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Football Footballers are entitled to a social life

WITH every passing week, I understand more and more why football players don’t want to talk to fans, let alone journalists.

While the disconnect between supporters and players grows, and part of the reason is footballers becoming more and more secretive, the other part is people abusing the goodwill of players.

I saw two great examples last weekend. It started off with the latest England superstar, Harry Winks. Winks didn’t play in the 0-0 draw against Germany on Friday, but as a fan, went to the game regardless and sat in the crowd.

The following night, Winks decided to go out in Watford and took a photo with a fan. No fights, no drunken antics, just a night out for a young player on a night off. You couldn’t even tell if he had been drinking in the picture.

However, the fan, if he can even be called that, tweeted out that Winks was out and tagged a national newspaper with the caption: “Harry Winks meant to be ‘injured’.”

Players are allowed a social life. On occasion, that social life includes going out. This wasn’t Wayne Rooney drinking himself into the ground at a wedding while on international duty; Winks had pulled out of the squad.

This wasn’t the infamous ‘dentist chair’ incident with the England squad prior to Euro 1996. This was just a young kid, who two months ago was a virtual nobody to people outside of Tottenham, making the most of an off night.

The fact that neither England manager Gareth Southgate, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino or Winks himself have said anything to date shows that the 21-year-old did nothing wrong.

So imagine his surprise when his face is doing the rounds on Twitter. It would not surprise me if the the next person who stops him while he is out for a picture gets rejected. He’s been burnt once, why risk it happening again? Hopefully, Winks realises that not everyone is as conniving as this. 

While I don’t know if the paper ran with the story, it’s a shame that we live in a time where people are constantly looking for ways to publicly shame celebrities.

That’s not to say the media isn’t just as bad. Witness the innumerable times a player is snapped while shopping by the press and a pointless article is written about where they shop, or what they bought, or what they decided to wear when they stepped out of the house that morning.

I’m sorry but a player shopping in Tesco for food is not a story. If it is, then we may as well give up and redefine the word ‘news’.

The second example came from a video of Paul Pogba meeting his French teammates and saying hello. Nothing disingenuous, just Pogba greeting all of them individually with personalised handshakes. Cue mass hysteria on social media. Fans slating the midfielder for not being in the gym, accusing him of faking his injury, questioning his commitment.

Where does this come from? Pogba is well known for documenting his life on social media, something I don’t follow but I know many who do. That little bit of insight, how he gets on with his brothers and mum, is something I wish more players did. But if the reaction is negative, quite often abusive, why keep it up?

That’s not to say it is from everyone. But there are enough people who ruin it for the rest of us. Pogba seems able to brush off the abuse quite easily but you have to imagine that isn’t the same for everyone.

And when players post mundane, tedious messages and pictures online, you can see why.

I have spoken about this before but I know one high-profile Premier League defender who only posts on Twitter and Instagram after a win. You will never see him respond if his side loses because the vitriol below the line isn’t worth the hassle.

And he sometimes regrets posting nice messages after a win because people still find a way to criticise him or his family. God forbid he tweets anything about him going out in the evening, at that point he is met with people demanding why he isn’t on the training field working on his defending, or how does he have time to go out to award ceremonies when the team are underperforming.

Again, you start to realise why some players avoid social media. Why they let their agents or a PR company handle everything. They don’t have to suffer the abuse.

The argument that they are in the public eye and should deal with it is nonsense. I remember listening to a podcast and a wrestler says Twitter is like being in your kitchen and someone is shouting obscenities through your window. At that point you just close the window. With Twitter, you just block or mute that person.

Whether we like it or not, football is a job for these people. A job they are paid very, very, very handsomely for, don’t get me wrong, but a job nonetheless.

That means they are entitled to down time. Entitled to see friends, shake hands with them if they want. And they don’t need constant harassment for living their lives. 

The old saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all” really applies in this situation. 


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