Viewers caught up in Rooney's hatred
Let’s get Wayne Rooney’s defence in first. Throughout Saturday’s Premier League game at Upton Park, the Manchester United striker was goaded mercilessly by West Ham’s fans, in the same way that he is at many grounds.
I was in the stands during the game, and some of that abuse — about the player himself, and his wife — was both obscene and nauseating.
In that respect, his now infamous four-letter outburst, although not to be encouraged, was hardly surprising.
Had he used the same language towards the West Ham supporters, rather than the Sky television viewers, there would have been no need to apologise at all.
Those who provoked him deserved what they got. The rest of us have to accept that attending a football match means you will get caught in the crossfire.
What is it about certain fans that they feel they have a right to abuse players in the most extreme terms and then act so self-righteously when the abuse is returned?
After his hat-trick helped turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 victory for United, all that Rooney did to the home support was turn and wave cheerily towards the corner of the ground, where the Doc Martens and Trevor Brooking Stands met.
The response to that alone was so aggressive you might have thought he had desecrated the 1966 statue on Barking Road.
Another key player in this drama is the Sky Sports cameraman who haunts the touchline with the aim of capturing close-up shots of the emotions of the players.
As Rooney prepared to take the penalty for his third goal, the cameraman positioned himself to the right of the goal, in front of the away fans, because experience told him that is where Rooney would go if he scored.
The Sky pitch-side camera is — one supposes — another innovation that makes the game more exciting to watch on TV.
There is a new trend, started by Steven Gerrard, for running straight at it and planting a kiss on the lens to celebrate goals.
Mark Noble did so after his first penalty for West Ham on Saturday. It is becoming a focus for celebrations.
But if Sky are going to thrust their camera into the face of a player just seconds after he has singlehandedly led his team back from two goals down, all the time being subjected to abuse about his family, would you not say that there is the chance that something a little ripe might be uttered into the oh-so-sensitive living rooms and saloon bars of the nation?
We cannot have football both ways. We cannot have the raw, edginess of a player like Rooney in a hostile atmosphere and pumped up with adrenaline and then at the same time expect him and every other player to behave like they are taking tea on the lawns of Brasenose College in 1923. The Football Association has many pressing concerns to address over the next few weeks and months.
Central to those, judging by the recent parliamentary select committee hearing, is marking out exactly what role it expects to have in football over the next 20 years.
The less time it wastes on people who have the time and the inclination to bother making an official complaint about Rooney’s language, the better.
An FA spokesman said the Association would look into the incident, while a United statement said that Rooney has apologised and put his outburst down to emotion.
“I want to apologise for any offence that may have been caused by my goal celebration, especially any parents or children that were watching,” Rooney said in the statement.
Really, that should be the end of it. No one is saying Wayne Rooney is perfect; indeed, the amount of negative coverage he has generated would suggest he’s anything but.
But take a walk in his shoes for a day and you might see the world as a very different place.