During the Chelsea-Stoke game last weekend I became transfixed by the electronic perimeter advertising board, which kept on telling us THERE WILL BE HATERS. At first I thought it was trailing a visit by Luton Town, traditionally known as the Hatters, then I checked the spelling, and then I thought, nah, all those nicknames I learned as a boy have probably gone by now, such as the Bantams (Bradford City), Bairns (Falkirk), Toffees (Everton). The hours we spent testing each other before playing marbles in the gutter! Oh, we were happy then.
So, what does it mean, “THERE WILL BE HATERS”? It was followed by a few other slogans, giving examples of what people hate, such as hating the way you look, the way you play, the way you stand out, the way you celebrate. God, these marketing and advertising agencies – don’t they have fun, spending millions on meaningless slogans just to make us ponder what they mean. In this case, the ad seemed to be for Adidas, promoting a new boot. As if I care. As if anyone cares.
But it seemed so apt, having the slogan running during the whole of the Chelsea game – even though we had Charlie Adam’s wonderful goal for Stoke from his own half; no one could hate that. But Chelsea: are they not the most hated team in the land?
Man United used to be the most hated, which is what usually happens to dominant teams, but Chelsea seem to have made an art of it, with negative play, some nasty players, Mourinho always moaning and, of course, so often winning when they’re not playing well. That really does piss off everyone else.
One of the many, many, many joys of loving football is hating it: it’s a perfect release for nasty emotions. In the days when I played, I was never bad-tempered in my ordinary life – I got rid of all that with Sunday-morning football, screaming and shouting at everyone, all on my own side.
There used to be an elderly accountant who sat next to me at Spurs in the West Stand. Not seen him for years; I wonder if he’s popped it. When the crowd around us stood up and chanted “Stand up if you hate Arsenal” he would turn to me and say, “I’m too old to stand up.” And I’d say, “I’m too old to hate.”
I still have a few hatreds. John Terry of Chelsea, don’t like him, though not in the way that Tony Adams of Arsenal used to make me froth when he put his hand up for offside. Terry is just run-of-the-mill horrible. Hardly worth hating.
At one time, every team had one person, usually a muscle-bound thug, whom we all hated. Vinnie Jones gloried in that role for years, but modern football has moved on. They’re all creative ball players now, so they think, and so weedy that our tortoise could push them over. Can’t think of anyone today who gets booed the moment he comes on the pitch. Robbie Savage was probably the last – but that was partly satirical, as we all knew he was useless.
Watching on TV, though, it’s very easy to take a scunner to players as the close-ups are so cruel and revealing. Balotelli’s haircut, with that silly dyed bit down the middle? Gerrimoff, I shout at the screen. Louis van Gaal, I usually hiss when I see his red face and beady eyes and superior stare. All totally unfair, pointless prejudice.
One of the many other joys of following football is that anyone can play it, big or small, ugly or handsome. It doesn’t matter whether you’re attractive or not. No one gets picked for their looks.
Wayne Rooney is never going to be a romantic pin-up, Luis Suárez is hardly a male model and Gareth Bale has a strange jaw, though of course, being famous footballers, they do get to appear in Adidas and Nike videos. I always smile when I see Joe Hart advertising some hair product, because his hair is absolutely awful.
Yet consider a field where looks are really supposed to matter – films. So many of our current stars have funny-looking faces, odd eyes, shit hair. Think about Damian Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Craig. I bet they all have haters …