Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

James Lawton: Every vile chant will fuel hate in football

On the field at least, Wayne Rooney has stood up pretty well to a week which most people would consign straight to hell.

He may even outrun the latest blistering accusation, from the broadcaster Gabby Logan, that he committed a grave act of hypocrisy by wearing a plastic rosary to training while awaiting the reports of his whore-mongering, a charge that we have to believe has the more worldly inhabitants of the Vatican doubled up in uncontrolled mirth.

But then how well will the reportedly brittle composure of the man who has twice played so well for England despite the weight of his crisis stand up to the unbridled hostility he can expect — if his manager chooses to play him — at Goodison Park today?

No doubt many of his former fans will claim a great mob triumph if they manage to publicly break Rooney.

It is an outrageous prospect, sickening and depressing to the same degree, and will give us perhaps the grossest example so far of the depth at which sheer hatred has taken root in the national game.

Armed with evidence of Rooney's private lapses, this particular bunch of hate mongers have never before carried such potent ammunition for hurt and the celebration of someone else's failings and resulting difficulties.

This certainly must be the presumption based on previous evidence.

Yes, it would be wonderful if Goodison Park was capable of the restraint which would make the playing of football the heart of today's events; great if the atmosphere was relieved by hints of a common humanity, but then when was the last time you heard a hint of that in an English football ground?

Rooney's journey home has such horrendous potential because we have seen on several occasions the all-contaminating wrath he has provoked in the place where as a 16-year-old he scored a goal against Arsenal so stupendous Arsene Wenger rushed to say he was the best young English player he had ever seen.

It is so hard and specific this animosity, so filled with bile, that it makes the systematic booing of John Terry and Ashley Cole across the land, the wearisome tribal prattling of Gary Neville, who should know better, and the time-weathered obscenity of Liverpool fans singing about Munich in response to their United counterparts chanting Hillsborough, seem almost perfunctory.

The worst of it probably came in 2005, when United aggravated the situation by effortlessly playing Everton off the park.

Rooney mostly contained himself well, letting his guard slip only when responding to some showy heckling from two well dressed individuals standing on the touchline.

They turned out to be match sponsors.

There was also some graffiti along the lines of Rooney Die and assorted missiles.

Most unforgettable though was the performance of a boy of around 10 years of age, who was wearing a blue shirt inscribed Rooney Traitor, a good looking little chap who won proud looks from his doting parents each time he leapt to his feet and screamed abuse. This was on each occasion Rooney touched the ball.

There was a time, believe it or not, when supporting your team was just an aspect of an interest in football.

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