Today, in England, a man lost his job as the manager of the world's most famous soccer (or, as it is known in the country of its invention: football - this is because the ball is moved around by the players' feet) club. His firing has been anticipated for some time - based on a series of relatively poor results - by the media and followers of the sport, and has been one of the most followed stories in the current season.
Although it's been many, many years since I took an interest in football, it's been hard to miss this developing story and the glee with which the media have partially driven and partially ridden it, let alone the undisguised joy expressed by fans of rival clubs at the situation.
As I may have mentioned before (but am now too old and fat to be bothered researching to make sure), I gave up any interest in football at the age of approximately eleven or twelve, after discovering the wonderful sport of rugby. For various reasons football couldn't compete with it, and there was a very sharp decline in my interest, despite being constantly besieged (and I mean it; there is an unremitting barrage of football TV and other media in the UK which assault the senses almost everywhere you turn) by news, gossip and match coverage.
Since leaving the UK the level of obsessive coverage has of course diminished, only to be replaced by similarly mind-numbingly dull and repetitive nonsense on the subject of hockey and what North Americans call 'football' (an even worse travesty of the word 'sport'). I've been only dully aware of the soccer world as a result, but the international fame of Manchester United has meant that stories about that club frequently spill over into my daily news absorption activity.
Having been the dominant force in English soccer for around twenty years, the reign of Manchester United has come to an abrupt end with the (suspiciously judicial, at the height of their powers) retirement of their rather tyrannical former manager and the employment in his place of a relatively success-free man by the name of David Moyes. It's fair to say that his year in the job has been less than stellar, but by the same token, less than a total disaster. Nevertheless, the club hierarchy - and more to the point, the club's fans - have decided not to pursue the experiment any further, and he has today lost his job. It's business - not sport - and with the big pay cheques come big responsibilities, big risks, and sudden arrivals at the exit door. It's been that way for many years, and that is not what troubles me most.
Here's my problem: this man Moyes has been subject to unpleasant, snide and downright nasty abuse, ridicule and humiliation for months now. Some of it has been from his own club's fans (who apparently will accept nothing less than total success) but most has been - as far as I can tell - from the fans of rival clubs, who have not so much revelled as positively wallowed in his professional and personal difficulties. Today, the undisguised glee and delight at this man publicly losing his (very well paid) job has frankly been sickening to witness - and it's been everywhere I turn; on Facebook, online news, TV, etc.. What I've witnessed is not just the kicking, but the gleeful, sadistic and brutal stamping and gouging of a man when he's down; the mob descending like cowards upon a beaten man to cackle, crow and gloat over his misfortune. It makes me sick.
No matter how people may try to claim that their deeply personal attacks are and have been aimed at the club rather than an individual, there is a man at the centre of this story: a man with a family and relatives who will all be feeling shock after a year of intense pressure and no little amount of emotional strain. Still, cowards who have never shouldered his responsibility or pressure, who have never walked a footstep in that man's shoes, will continue to spread their poison at his expense.
This reprehensible attitude to a person's misfortune, based as it is on a sporting rivalry - and why should that excuse any kind of bad behaviour, by the way? - tells me that football and the groups that defend it are dead to me; I will never again be concerned with it or anyone's interest in it, because football has little or nothing to do with sport or sportsmanship any more. It's changed beyond all recognition, and it is a hateful thing. Unfortunately, it also tells me something alarming about the nature of today's society in the UK. I'm alarmed to witness such an outpouring of irrational hate on the internet, a venting of emotions which, if they were real and face-to-face would doubtless result in violence. In these moments, societies disgrace themselves, and in this moment, I very reluctantly confess to being ashamed of how my countrymen and women are behaving in public.
A line has been crossed, and I doubt that there is a way back.