Jerry Seinfeld once mused about the highly temporal nature of professional sport, focusing specifically on the relationship the fans have with individual players. These athletes are, most of the time, not built to last at a particular sporting institution. They know it, and the fans know it. These fans, however, develop attachments with them despite this knowledge, and waste no time in booing their former heroes once the inevitable happens.At times, one wonders if Seinfeld was right: that, in reality, the fans don’t care about the players, but are actually cheering for one set of clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Though his remark was obviously tongue-in-cheek, it reveals an altogether serious side of football fandom.The beautiful game is not “just a game” to many aficionados. Their loyalties to their respective clubs run both extremely broad and long, and they do not take kindly to anyone making a mockery of those loyalties.Football’s cosmic and emotional connection to the larger community renders the big names that leave the club no better than those who spit at a place of worship. It is an attitude that comes with the fandom, and can never be extinguished, and those outside the fandom will probably never understand it.Fabian Delph’s recent return to his old stomping grounds at Villa Park in Manchester City colours is just the latest in a long line of such ‘betrayals’. His reception, however, was positively tame compared to certain others through history. Here are seven such examples of unwelcome welcomes.Disclaimer: This list is not intended to be definitive.
#1 Luis Figo
The 1999-2000 season was a poor one for Barcelona. Not only did the Catalans finish the season trophyless, they had to endure the indignity of watching their bitter rivals Real Madrid win the Champions League for the second time in three attempts despite finishing below them in the league, as well as see local foes Espanyol win the King’s Cup – the club’s first trophy for 60 years.
Patience with the unimaginative tactics and poor media relations acumen of manager Louis van Gaal had worn thin, and the Dutchman departed to much rejoicing in Catalonia. At the very least, though, Barcelona had Luis Figo, who was voted European Footballer of the Year for that season.
And then Figo left in July, for a huge transfer fee, and in the direction of the capital to become the first stroke on the canvas in Florentino Perez’s ambitious landscape for Real Madrid’s domination of the sport.
If the transfer was sensational, it was nothing compared to the reaction of the Barcelona fans. Figo returned to the Nou Camp on 22 October 2000, where he was greeted with a deluge of abuse and a hail of missiles – most eyebrow raising among them a few half-bricks, a bicycle chain, a number of coins and three mobile phones.
In the lead up to that game, thousands of fans took to creating several large copies of a 1,000 peseta note with Figo’s face and the phrase “Figo, money grabber” emblazoned on it in Spanish.
The sheer depth of the animosity was truly astounding. The Barcelona fans never forgave him, and the November 2002 derby at the Nou Camp ascended to even more mythical status than the “money grabber” encounter from two years previously.
This time, Figo had to dodge a full bottle of whisky and a pig’s head flung at him. Roberto Carlos took the Real Madrid players off in protest, and nasty accusations broke from Barcelona president Joan Gaspart following the match when he claimed Figo had been asked to take corners with the sole aim of provoking the home support.