Football is about the players and it’s also about the supporters; a lot of the appeal of the game is based on the on-field battle between two teams of players – as well as the off-field rivalry, often raucous and profane, between two rabidly opposed sets of fans.
But there’s also that vexatious relationship between the players of any particular team and the supporters of the club those players turn out for. That’s always been an interesting dynamic to say the least – you often hear players say that their fans’ support is worth an extra man, or a goal start. This has often been the case at Leeds United in particular, where the fervour and volume of support, the sheer intensity of the fans, has traditionally been of legendary proportions.
Nowadays, though, there’s an extra dimension to that fan/player interaction. It used to be about massed chants and acres of swaying scarves on the Kop. The nearest a fan got to any one-to-one repartee was perhaps a supporters’ club function. All that changed with the advent of social media. Now, fans can make their views known to a wide audience via blogs and the ubiquitous Internet forum. Or they can get up close and personal, by tweeting their views directly to their heroes @Twitter. Often, this can be productive and useful, or at least funny and entertaining.
But unfortunately, there’s always the odd one or two that go way too far and cross the line. And that’s happened this week, in the wake of Leeds United’s late surrender of two points at Bristol City.
There are those who feel that United ‘keeper Marco Silvestri was not entirely free of blame in at least one of City’s two last-gasp goals. Fair enough, it’s a point of view that I can relate to. And the opportunity is clearly there, in these instant communication times, to get your frustration and annoyance out there. The replacement of Silvestri by Ross Turnbull was strongly mooted. Nothing wrong with that, we all have our opinions.
But – actual death threats, aimed at Silvestri and his family? Tweeting that you hope the Leeds ‘keeper crashes his car and dies? Really?? What on earth motivates people – even assuming that they’re clueless, attention-seeking kids – what could possibly move any human being deliberately to visit such chilling and malicious filth on another human being – all because something went awry in a game of football? Note the Twitter handles well: @billylufc_ and @akawhatadave – let’s hope they can be shamed as well as named.
And there I shall stop speculating on whatever mental process led up to the publication of such tawdry, irresponsible rubbish. It simply beats me that anyone could even imagine doing such a thing. To try and figure out the motivations behind this perversion is surely a hopeless task. We’re talking about diseased minds here, and profoundly inadequate personalities.
The main point, surely, is that the player or players targeted by such evil rubbish should be protected from it in the future. This is not a case of “sticks and stones“. Direct threats in particular have to be taken seriously, lest someone should fall tragically foul of that one in ten thousand case where the sicko actually means it, and acts accordingly. And when players’ families are involved, it’s all the more important to take a very stern line where at all possible.
Idiots on Twitter have felt the weight of the law in the past, and this should definitely be the aim in the cases highlighted here as well as any similar cases. Leeds United have a responsibility to report the matter, fans’ groups should be seeking to assist in this, and the police should investigate and act without delay. It’s not beyond the wit of man to hold these nasty little people to account, and to leave them in no doubt that they’ve made a serious error of judgement; that such unsavoury behaviour will not be tolerated.
Sadly, at least one prominent Leeds fans’ publication, The Square Ball, seem very reticent about requests that they should condemn these vicious tweets and assist in the ostracism of those responsible. This blog is at a loss to understand what appears to be a head-in-the-sand stance from such a respected publication. Perhaps they will have second and better thoughts. Please.
In the meantime, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything calls upon Leeds United AFC, the Football authorities and the police to act with all speed and vigour, in order to ensure there is no repetition of such extreme unpleasantness. All decent fans of Leeds, and indeed of Football and sport in general, will surely wish to condemn the offenders and see them pulled up short.
It’s not a pleasant subject to write or to read about. But there is no place for squeamishness here, nor for faint hearts, nor elastic principles. The players and their families must be sheltered from the kind of evil inherent in the examples you see above.
That, surely, is something we can all agree on.