Only a Game? - A little encouragement during the unlikeliest of times can go a long way

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It’s not until you insert yourself amongst a throng of sports fans that you realise that the future of humanity is doomed.

Ok, ok, inevitably my use of hyperbole will have many rolling their eyes, but it’s hard to feel a sense of a camaraderie when the people standing next to you at the Brandywell or the Aviva Stadium are shouting abuse at the very team they have come support.

It wasn’t until last week that I discovered that this sinister attitude towards ‘our own’ was not exclusive to just soccer.

County Down’s Rory McIlroy had just played three of the best rounds of golf of his life at the US Masters in Augusta; he was leading the tournament by four shots and his first major looked to be just a formality. The scene was set for the 21 year-old from Hollywood to emulate his friend and contemporary Graeme McDowell, who won last year’s US Open.

Everyone knows about the misery that unfolded for McIlroy and he was as gracious in his disappointment as I am sure he would have been had he won.

Be that as it may, as I watched McIlroy hole birdie after birdie on Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was shocked by just how much negativity was thrown in his direction.

I was on holidays last Saturday which meant I could enjoy the rare treat of actually watching sport in a bar, but my afternoon was to be ruined by the words of a few middle aged men perched on stools at the bar.

It wasn’t good enough that McIlroy was playing fantastically well because they were filled with such negativity. They couldn’t enjoy what they were watching but not only that - they couldn’t even concede the fact that the young twenty something is actually talented.

I’m sure many people reading this column have experienced something similar at the Brandywell.

A few years I was able to attend a Derry City game as a spectator as opposed to in my usual capacity as a journalist. I don’t remember who Derry were playing nor do I even remember the final score but I recall a man who claimed to be a fan shouting abuse at Ruaidhri Higgins.

Before Higgins had even passed the ball this so-called supporter was on his back. It was if this vitriolic reaction was natural, instinctive even. A two year-old had a better understanding of the game than this so called supporter but he was relentless. Do these people really think that being abusive towards a local footballer is admirable? Do they really think that a display of aggression will somehow help their team to win?

Something similar happened when I was at the Republic of Ireland’s win over Macedonia a few weeks ago.

Ireland won the game 2-1 and played relatively well but I couldn’t help but notice that every time Robbie Keane touched the ball another so-called supporter a few rows behind me erupted with disproportionate aggression. Keane is Ireland’s all-time greatest goals corer but this man knew something everyone else didn’t because according to him Keane was “rubbish”, “over-hyped” and “untalented”. A more twisted sense of logic I have never come across.

Sports fans who suffer from the condition of negative vibes have to get it into their intolerant wee heads that sports men and women are human like the rest of us. Just because you’re a professional golfer, local footballer or captain of the international team doesn’t mean that you are any way better equipped to deal with pressure or expectation; sports men and women have bad days too.

No matter how hard I try I’ll never be able to understand why so called sports fans go out of their way to degrade and criticise the very team or individual they are supposed to be cheering on.

It’s as if they get some twisted sense of satisfaction by pointing out another human being’s mistakes; maybe it’s because they are so flawed themselves that they find they can displace their own shortcomings by having a go at someone else.

I am not going to lie, there are times when I watch sport that I get frustrated but to start shouting at hurling abuse at your team is just a step too far. It’s at times like last Sunday in Augusta that the people and teams we claim to adore need our support the most. A little encouragement during the unlikeliest of times can go a long way.