I have to admit that I’m getting more and more vexed with a section of Leeds United’s online “support”. I use the word “support” there in its loosest possible sense, as there is usually very little in the attitude of these people (or trolls, or fakes, depending on how clearly you can see behind the facade) to suggest that they have the best interests of United at heart.
The current target of this tragic tribe appears to be Tyler Roberts – a regular Welsh international and Leeds United’s Player Ambassador for Equality and Diversity. Tyler is 22 years old, a salient fact to which we shall return later. In the meantime, though, let’s just consider the fact of what has become an online campaign of abuse and negativity, against a broader background of what we mean when we talk about “supporters”.
The sad truth is that, these days, there needs only be an official LUFC tweet confirming that Tyler is in the starting line-up (or maybe even only a substitute role) to start a negativity bandwagon rolling, with many opportunistic whingers falling over each other in their eagerness to jump aboard. This is a social media phenomenon, let’s not forget, the tendency of the lonely and inadequate among us to join in the pillorying of a hapless target, particularly one who cannot answer back. It’s despicable, of course, and anathema to those who know what support is all about, with the positive effect good support can have upon a young player who needs the odd confidence boost here and there.
Social media is, let’s face it, an absolute gift to cowards everywhere, to the type of people who would never say boo to the proverbial goose, yet are emboldened by the anonymity afforded them behind their computer keyboards, and feel able to enter the market for lols and likes, that currency common to those tragically unable to show any merit in their own sorry existences, and who instead thrive on the hollow approval of kindred spirits who are similarly afflicted.
It was a case in point today. The official Leeds United Facebook account carried the story of young Tyler’s appointment as Player Ambassador for Equality and Diversity, a positive news item in these troubled times – or so you’d have thought. But no, it swiftly turned into a parade of what I earnestly hope were fake United fans, each competing with the one before to appear the cruellest and most dismissive, hoping to gain the approval of their fellow trolls. Most of these specimens probably don’t know one end of a football from another, and maybe therein lies their problem – it must rankle with these inadequates that the likes of Roberts will have far more talent in their little fingers than the trolls collectively could ever dream of. But they don’t stop to think of how they might thus appear to proper Leeds supporters. It’s all about lols and likes for them, because they simply crave the approval of – well, anyone really.
As if it really mattered, any Leeds fan with even an inkling of insight and football knowledge can see that Tyler Roberts is a very talented young man; one who, if properly coached with his latent ability sufficiently nurtured, has the potential to become an effective top-flight and international footballer. And it doesn’t really matter, on the face of it, as Roberts has the evident approval of the only man who really does matter, one Marcelo Bielsa. Against that, it is futile to argue – though of course the trolls will still try – those lols and likes aren’t going to just fall into their laptops, you know. Sadly, every coward needs a scapegoat who can’t strike back and, in that respect, Tyler is a credible target for them. And they won’t care that he’s only 22. For yer average cowardly troll, the younger the better – as it’s the youngsters, generally speaking, whose confidence can most easily be knocked, which is the Holy Grail for cowards, fakes and trolls.
Tyler Roberts is very young, as previously stated. It’s his tragedy that this puts him in the crosshairs of those who like to snipe from deep cover with no possibility of consequences. And, seemingly, it’s Leeds United’s tragedy that they have so many such creatures among their largely blameless and authentic online support. Still, it’s a significant and vociferous, if repellent, minority – and several Leeds players over the last year or so have confirmed that this sort of criticism, brainless and unqualified though it may be, does affect confidence. And that is detrimental to individual and team performance, whether or not you care to believe it.
Tyler Roberts has years ahead of him to fulfil that undoubted potential and become an integral cog in an effective Leeds United machine. This blog sincerely hopes that he will achieve that; if he does, it will be very much in spite of these clueless trolls. It’s worth considering that, when Harry Kane was just a year or so younger than Tyler Roberts is now, he was on loan at Leicester City, and not pulling up too many trees. I saw him playing for the Foxes in a sensational play-off semi-final defeat to Watford, and he didn’t particularly catch the eye. But he was young, and his greatness was ahead of him.
I’m not saying that Tyler Roberts will go on to emulate Harry Kane, who is a fabulous player – but Tyler too is young, and he will only get better, especially under the guidance of Bielsa. Whether he’ll be able to rise above the catcalls of the online, anonymous mob is a question yet to be answered; he’ll have to find and count on an inner core of strength that will allow him to mature into a consistent performer who lives up to the promise those flashes of brilliance so clearly reveal. Fingers crossed on that one. Trolls and fakes aside, every Leeds fan should be a Tyler Roberts supporter, gladly offering the encouragement every young, talented player needs. If we can do that, we’ll all reap the rewards.
Well, all but the cowardly, anonymous minority, that is.
Marching On Together