James Lawton: Hatred's hold on football grows with every vile chant aimed at Rooney today

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The Independent Online

On the field at least, Wayne Rooney has stood up pretty well to a week which most people would consign straight to hell. He may even outrun the latest blistering accusation, from the broadcaster Gabby Logan, that he committed a grave act of hypocrisy by wearing a plastic rosary to training while awaiting the reports of his whore-mongering, a charge that we have to believe has the more worldly inhabitants of the Vatican doubled up in uncontrolled mirth.

But then how well will the reportedly brittle composure of the man who has twice played so well for England despite the weight of his crisis stand up to the unbridled hostility he can expect – if his Manchester United manager chooses to play him – at Goodison Park today?

No doubt many of his former fans will claim a great mob triumph if they manage to publicly break Rooney. It is an outrageous prospect, sickening and depressing to the same degree, and will give us perhaps the grossest example so far of the depth at which sheer hatred has taken root in the national game.

Armed with evidence of Rooney's private lapses, this particular bunch of hate-mongers have never before carried such potent ammunition for hurt and the celebration of someone else's failings and resulting difficulties.

This certainly must be the presumption based on previous evidence. Yes, it would be wonderful if Goodison Park was capable of the restraint which would make the playing of football the heart of today's events; great if the atmosphere was relieved by hints of a common humanity, but then when was the last time you heard a hint of that in an English football ground?

Rooney's journey home has such horrendous potential because we have seen on several occasions the all-contaminating wrath he has provoked in the place where as a 16-year-old he scored a goal against Arsenal so stupendous Arsène Wenger rushed to say he was the best young English player he had ever seen.

It is so hard and specific this animosity, so filled with bile, that it makes the systematic booing of John Terry and Ashley Cole across the land, the wearisome tribal prattling of Gary Neville, who should know better, and the time-weathered obscenity of Liverpool fans singing about Munich in response to their United counterparts chanting Hillsborough, seem almost perfunctory.

The worst of it probably came in 2005, when United aggravated the situation by playing Everton off the park. Rooney mostly contained himself well, letting his guard slip only when responding to some showy heckling from two well-dressed individuals standing on the touchline. They turned out to be match sponsors. There was also some graffiti along the lines of "Rooney Die" and assorted missiles. Most unforgettable though was the performance of a boy of around 10 years of age, who was wearing a blue shirt inscribed "Rooney Traitor", a good-looking little chap who won proud looks from his doting parents each time he leapt to his feet and screamed abuse. This was on each occasion Rooney touched the ball.

There was a time, believe it or not, when supporting your team was just an aspect of an interest in football. If Manchester City were in town you might try to get behind one of the goals to take a look at Bert Trautmann. If Blackpool or Preston or Fulham were the visitors, Stan Matthews or Tom Finney or Johnny Haynes were figures demanding compulsive attention. Sounds quaint, I know, but it was the way it was.

Hate, not the real stuff, anyway, just didn't come into the equation. Now, if you have the stomach for it, take a peek at the internet filth that has flowed in the wake of the Rooney revelations. Look at all the moral judgments, the glee, the wallowing based on nothing more than which team has been chosen as the receptacle of your prejudice. When you do this, however briefly, you can understand more readily the concern about quite what is in the works on Merseyside today.

Of course the paying customer is entitled to his partiality. No doubt he also has a right to voice displeasure at a professional football culture which seems to lurch into one failure of judgment after another and in this respect Rooney has joined more than half the current England team in behavior which has inspired Harry Redknapp, a man of the world if we ever saw one, to call for a halt to the days of wine and roses.

But let's be sure about one thing. We are not talking about mere censure when we discuss the possibilities at Goodison Park, not even an irrational displeasure that a local boy should go where his chances of progress and wealth were so much better.

No, what is anticipated is another example – and maybe the most disgusting thus far – of the seepage of that institutionalised hatred. The kid wearing the "Rooney-Traitor" shirt was being taught a way of thinking, a way of hating, and the lesson was being conducted in a football ground. It was probably appropriate enough because haven't such places housed a terrible poverty of the spirit for so long now.

Everyone has a tipping point when faced with such outrage. The late Bill Nicholson, a great manager of Tottenham, reached his in Rotterdam in 1974, when Spurs fans rioted for most of the day before the Uefa Cup final in Feyenoord Stadium, from where more than 200 people were taken to hospital. Nicholson, who served in the Durham Light Infantry during the war, demanded to speak on the public address. He said, "You people make me ashamed to be an Englishman."

No doubt if the worst fears are realised, Nicholson would have said pretty much the same at Goodison Park. He would not have been reacting to the kind of mindless violence that fills up a hospital, but an insidious enemy that leaves just one casualty. It is what used to be the warm and decent spirit of football.

Rugby falls further down moral abyss with indulgence of cynical Richards

The admission of the Rugby Union's disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett that the wording of the sanction imposed on Dean Richards for his leading role in the Bloodgate scandal may be unsafe is shocking.

But perhaps not so much as the gall of Richards in seeking to extend the loophole that led the RFU to grant him permission to take a consultancy role with the Worcester Warriors two years before the end of his world-wide ban.

Blackett also reveals that Richards is perfectly entitled to walk into any rugby club and perform an after-dinner speaking gig. Yes, we know how gently drops the quality of mercy. Unfortunately in the moral wasteland of rugby union it is currently having the affect of acid rain.

Richards orchestrated a piece of cheating so crude, and with such bullying cynicism, it defies belief that he might so quickly not only have the legal right but even a scrap of encouragement to re-enter the game he dirtied so profoundly.

Rush to the bar nothing new in the English game

Harry Redknapp's cry for an end to the drink culture, which he claims is addling the senses of the nation's best players, cites the superb example provided by the great Italian Paolo Maldini.

It is also a reminder of the time the fine professional Ian Rush was transferred from Liverpool to Juventus, back when the top players in the English game were deemed fit for purpose by some of the leading Italian clubs. After playing his first game in Turin's old Stadio Comunale, Rush was dismayed to encounter the blank face of a club official when he casually asked for directions to the players' bar.

Players' bar? Yes, persisted Rush, you know, the place where the lads go to have a pint and wind down. It was explained to Rush that, as they spoke, most of the team, having fulfilled their mandatory media obligation, were already speeding back into the surrounding hills and their secured villas and discreet lives.

As to the players' bar, well maestro, no such place existed, not one between here and Palermo, and nor was it likely to any century soon.

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