COMMENT: Stop being weird about Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling did something of note on Monday.
He made the day, week and possibly year of excited young England fans who came to visit the national team's St George's Park base. He was polite, courteous and generous with his time, and showed a genuine warmth towards his beaming guests. On Tuesday morning, he was front page news. Not for being a model pro, but due to his new tattoo.
— England (@England) May 28, 2018
As you are no doubt aware, Sterling has chosen to have an assault rifle inked onto his right leg. The Sun decided this was 'sick', and even suggested that the Manchester City forward should be dropped from Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad. For his part, the player has subsequently justified his tattoo as a reference to his favoured shooting foot, and dead father.
"When I was two, my father died from being gunned down to death. I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my lifetime. I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning [and it is] still unfinished."
That Sterling has clarified his reasons is commendable on his part, but it is fucking ridiculous that he should need to. The Sun, a paper that fetishises war and continues to use historical battle imagery whenever England play the likes of Germany and Argentina, has no room to talk. Yet you can imagine them wanking themselves silly when the photograph surfaced.
That's mainly because it's Raheem Sterling - a player that they and other right-wing publications have a bizarre obsession with. It seems the 23-year-old can do no right when it comes to his tabloid stalkers. Sterling having breakfast is news. Sterling driving a car is news. Sterling buying a sink for his mum is news. Sterling spending too much - or too little - is news.
What the actual fuck? To paraphrase Mrs Merton, what first attracted the Sun to vilifying young black millionaire Raheem Sterling? He's not especially controversial in what he says or does, and by all accounts is an unassuming decent lad. But from the Sun especially, but others too, he is subject to constant character assassination and perverted fascination.
This sustained demonisation seeps into the footballing consciousness too. To this day, he is discriminately booed by opposition fans whilst playing for the champions of England. Why? Nominally because he dared to do what most footballers do at least three or four times during their careers - transfer from one football club to another.
Pettiness has a big place in football, and if, say, Liverpool supporters want to boo Sterling for leaving them to join City, then fair play. But what has that got to do with fans who have no affiliation with either City or Liverpool? It's really fucking weird, and one can only assume that it stems from the equally weird behaviour of the national press.
How many front pages have you seen about (now former) Crystal Palace defender and Irish international Damien Delaney and his clown-with-pistol-in-her-mouth tat? Or Alberto Moreno's inking of a chimp with a gun? And what about the numerous goal celebrations that involve jubilant players gunning down their teammates with bad mime?
None. Because they're not Raheem Sterling, the unlikely lightning rod for red top contempt. As for the tattoo itself, there are many people expressing all sorts of opinions who have never had the misfortune to suffer from gun crime in their lives. Sterling has lost a parent because of it. To lecture him on the rights and wrongs of 'glorifying' armed violence is obscene.
And lest we forget, he is only 23. A young man. A few weeks back, respected journalists were expressing deep concern on Harry Kane's behalf because of some social media jokes. But it's okay to treat Sterling like a violent crime enabler and describe in terms such as 'rat', 'wasteman' and 'disgrace'. Because he can't possibly have feelings too.
It's almost as if there's a raging contempt and very personal jealously for his particular success for some reason. Like, he doesn't deserve it, or isn't worthy of the financial rewards of his labour and talent. Maybe some saddo 'journalists' just wish they were young, gifted and black, rather than miserable, gutter-dwelling hacks.
Take the piss out of Raheem Sterling all you want. Criticise his sometimes wayward finishing. Mock his running style and its resemblance to a flouncing Phoebe Buffay. But give it rest with all the righteous indignation about everything he says, does, drives, eats and shits. More than anything else, it's really fucking weird.