Danny Welbeck and Football’s Growing Culture of Ridicule


I, like many others, felt that this was the year Transfer Deadline Day finally jumped the shark. It had been coming – in fact it may have actually happened many seasons ago – but this time it finally collapsed into a full-on parody of itself. The most startling aspect for me wasn’t the ludicrous sums of money, the sensationalist reporting over nothing, or even the unfortunate object stuck in that reporter’s ear. It was the vitriol.

Professional football has been a cynical business for a long, long time – we know this. In an industry with so much money at stake, it would be foolhardy not to be cynical. But we’re rapidly approaching an age where the cynicism of owners, directors and executives is matched, even exceeded, by those meant to keep the magic of the game alive: the fans. Transfer Deadline Day was the moment this hit me in the face.

In my mind, Danny Welbeck has become something of a figurehead in this regard. He’s been a perfectly serviceable striker for Manchester United over the years; he’s hardly a world-beater, but somebody who would fully commit to the job asked of him (usually from the bench). He’s played crucial roles on loan at Preston North End and Sunderland, bagging important goals in crucial matches. So why did an utter army of people across the country unite in branding him a donkey, a plodder, and the worst striker to ever have lived, all within minutes of his first link to the north London club?

Football fans love saying that their rivals are bad. They love it far more than admitting their rivals are good, and sometimes it is justified. But running down the name of a young internationally-capped striker to such a ludicrous extent (before he’d even set foot on the Arsenal training ground) is a tad over-the-top. The appeal of seeming clever and funny on the internet is apparently far more satisfying than actually waiting to see how things pan out. And while I’m on the topic, the hilarity of your joke isn’t directly proportional to the force with which you express it. Sometimes it’s funnier to be understated. A great deal of people I follow on Twitter would do well do learn that.

Welbeck went on to bag a brace against Switzerland and almost scored a league début goal against the defending champions. I was on my feet in front of the TV when his audacious chip trickled onto the post, and I’m certainly no Arsenal fan. I just wanted to see an end to this ridiculously exaggerated criticism. Annoyingly, it’s continued.

Now I may be reading into Hazard Girl UK’s username slightly too much, but I’d wager she’s a Chelsea fan. There’s nothing wrong with slating your rivals to a degree; rivalry is a huge part of football. However, in this new social media-crazed age, every single half-mistake is nitpicked, scrutinised and ridiculed by a legion of opposing fans. It makes for monotonous reading. In the dense swamp of tweets lambasting Arsenal’s capture of Welbeck, I didn’t see a single alternative solution. If she’s so intelligent, what would “Hazard Girl UK” have done to get around Olivier Giroud’s sudden injury? Besides presumably trying to sign Eden Hazard.

It’s time to take a step back and reassess what it means to be a football fan. If I became a fan today I’d assume that the most important thing was proving that my team was the best, while also proving that every other team were incompetent idiots. I hate to portray the mentality of football fans as so plastic and idiotic, but when you click a hashtag and see a Real Madrid fan from Dubai arguing with a Bayern Munich fan from Miami over who’s going to win the Champions League, it’s very easy to become disillusioned.

The success of your team should actually be irrelevant – the act of supporting them is the most important part. I’m fortunate enough to support a team currently in the Premier League, but that doesn’t make me any better than a diehard Blackpool fan, even if they do already look destined for relegation to League 1. By all means celebrate when your club wins a cup final, but don’t assume that it makes you superior to a fan of the team they beat.

It seems as though everybody on social media has an opinion on football, but they don’t. Most fans these days seem to offer little more than gloating and ridicule. Those who express carefully considered and interesting opinions are a depressingly shrinking minority.