan is all about.
Football fandom by its very nature requires a degree of idolisation, and the eleven on the pitch are your de-facto idols.
The problem is what if your idol is a prick? Not like your mate who’s a bit irritating (you know the one that you can’t really remember why you’re friends in the first place) but a genuinely awful human being? Is it possible, is it acceptable even, to idolise someone who in any other walk of life would offend your moral sensibilities?
Let me throw out a personal example to illustrate what I’m trying to say. As a Celtic supporter in my mid 20′s one of the most exciting, enthralling and quite simply ludicrous players I have ever seen in the green and white is Paolo DiCanio. He was only with us for a short time (before being part exchanged with Regi Blinker in a piece of transfer business that saddened the very soul of the game) but I bloody loved him, I loved him doing “keepie-uppies” on the byline, I loved him scoring a penalty then going off his nut and pushing everyone in the vicinity, I loved his garish golden boots. Now, you all know what’s coming, yes as an (occasionally militant) “leftie” I find his politics abhorrent. There is a conflict between my younger self who was overjoyed by his allegiance to jaw-droppingly brilliant football and my adult self who is appalled by his allegiance to fascist ideology. Can I separate the footballer and the man? Do I want to?
The recent comments on homosexuality from Italian international Antonio Cassano have presented a similar conundrum. A player I’ve always loved to watch and who was a 40 goal a season man for me in one particularly impressive Aston Villa side in Football Manager (always the quickest way to a football fans heart) is clearly a homophobe. Can you admire the player but abhor the person?
Now I’m not trying to start anything here, and I’m not trolling, but…..to all you Liverpool fans out there, how do you feel cheering on Luis Suarez? I have no doubt the vast vast majority of the Liverpool support are not racist in any way, and in any other situation would make a social pariah out of anyone found guilty of directing racially aggravated abuse at someone in the workplace. But that is what Suarez did (as well as deceiving the club legend manager) and he has been pretty much backed to the hilt by the Anfield faithful. It seems the majority of Liverpool fans are happy to separate Suarez the player from Suarez the person.
There are other examples that are slightly less clear cut. John Terry for example is generally considered to be a bit of a “bawbag” (I’m discounting the upcoming court case ‘cause I don’t fancy getting sued) but the tribal nature of football fans mean that in the eyes of many Stamford Bridge regulars he is an idol, a hero, a brave leader of men. If he behaved the way he reportedly behaves and was for example a plumber rather than a footballer, you’d be ignoring his texts, un-friending him on facebook and blocking him on twitter. He would be as far from hero status as you could possibly imagine. But because of his uncanny ability to block goal bound shots, and impassioned chest thumping a hero he is.
This might just be a growing problem, as more and more footballers embrace twitter we now know more than ever what our “idols” are really like, Some are idiots, some are mind numbingly boring (Michael Owen I’m looking at you), some are homophobic, and then of course there’s Joey Barton.
They say you should never meet your heroes and whoever “they” are, they make a salient point (not that I think Barton is anyone’s hero).
Really we should all just stop putting these men up on a pedestal, I mean after all they are just human beings, as flawed as you and I, they are no better than us except when it comes to kicking a ball about in a field. Idolising these freakishly talented individuals skews our moral compass and in many cases leads us to defend the indefensible.
Footballers should not be idolised, they should certainly not be held up as “role-models”, the game and probably humanity itself would be a hell of a lot healthier that way.
This article originally appeared on the sadly departed Football Project