There was a delicious irony in seeing the British tabloid press leap to Wayne Rooney's defence this week. The Manchester United forward was labelled a "hooligan" by Spanish newspaper Marca before Wednesday's Champions League match against Real Madrid.
"An astonishing attack," said The Sun. "The Spanish have declared war," foamed the Daily Star.
Because, of course, the British media has never uttered a word against Rooney, never mocked his physique, questioned his morality or cast judgement upon his discipline.
Marca was correct in asserting that Rooney appears to show more terrace mentality than most modern professionals. He is hot-tempered, occasionally foul-mouthed and does not shy away from the physical side of the game. This is why we like him. Marca's only error was to use the word "hooligan".
When used in conjunction with football, that word has a meaning that applies neither to Rooney nor the majority of English fans. That word belongs to us. The British football community invented the term, its fans suffered the "disease", then collectively took steps to stamp it out.
If they choose to occasionally bandy it around in jest, to play with its meaning, so be it. Like other groups, they took ownership of a term of abuse that does not belong to everyone, like a certain pejorative term used by some blacks. That term has often been used by Spanish football fans, safe in the knowledge that they will not be punished.
And they mock Rooney for a lack of sophistication?
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