In the build-up to Manchester United’s trip to the Santiago Bernabeu where they face Real Madrid, the Spanish press have taken to demonizing the enemy as a ‘bogeyman’.
Marca’s headline reads:
“EL COCO Y 5.000 AMIGOS,” which translates as ‘The Bogeyman and his 5,000 friends,’ placed next to an image of United forward Wayne Rooney.
The sub-headline asserts that 1,000 Manchester United fans will arrive without tickets, as journalist Hugo Cerezo refers to Rooney as a “freckled devil” who is comparable to the ordinary hooligans who support him and his team. He even refers to them “shouting and drinking beer.”
I may be in a minority of one here but I detect a hint of xenophobia towards the English from the Spanish press. When England play Germany or Argentina in internationals, the English press has a field day – references to World Wars, the Falkland’s, bestiality, you name it – they stoop very very low indeed.
But the assertion that English football fans are drunk and obnoxious in general is an image that is best left back in the 70s and 80s where it belongs.
Yes, there are still occasional incidents of hooliganism, violence and destruction when the English national team travel – the European Championships in Portugal in 2004 spring to mind – and indeed when Premier League teams play in continental competitions.
But Wayne Rooney is an exceptionally talented and creative professional footballer and certainly still one of the best of his generation.
Perhaps Rooney’s involvement in incidents with Real Madrid players in the past has tainted his image to some degree. Stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in 2006, elbowing Pepe, and pushing Iker Casillas in 2004 won’t have endeared him with Los Blancos fans.
However, I still can’t condone such blatant demonizing, I couldn’t care less about Wayne Rooney and I’m not even British-born but they are tarring an entire nation with the same brush.
Furthermore, this kind of rhetoric disturbs me mostly because it reminds me of the same language that has been used to describe Liverpool fans in the wake of Heysel and Hillsborough in the late ‘80s and travelling Tottenham supporters in the run up to their clash with Lazio in Rome just last November, when 9 Spurs fans were attacked by around 50 knife-wielding Lazio fans.
I’m not suggesting that the press are responsible for these tragic events and incidents but I think they need to pay closer attention to the language they use to re-enforce discrimination, prejudice, and xenophobia.
There is never an excuse for violence or obnoxious behaviour but by calling Wayne Rooney and his ‘5000 amigos’ bogeymen, they are insighting tribalism and, potentially violence. Nobody wants to see that. In fact I expect everyone just wants to see a football match.