Well, I’ve been a season ticket holder following my team up and down the country for years, so what does it mean for me to be a fan? At the moment I don’t feel that significant to the club. Prior to lockdown, I often turned out to be one of 700 odd fans up at somewhere like Barnsley away on a cold December day, and through doing this I feel a special connection with players and staff, as I am doing the same journeys as them, taking a whole day out of my weekend to cheer them on and watch them play. If I was being honest I would say I did feel more significant than a lot of other supporters who don’t make the same effort. I felt like I was really playing my part in the progression of the club. Now though, that’s all changed. I am no longer doing anything more than anyone else to support my team. Keyboard warriors now essentially have as much significance as I do, and abusive messages online from these people is now standing on a bigger stage than ever before, as social media is the only way fans are relevant at the moment.
Without fans in the stadiums, the relationship between fans and players has been less than easy to maintain to say the least. The special moments after games where the players applaud the fans and thank them for coming, some shirts being thrown into the crowd and people’s days being made by a member of the squad, or in other cases, loud booing and calls for the manager’s head. I know for sure that last night’s west London derby win for my team QPR against Brentford at Loftus Road would’ve really been the catalyst for a special relationship with the players who were out on the pitch. Regardless of what it is specifically that’s missing, not being able to go to games is really putting a strain on not only the relationship between players and fans, but the meaning of being a football supporter. Some people really aren’t ‘supporters’ at all. We’ve heard Steve Bruce and Mike Dean the referee speak out about death threats they have been receiving on social media, and we’ve seen far too much racism along with other forms of abuse towards Axel Tuanzebe, Reece James, Antonio Rudiger, and that’s only to name a few! In all fairness to the FA and clubs across the land, efforts are being made to put an immediate halt this constant online abuse from these anonymous keyboard warriors sitting behind their computer screens with nothing better to do than comment on these successful athletes’ lives. It’s a disgrace, and people need to stop abusing the freedom social media has given them. Something needs to be done from the social media outlets themselves, or we won’t see an end to this.
People can just hide behind accounts with blank profile pictures and random twitter usernames which look like they’ve just spammed the key board with no evidence of their actual identity. This allows them to say literally whatever they want. Anything at all. This freedom has proven costly. Without fans being in the stadiums, these people are now the face of football fans. There must be footballers who probably have a level of hate for the supporters of their clubs right now, I know I wouldn’t be too fond of my team’s fanbase if I was Antonio Rudiger for example. There were rumours that he was the bad egg at Chelsea, that he was bullying young players, and that he was one of the key reasons, on and off the pitch, that Lampard’s Chelsea side were in such poor form AND he was labelled as a catalyst for the process of Lampard’s sacking. You have to be so so careful that what you read about a footballer is true.
One of the biggest Chelsea twitter fan accounts ‘confirmed’ that the rumours of Antonio Rudiger bullying young players was true. @CarefreeYouth, with over 121,000 followers, said that this was 100% true. A very dangerous thing to say with a large proportion of Chelsea’s social media fans being a disciple of this very well run page with lots of good information if you’re a Chelsea supporter. Once this page tweeted that, the amount of abuse sent to Rudiger was unthinkable. Then Tammy Abraham came out in support of Rudiger, with the ‘he’s a big bro to all of us’ tweet. Drogba stepped in with his backing too. The account apologised for ‘spreading lies’ claiming he was ‘told it was true’. Doesn’t quite make up for it, the mental damage that these rumours can cause for a player. Then the energy online shifted to ‘So sorry Rudiger! Always loved you!’. Probably the same people who were abusing him and threatening him. Carefreeyouth deactivated temporarily in embarrassment of the mistake and so on. Fake rumours, abuse, death threats, this football social media culture is one of the most toxic things about the world at the moment, and I don’t think I’m over-emphasising this. Times are tough for real football supporters, and the sooner fans are back in, the better. The weight on social media to be the only form of connection between players and fans definitely needs to be lifted a touch.