Champions League Final Lays Bare the Vicious Nature of Football Fans
It's not easy being a football fan, or a sports fan in general. Too often we wear our hearts on our sleeves and, whether things go well or awry, it is when our peers come to discover our true selves - naked and uncensored.
Of course, that is what football is all about. It lays bare our innermost feelings and desires more than anything else probably ever could. The shrill noise of the referee's whistle (or even the lack of one) can prove to be the difference between jubilation and despair.
The players feel it too. And as servants of the club, they are compelled to listen to the fans. But back in the day, there was no way to cut through the noise. Unless you were the odd idiot that begged to be on the end of an Eric Cantona kung-fu kick, players were generally insulated from all the hate that came their way on and off the pitch.
Then came the advent of social media and that was when it all went to sh*t. With no real oversight and laws still unclear, players became direct targets with no protection offered to them or their families.
The Champions League final may have seen the players respected and applauded at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev following the final whistle. But it also saw venomous hate spewed on social media for certain incidents that changed the course of the game.
Humans have this tendency to let the worst get the better of them when things do not go their way. Unfortunately, it is these people that somehow find a loud voice to get their point across.
Egypt weeps for Salah but bays for Ramos' blood
Sergio Ramos is a serial winner; there is no denying that. But he can resort to the dark arts when Real Madrid are in trouble. His reputation precedes him and he has seen red 22 times in his career after all.
So when he brought down Mohamed Salah during a period of sustained Liverpool pressure where Real were unable to break out of their own half, one just knew something was going to give.
A cursory look at Twitter saw 'Ramos' trending worldwide. The top three trends had Ramos trending in some form or the other with unspeakable references made to his mother. Understandably, the tweets were predominantly in Arabic.
While most Liverpool fans were still coming to terms with losing their best player in a final, Egypt was ready to riot after seeing their only hope for the World Cup leave the pitch in tears while Ramos seemed unapologetic in the images beamed to billions of viewers worldwide.
The move in question that brought Salah down hard on his shoulder will be debated for years. Was it intentional or accidental? Did Salah make the mistake of locking arms? Did Ramos trip him?
A number of things Ramos does on the pitch go unpunished. He may play within the rules of the game, but not everything he does is in the spirit of the game.
Whatever the case may be, Ramos saw the opportunity and took it. Although he probably never looked to injure the Egyptian, the damage was done and Real were able to get a foothold in the game.
Nevertheless, Ramos was mercilessly abused by not only vicious trolls and die-hard fans on social media but also the Egyptian media.
They called him a "butcher" that left Egyptians in tears. "Let God be the judge with Ramos," said another outlet. One lawyer has even gone to the extent of filing a €1 billion lawsuit against the defender over the challenge.
"I'll ask for compensation, which could exceed €1 billion, for the physical and psychological harm that Ramos gave Salah and the Egyptian people," he said.
All of this is laughable and Ramos will be the first to ignore all the abuse that comes his way while he makes space for yet another Champions League winner's medal in his cabinet. He is made of sterner stuff. Sticks and stones and all that.
But there was nothing funny about what Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius had to go through following his errors that effectively sealed the title for Real Madrid.
Death threats? Really?
It's hard not to feel sorry for Karius after the game. Two lapses in concentration had seen Jurgen Klopp's side come undone. But this is a learning experience for Karius - he will never take things for granted again, particularly on the big stage.
For a fanbase that holds the words "You'll Never Walk Alone" sacrosanct, it revealed the true nature of a section of fickle-minded "fans" that shoot first and ask questions later. The barrage of abuse and threats he has received from Liverpool fans puts them to shame.
On his part, Karius was quick to apologise to the fans at the stadium, all the while wiping an endless stream of tears. Klopp chose not to cricitise him or single him out while his teammates also stood by him with skipper Jordan Henderson saying: "We win as a team and we lose as a team."
And since it's the 21st century, Karius was obligated to apologise on social media as well. He didn't have to but that is how today's players are raised. It is our sincere hope that he does not swipe to his 'Mentions' section.
The term 'keyboard warrior' is bandied about a lot these days. But these vile trolls who hide behind a Twitter profile without using their real names are no warriors.
Warriors are noble. They are not foul-mouthed armchair critics who wish death or cancer upon you and your children.
What compels fans to be so sickening? A bit too much to drink, perhaps? A big bet that went wrong? Some misplaced sense of self-righteousness and bravado?
Make no mistake, these are not real fans. They are people looking for nothing but their 30 seconds to fame. They may claim that it is just their "passion for the club" shining through but that is a flimsy excuse that is a slap in the face of a true football fan.
A true football fan moves on. Errors and blunders are forgiven. Frustrations may tend to boil over but the scalding nature of such emotions must never scar someone for life. Thankfully, the police have stepped in to investigate the threats made against Karius.
Memes and banter are well and good. Abuse and threats are not. Sadly, in the heat of the moment, many fans do not know where to draw the line. They do not understand that this is sport. And not everyone can go home with a winner's medal.