Further examples of the change in mind set by fans are that of Neymar, criticised for being a ‘show off’ and disrespecting his opponents, but he isn’t doing anything that Rivelino didn’t do in the 1970’s. Paul Gascoigne is one of the most popular English players in history, despite a number of personal problems in his life that became public. Yet Steven Gerrard, a midfielder that arguably achieved much more in his career and was devoted to the team and people he loved was hated by a number of people outside of Liverpool. Not because he was a bad player, or underperformed for his nation, but because he was a Liverpool player and they supported a rival team.
This isn’t just a change that has affected football fans though, it’s more of a general change in social mind set. In tennis there is Serena Williams, golf has Tiger Woods, Darts Phil Taylor and motor racing Lewis Hamilton, all are, or have been, the best in the World at their sport, contenders for best of all time. Yet each one has been victims of huge critique from the general public, from the fans of their sport. Whether it be fans of rival competitors, backing of the underdog or just a way of going against the system, fans find a way of feeding their negativity towards the people who should be regarded as legends of the modern era. Our Jack Nicklaus, Steffi Graf, Eric Bristow and Juan Fangio’s, but the respect is not what it should be. Even outside of sport, musicians, actors and artists are still very much in the public eye, but are not held in quite the same esteem of those in the past. The legends of yesteryear are still pined for, while those of today are routinely mocked and discredited of any real talent.
But what’s the reason behind this change? In football the days of hooliganism and crowd trouble are not gone, but thankfully have reduced significantly, instead of literal fights now we have a ‘passive aggressive’ hatred of each other. So in that, criticism and verbal attacks go from being against your rival fan, to your rival fans heroes. Then once that position has been taken it’s very difficult to look at the players you turned on in a positive or fair light based on their achievements in the game. Take Frank Lampard as an example, as Chelsea became a force both in England and Europe with their vast financial backing, Lampard was one of the better players. A true professional, he gave no reason to be the target of hatred and abuse, but as a key figure in the team and a hero to the Chelsea fans, rival supporters would pick on him as a way of attacking Chelsea fans. This affected his England career with his inclusion very often booed by supporters, a fate also endured by fellow Chelsea players John Terry and Ashley Cole. Now Lampard is at the end of his career, playing out his final days in New York, we should be looking back proudly as Englishman at his achievements. Premier League titles, Champions league winner, capped internationally many times, a goal scoring record breaker from midfield. But we don’t see him that way, well Chelsea fans do and to an extent so do Manchester City fans after his season at the Etihad. The media hype has not helped this mind set with fans, every game is built up as the biggest ever with huge repercussions, and this creates a win at all costs tribal atmosphere that has little love for anything or anyone outside of their own particular club.
This has had a damaging effect on international football, no longer are games played with an entire nation behind them in support, now support is split into factions aiming jeers at certain players, cheers at others. This is not just in England, where Wayne Rooney is one of many regular targets for those in the stands, bars and living rooms. In Germany recently Mesut Özil was booed by sections of the German fans, Gerard Piqué is bombarded by the Spanish fans whenever he touches the ball due to his pro-Catalan stance and even Lionel Messi was criticised by Argentina fans in the early years of his international career because of his Spanish footballing education. This all seems to stem from the increasing battle between club and country, a contest that club have been winning for the last decade. As an England fan it has been a while since I have watched the nation in a tournament, knowing that the nation is united behind them. Possibly the 2004 European Championships was the last time, after that the link between certain players and their club sides began to sway opinion on their ability and total support was lost. It was around that period that the last legends of the game were about to disappear, Zidane and Brazilian Ronaldo remain beloved by all with no mention of their various club sides, players who have come since then are struggling to be held up against the same standards.
Today players themselves are more exposed in the public eye than ever before, this extends to all sportsman and other celebrities. In the past there was always the shroud of mystique where the fans would never really know who their heroes really were, what they enjoyed doing, they would only see them on the stage of which they performed and would sit in awe. Now with news outlets delving deeper into their lives each year, and social media providing a direct connection from ‘Joe Public’ to the star, the mystique has gone, the curtain pulled back, they are revealed as normal people just like you and I. Maybe it’s against our human nature to revel in others quality and glory if they are just the same as us, maybe we need our heroes to be cut from a different cloth, almost that of myth, because after all legends and myths often travel hand in hand.