x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fans have to bite the bullet and face star tantrums

Turning up week after week to idolise sports 'stars', no matter their loutish behaviour, borders on the foolish.

The shooting incident is the latest in a long line of controversial moments for Ashley Cole, the Chelsea left-back. Rebecca Naden / Press Association
The shooting incident is the latest in a long line of controversial moments for Ashley Cole, the Chelsea left-back. Rebecca Naden / Press Association

Each year brings at least several days on which one must hurl sympathy and marvel upon the profoundly durable being known as the sport fanatic.

In so many million instances, this wretched soul never asked to become what he or she has become. Usually some well-meaning parent coaxed him or her into it as a child, or he or she noticed as a teenager that nothing can create exhilarating noise like a stadium, or he or she as a young adult found that sport eased tedium or lent diversion.

Let this whole progression congeal as we have, and pretty soon you have a whole stadium full of people turning up on a Tuesday night in West London to applaud with all might a team whose starting 11 features ... Ashley Cole.

The whole thing is so grim.

Beyond mere Chelsea and all around the world, we have this spectacle in which earnest people end up cheering for lousy people.

People come to a ground like Stamford Bridge and add unneeded reverence toward somebody so completely disrespectful of everybody else that he could even think to bring an air rifle to the training ground, brandish it brainlessly and wind up firing a pellet into a 21-year-old intern.

Go, team, go.

It brings to mind the line from the American comedian and philosopher Jerry Seinfeld. Noting that players change teams so fluidly and serially in the United States that in fact fans visit stadiums to cheer for "laundry". When the contents of the blue laundry include Cole, it does bring some comfort that the impetus could be the laundry.

So the fans revelled on Tuesday night, and Chelsea beat Manchester United 2-1 even if the referee's decisive 80th-minute penalty might have stemmed partly from fear of a potential .22 air rifle assault. It pointed up again a strange justice about fandom.

You can dole fans partial blame for imbuing Cole with the certainty that his own importance trumps that of others, that it's really not that big a deal when he drives at 104mph in a residential 50mph zone and so on.

And you can say fans thus earn the plight of going to the stadium to cheer through grimaces at what they have created.

You just cannot implore fans to quit being fans any more than you would urge anybody to yield some other, long-entrenched diversion. Kicking addiction or affliction is not that simple, especially given sport's litany of charms.

So onward churn these mighty creatures, the fans, through all manner of preposterousness. Putting aside the tedium of tabloid personal lives, they navigate the hard, choppy surf of attacks on teammates (Joey Barton, Andy Carroll) or scraps born of megalomaniacal fussiness of karaoke or music selection (Craig Bellamy, Steven Gerrard), and still they support teams that employ such players.

And that's only England. Venture across the Atlantic from there and the crud grows exponentially although it is unclear how it matches up per-capita.

With Cole, though, you have a rare study in instances of monumental dimness.

Four years and change ago, his autobiography appeared with the unforgettable passage about when his agent dialled with news that Arsenal had offered only £55,000 per week (Dh 329,500) rather than the requested £60,000. "When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55,000," he wrote so memorably, "I nearly swerved off the road. ... I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling in anger. I couldn't believe what I'd heard."

To think like this would be one depraved thing, but to write it in one's book while pleading for popularity rather redefined megalomania. Writing in the Guardian, Marina Hyde appropriately surmised that "even by the self-regarding standards of the recent footballer books", Cole's "must be deemed the mother lode".

Thankfully she continued: "The one thing it supports is Thierry Henry's claim earlier this summer that his former teammates was misunderstood. Evidently. He is far more ghastly than any of us suspected."

Now you have the arrant disregard for all other beings in the very idea of bringing the air rifle to the training ground and hoisting it from its box, with the story going that he believed it unloaded. Bringing it while thinking it loaded would be mountainous stupidity, but bringing it while unaware either way would take that stupidity from a mere Kilimanjaro level to Everest.

Yet the fanatic takes another indignity and plods on, even through another moment when you can wonder when fans might just quit, and surely as you realise again that the likelihood is never.