Magical memories of 2012 - Football: 'An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation'

26 February: Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to north London derby victory

The abuse was so vicious, delivered with such poisonous bile and withering spite even the hacks in the press box were taken aback. The player on the receiving end was, after all, on the same side. Yet the Arsenal fans only paused from berating Theo Walcott to demand Arsène Wenger to "get him off".

The home support was enraged after Arsenal went two goals down to Tottenham and the talented but infuriatingly inconsistent Walcott was the scapegoat. And he knew it. Midway though the half he broke clear, there was only Brad Friedel to beat, and the voice in Walcott's head bellowed, "miss this and they'll crucify you". Walcott slowed, waited for Robin van Persie to catch up, then squared the ball to him despite still being better placed himself. The chance went begging and the abuse resumed.

An hour later Walcott was the hero, given a standing ovation after scoring twice in a 5-2 victory. The same people who had been deriding him as useless and worse now trilled their love for him. He was no longer "Walcott", he was "Theo" again. As he waved back one wondered what he really thought.

This is not a diatribe against Arsenal fans. Though the atmosphere at the Emirates has grown noticeably less tolerant during these fallow years. Similar scenes occur at most clubs. There have always been fans who turn on their own players. I can recall being part of a crowd jeering Gillingham's Danny Westwood who responded with a brilliant solo goal before running to the fans and making clear via hand signals what he thought of them.

What has changed is the degree of hostility. Top-flight players now command such obscene wages, and fans pay such extortionate prices to finance this, there is a belief that buying a ticket entitles the fan to say whatever he wants, and the players' income makes them fair game.

It is understandable, but counter-productive. While footballers generally possess impressive mental strength – they would not make the grade otherwise – it is an insecure profession and confidence can be fragile. Hard to gain, easy to lose, confidence is a vital part of a player's armoury, especially at Arsenal whose style requires the team plays freely.

Walcott is a bright, articulate player who carries huge expectation on his slender shoulders. He may not have progressed as hoped so far but is still young, still learning his trade. Abusing him will not help his progress. Thus for a neutral it was heart-warming to see him show the strength of character to shut his mind to the boos and, when sent clear in the second period, cap an absorbing and thrilling match by converting successive chances with aplomb. The smile of relief he displayed after despatching the first said everything about the pressure he felt as he shaped to shoot, and the joy he experienced when the ball swept past Friedel and rippled the net.

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Rugby Union: ‘It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern’ 1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand- Chris Hewett

Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton' 22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France - Alasdair Fotheringham

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Football: ‘After losing the title in the cruellest way, Ferguson stood firm’ 13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style Martin Hardy

Olympics: ‘Nobody personified it more than Hoy, the ultimate sportsman’ 27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony - Robin Scott-Elliot

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Football: ‘That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football’  1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final - Jack Pitt-Brooke

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Racing: ‘Frankel enlarged life’s comfort zone for us all’ 22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance - Chris McGrath

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Ste

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