I had the weekend off covering football for The Independent so the only sensible option to fill Saturday lunchtime was to head for Upton Park and join my West Ham-supporting brother in the Trevor Brooking Stand. The sun shone on east London, the Hammers went into an early two-goal lead and by half-time we knew we were watching one of the pivotal games of the title run-in.
We were at the end at which all six of the afternoon's goals were scored and just 20 yards from the segregation line with the Manchester United fans. We could see Wayne Rooney run to the Sky Sports pitch-side camera when he completed his hat-trick but, of course, we could not hear him say "You fucking beauty" for the benefit of the broadcaster's subscribers.
What was audible throughout the game, however, and which Rooney will have heard loud and clear, was the abuse aimed at him from some quarters of the home support. It was by no means all of them and no one round us joined in (and certainly not my brother) but it was still a significant proportion of the fans.
First, there was the obligatory "You're just a fat granny-shagger" followed by "You're just a fat fucking Scouser". Then it moved on to rather more blunt description of him, along the lines of common urchin, no taste. And finally, just in case he had missed the rest, a section of West Ham fans sang "You're fat, and your bird's a slag".
Those of us who watch football week-in, week-out tend to become indifferent to the occasionally appalling and tasteless chants – by no means unique to West Ham – that you hear at football grounds. They are as germane to the matchday experience as the smell of cheap burgers and the Tannoy announcer. Over time you do not even notice.
It was the experience of being outside the press box, and the ferocity of the abuse, that moved me to ask my brother if West Ham had any particular gripe with Rooney. He could not recall one. Then Rooney completed his hat-trick and the conversation waned somewhat.
Rooney was goaded mercilessly by West Ham's fans, in the same way that he is at many grounds. In that respect his response, although not to be encouraged, was not surprising. Had he used the same language towards the West Ham supporters, rather than the television viewers, there would have been no need to apologise at all. Those who provoked him deserved what they get. The rest of us have to accept that attending a football match means you will get caught in the crossfire.
What is it about certain fans that they feel they have a right to abuse players in the most extreme terms and then act so self-righteously when the abuse is returned? After his hat-trick all that Rooney did to the home support was turn and wave cheerily towards the corner of the ground, where the Doc Martens and Trevor Brooking Stands met. The response to that alone was so aggressive you might have thought he had desecrated the 1966 statue on Barking Road.
Another key player in this drama is the Sky Sports cameraman who haunts the touchline with the aim of capturing close-up shots of the emotions of the players. As Rooney prepared to take the penalty for his third goal, the cameraman positioned himself to the right of the goal, in front of the away fans, because experience told him that is where Rooney would go if he scored.
The Sky pitch-side camera is – one supposes – another innovation that makes the game more exciting to watch for those at home. There is a new trend, started by Steven Gerrard, for running straight at it and planting a kiss on the lens to celebrate goals. Mark Noble did so after his first penalty for West Ham on Saturday. It is becoming a focus for celebrations.
But if Sky are going to thrust their camera into the face of a player just seconds after he has singlehandedly led his team back from two goals down, all the time being subjected to abuse about his family, would you not say that there is the chance that something a little ripe might be uttered into the oh-so-sensitive living rooms and saloon bars of the nation?
We cannot have football both ways. We cannot have the raw, edginess of a player like Rooney in a hostile atmosphere and pumped up with adrenaline and then at the same time expect him and every other player to behave like they are taking tea on the lawns of Brasenose College in 1923.
The Football Association has many pressing concerns to address over the next few weeks and months. Central to those, judging by the recent parliamentary select committee hearing, is marking out exactly what role it expects to have in football over the next 20 years. The less time it wastes on people who have the time and the inclination to bother making an official complaint about Rooney's language, the better.
No wonder Rooney spends most of his life behaving as if he is under siege. Sadly, he has not spoken on behalf of the England team since 16 June in South Africa. No one is saying he is perfect, but take a walk in his shoes for a day and you might see the world as a very different place.
Saturday was about one man letting rip against his persecutors. Punishing him for it, as Rooney may well agree, is a load of bollocks.
Splashing out £20m a year means not being told to shut up
Some really helpful suggestions from the redoubtable football expert Gavin Laws, an executive at Standard Chartered, on how the club his bank sponsors, Liverpool, should go about their business.
He would like Kenny Dalglish to sign some Asian players – Korean, Indian or Chinese, any will do – and while he is at it, Laws really likes Anfield because his clients see it as a day out with the great unwashed. "They love the fact that it's – well, not exactly dirty and small because it isn't – but because it's a football club."
What kind words. Unfortunately football has hocked its soul to these corporate drones and although Mr Laws would be best off sticking to banking, and letting Dalglish do the football, £20m-a-season says that we will probably be hearing a lot more from him.
Real may be flash but Spurs have a chance to cash in
No-one really knows how much debt Real Madrid carry, although reports around the time of Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival there in 2009 suggested it was pushing £296m and the club have not exactly been parsimonious since. Most of the debt is with local banks which means that none of the creditors would risk the bad publicity of calling the money in.
Compare that to Tottenham Hotspur whose last financial results disclosed a debt of just over £60m, the vast majority of which was incurred because of the acquisition of property for the rebuilding of White Hart Lane and the cost of the new training ground at Bulls Cross in Enfield. Only around £10m of that debt was related to player trading.
Real Madrid have spent lavishly and, at times, foolishly. Spurs have done the opposite and go into tomorrow's Champions League quarter-final first leg with a good chance of eliminating Real. Testament to the work of chairman Daniel Levy and, of course, Harry Redknapp.Reuse content