Is football banter getting out of hand?

by Buster Stonham

The usual Twitter circus around big football news stories reached fever pitch with the sacking of David Moyes this week. News outlets fell over themselves to be the first to break the big headlines whilst the rest of Twitter held a spontaneous joke competition to come up with the best, most outrageous and cruelest jokes aimed at the sacked United manager.

So intense was the volume of conversation that at one point on the day of his sacking all of the top ten trending topics on Twitter were related to Moyes and United.

Inevitably, the jokes started flooding in from the usual suspects and were lapped up with glee by fans indulging in a bit of Schadenfreude at the expense of a club who are not used to failure. Many of the best examples were frankly hilarious, with the following examples from serial jokers Paddy Power and BBC Sporf proving particularly funny.

So widespread was the Moyes bashing that even traditional media sources and accounts unrelated to football were getting in on the act:

But, could this type of joking be in danger of going too far?

So far it has been mostly good-natured banter between fans, but the disturbing stories of vicious Twitter trolls have become ubiquitous within the news, and football has seen more than its fair share of negative repercussions.

The failings of footballers and in particular football managers come under more scrutiny now than ever before and Twitter has become a forum for fans to express this displeasure in a public forum. So, when your shortcomings become the butt of countless jokes that spread around the world, thanks to the global appeal of the Premier League, it’s something that’s surely impossible to ignore.

One hopes that footballers and managers, being the well-paid professionals they are, are able to rise above this level of criticism and not let it affect their performance and, more importantly, their mental wellbeing. However, high wages are no barrier to personal criticism and other figures in the game have shown that it can have a negative affect.

Early this year Manchester United and England midfielder Tom Cleverley shut down his own Twitter account after receiving a barrage of abuse on the site in the wake of a series of poor performances and the launch of a petition campaign calling on Roy Hodgson not to take him to the World Cup. Similarly, Cleverley’s former teammate Darren Gibson shut down his Twitter account just two hours after it was launched after receiving a stream of abuse.

The burden of being a football manager can be a really tough one to bear. The most extreme example of the pressures of the job is Gary Speed’s tragic suicide in 2011, which was in part caused by the stress that being Wales manager put on his personal life.

Football is a part of our culture and the analysis and banter that surrounds the beautiful game is a big part of its appeal. We should be free to criticise players and managers who perform poorly, but it’s easy to forget that footballers and managers are still human and face many of the same insecurities and troubles as the rest of us. The only difference is that our professional failings aren’t the subject of widespread media coverage and national humiliation.

David Moyes was given one of the most difficult jobs in world football in being asked to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson and re-vamp an aging squad lacking in quality, with the expectations of a quarter century of success heaped on his shoulders. Sadly it proved to be a job beyond his powers. It’s is worth remembering then that good-natured banter is an enjoyable part of football but must come with respect for those who take on the most difficult jobs out there.

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