Racism and homophobia are always wrong, but can any abuse of players be justified?

by Tony Attwood


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One of the things that footballers tend not to do is to respond to abuse from fans, no matter what is said.  The theory seems to be that if one engages in the debate then it legitimises what the abuser says.

I’ve never really bought into this view, because it seems to me to lead to a situation where one vision of reality dominates the discussion and no one is allowed to respond.

This is indeed what happens with regards to the remorseless criticism of Arsenal by alleged fans and their allies in the media, and the associated view that the only solutions are to change the manager and buy a completely new team.

Likewise the rule seems to be for players not to respond when they are attacked and jeered by their own fans or opposition fans: the treatment Xhaka got after he reacted to fans was a case in point.   The media lept onto the issue, and not in a way that was helpful to Arsenal or the player of course.  Xhaka was being jeered, booed and criticised as he has been for much of his time at Arsenal.  Was it surprising that he reacted?

However it seems this trend of one-way abuse without response can be reversed.   As when the fans seemed more interested in taunting the player Kyrie Irving (who was not playing) than watching basketball.  He played for Boston Celtics for two seasons, after which he signed with the Brooklyn Nets as a free agent in 2019.  And even though he was not playing the recent game between the Celtics and the Nets (which Boston Celtics won) the Celtics fans jeered him throughout.

The media – including the media in the UK – that covered the story, then reported the player’s reaction very negatively.  The Guardian for example dismissed his response as a “lengthy and rambling post” despite the fact that it deals with issues like trying to come to terms with the death of a family member, and the ludicrous notion that sport means more than life.

I think it is a piece that is worth reading, not because it is well written (the author is a sportsman not a writer by trade) but because it reflects the inner feelings of a top sports star – something we really don’t hear very much about.

I was particularly taken with the statement that, “This game of sports entertainment matters more than someone’s mental health and well being right?”

That’s a point constantly forgotten by sports journalists – it is a game, but it is not life.  Here’s the post…

Much to the annoyance of some commentators on this site I have been writing a little about how journalists, bloggers and fans are interpreting football as more than football and who are drawing conclusions based on tiny amounts of evidence.

But here is a person who is centrally involved in sport as a player, for once speaking out and saying the current view is nonsense.  In a literary sense, this is not a well-rounded piece of prose, but it comes from the heart and says, sport is not a metaphor for life.

I have been known to boo and shout at players (although less so as I have got older), but by and large because of players acting in a way that is dangerous.  Shawcross was one example.  Martin Taylor who crippled Eduardo is another.  Paul Robinson who stopped Diaby having the magnificent career that was clearly ahead of him, a third.

Yes I have booed and jeered these players because they were clearly a danger to those around them, and equally clearly the game of football has no proper mechanism for dealing with them.  They committed violent and dangerous assault but got away with it almost unscathed.  But to boo a player who has moved on to another club, when he is not even playing?  Surely there is something more important going on, like the game itself.  And beyond the game there are many more important things: like the rest of life, the well-being of family and friends, trying to be helpful and kind… that sort of stuff.

Making sport more important than morality is not a clever thing to do in my opinion.   Maybe Kyrie Irving is not a very good writer, maybe he has made a lot of money out of sport, but the issues he raises still are important.


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8 Replies to “Racism and homophobia are always wrong, but can any abuse of players be justified?”

  1. @tony, and that’s the point. Its just a game, the cheers the boos inclusive. Arsene Wenger won 3 league titles, took a team unbeaten through the season, SAF won 13 league titles, it’s just a game. Someone says Sanogo is the worst footballer in history? It’s just a game, entertainment. Fans are angry on aftv after spending huge amounts on season tickets? It has no significance in the larger scheme of life. They go back home to their jobs and families to make money out of which they will pay for next year’s season ticket. I doubt they will commit suicide even if arsenal gets relegated. It’s a game, that’s how they play theirs, you also play yours. At the end of the day if you and those booing fans had to make a decision, your jobs or arsenal, you’ll both probably pick your jobs.
    To for the players there might be a dilemma, since arsenal (and their various teams) is the job. So out of compulsion/expectation arsenal should be high up their priority, maybe just below their families. After all it’s those booing fans who provide the money with which they sustain those families. I don’t necessarily like my boss, he doesn’t even directly pay my salary, since I work for the government. But my job description requires that I respect him and not talk back to retain the job and get paid(handsometroubles. It also expects me to be courteous to the clients even though they may be rude. The management for responding to them and in some cases, taking their money too. Same in Xhaka’s case. It’s not his place to respond to the fans. His job is to play football to the best of his ability and collect his fat pay at the end of the week. If he has issues with the fans he should bring it up with the management who are in a better position to address the fans, and more importantly take their money, from where they will pay Xhaka for his troubles

  2. When my REAL LIFE is running along just fine then Arsenal do seem to take a disproportionate place in my life.

    But this is hardly surprising as I have been a supporter for over 50 years. I have a massive emotional investment in Arsenal.

    As such, how Arsenal are doing can have a significant effect on how I feel on a day to day basis.

    When Arsenal are generally doing poorly, as they have been recently, I tend to, for my own well being, disengage a little.

    I have found not getting involved in the negativity helps.

    I have found trying to stay positive helps.

    I have found keeping things in perspective helps.

    I have found maintaining my support of the players, manager and Club helps.

    After all, why would I want to start abusing something I love and that I have invested so much of my heart and sole in ?

    When Arsenal are generally doing well life just seems a little sunnier. I love coming on here and feeling the joy that we all feel (well most of us) when things are going well.

    But beyond ‘general’ feelings, Arsenal have given me some of the most joyous moments in my life, as well as some of the worst.

    Winning Titles and Cups have almost always evoked tears of unbridled joy, joy that can last for months, even years.

    Some defeats have also reduced me to tears.

    So yes, Arsenal are MASSIVE in my footballing LIFE.

    BUT that is when REAL LIFE is just trundling along. When everything else in my REAL LIFE is just fine.

    But when things in my REAL LIFE are not trundling along then all of a sudden winning an FA Cup means nothing. Losing a North London Derby goes unnoticed.

    So when he says:



    I know exactly what he means.

  3. Re:Xhaka getting booed off the pitch and his reaction.
    I was not at the game…others were and have given widely varying reoorts on what went on. It seems as though there were a few boos when he was subbed but that the mass excoriation of the player occurred because,
    1. He strolled off the pitch at a time when Arsenal were pressing for a goal
    2. He reacted angrily to this.

    Both these actions are unacceptable, particularly by the team captain. As another commentator has said, in his job he has to suck it up when customers are rude to him. That is professionalism. Yes we are all human and have lives outside our jobs and would like to be treated with civility wherever we go, but when the job is just a 90 minute game then the players as well as the fans need to remember that, especially when they are being paid more in a week than most of their customers earn in a year.

    I went to the ballet last night. The dancers all performed exquisitely. If one of them had fallen or missed a cue, there would have been a gasp of sympathy from the audience and heartening applause at the end, to encourage them. If they fell over or missed their cue week in, week out, eventually crowds would boo as performers are expected to meet certain standards. Never mind that they are trying their best -if they ain’t good enough, why should the patrons of the Royal Opera House pay top money for a sub-standard product?

    Xhaka has generally been a disappointment since he joined Arsenal- the reckless fouls leading to red cards at the beginning, the regular misplaced passes giving the ball away, his lack of positional awareness, his lack of leadership… apart from the very occasional long range goal, all these add up to a very unsatisfactory display from an expensive performer.

    It’s a tough world out there and those who elect to scramble to the top of the pile have to expect catcalls when they don’t deliver, along with the bouquets when they do well.

    Yes, it’s only a game and cheering and booing are part & parcel of it. Nobody died as a result of Xhaka’s being booed. I don’t boo just because Arsenal lose, I’ve been supporting them since 1963 and there has always been booing when a player failed to deliver. Remember David Court? Remember Alan Skirton?..to name but two. Both of them subjected to the worst kind of insults from the terraces, then instantly became heroes if they scored.
    It’s not a logical activity, being a football fan. There is not a single person (ok, except maybe Charlie George if he’s still doing the stadium tours) around since I first started going to Highbury. Even the ground, badge & motto are different. Supporting a particular team is about attaching our own personal feelings re: success & failure, to an external cause. Heroes & villains etc. It is not meant to be taken seriously.

  4. “Yes we are all human and have lives outside our jobs and would like to be treated with civility wherever we go, but when the job is just a 90 minute game then the players as well as the fans need to remember that,”

    But the reaction wasn’t about just the booing as he walked off was and well you know that,or did you not see his subsequent statement:

    “Granit Xhaka issues statement after outburst at Arsenal fans, says online abuse aimed at his wife and daughter sparked angry reaction”

    So lets not pretend Xhaka reacted to one isolated event at one match because that would be a gross misinterpretation of the situation. You know, unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, that Xhaka has be roundly critisised personally by both media and fans.

    So given all that to infer he should just ‘suck it up’ is to exhibit a complete and utter ignorance of human nature and human emotions.

    Yes I agree, if it was just an isolated bit of ‘booing’ then his reaction could of been seen as disproportionate, and I could see where you are coming from, but given the constant personal abuse he has received, exacerbated by the disgraceful abuse of his family, which I assume you know about, then I think his reaction was perfectly understandable.

    If you don’t that’s up to you but personally I think you are wrong.

  5. @Nitram,

    I fully agree. each of us acts and reacts based on a whole ‘movie’, our life. Making a judgement on a snapshot (a moment) is just wrong.

    Everyone assumed Ozil did not care, was definitely lost and incapable. Yet no one, or a few, did take into account how the attempted mugging could have thrown him off-balance.

    And all these judgemental people – and many of the bruall harrasser – would be the first ones to tell the Jury : please consider the whole picture, the mitigating circumstances…

    But then, on the simple ‘merit’ of them having spent some pounds for a ticket, they feel they have the right to destroy anyone participating in the ‘show.

  6. OT: State Aid and Mike (the dancer) Dean

    It appears we truly paid a large cost for that win. Tierney out for up to 3 months with a dislocated shoulder. And neither Dean or VAR could see anything wrong with it.

    And the medja continue to pretend that it doesn’t matter what happens to Arsenal, it is all legal and “part of the game”. They all spend their lives with their heads in the sand (or something).

  7. You miss the point.
    Football is amoral. It’s not about right and wrong, it’s about winning and losing.

    Morality doesn’t come into it.
    However, it’s just a game, and in a sense serves a social purpose by allowing people (mainly men) to let off steam.
    So, the booing and swearing and complaining that goes on amongst all fans is no bad thing.
    If players, earning millions a year are unhappy with criticism from fans, there’s a simple way to remedy that.

    Work harder and play better.

    There are no special prizes just for competing.

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