The Wayne Rooney saga has elements of farce, suspicion of greed and clear evidence of breathtaking arrogance. The Grand Central train towards Sunderland v Aston Villa seemed a good place for some thoughts on another, more disturbing aspect …
If Brian Clough, Charlie Hurley, Jimmy Montgomery or Kevin Phillips had moved from Sunderland to Newcastle United, I would have been angry and annoyed, more so than if the transfer had been to any other club.
But I cannot think of any circumstances that would have prompted me to make a special journey to where the offending player lived to chant abuse or daub death threats at him. In other words, it is possible to have real passion as a supporter without descending into pond-life mindlessness.
Where Wayne Rooney plays his football is of little interest to me. He doesn’t seem an especially likeable character and may even be extremely greedy as has been suggested; we should not, however, believe everything that is written or broadcast about him and both charges may be untrue.
But he is a professional footballer and legally entitled to ply his trade wherever, subject to contract and regulations, he chooses.
Only a couple of years ago, Manchester United fans were not even supposed to care what their closest geographical rivals were up to, so far below them were Citeh in the general order of things football.
Now, it’s “join City and you’re dead”, or it was for the admittedly small band of United “fans” – maybe even a minority of that small band – that made its way to Rooney’s home the other evening or, elsewhere, painted death threats on walls.
So much for the elite of British football. So much for the thought that football thuggery at its most neanderthal was restricted to lowlife followers of specific, trouble-prone clubs such as Millwall and Cardiff City, When it comes down to it, United have their own contingent of hard-of-thinking yobs.
I thought of two courtrooms when I heard of the death threats: the Old Bailey, when big Sarf or East London criminal trials end with convicts’ relatives shouting “hope you die scremaing from cancer” at judge and jury, and the Belfast court where terrorists used to be tried.
Harold Wilson’s Government had already abolished capital punishment before I started attending courts (usually as a reporter, twice as a witness and never – so far – in the dock). But I did, in Belfast, see what turned out to be a death sentence imposed.
The accused was a charmless loyalist psychopath of the sort admired by a certain kind of English football “supporter”. He had reputedly killed many times but was, on this occasion, charged only with threatening the life of a woman who had somehow displeased him.
He got eight years. The INLA then bumped him off in prison.
I would not wish the second part of that sequence on the United mob responsible for threatening the life of a player who had somehow displeased them.
But eight years? That, with access to the prison library but not televised football and game shows, sounds a good start. And if it turns out that the lads in balaclavas were intent only on wishing Rooney well, I take it all back.