When he posted a voice clip highly critical of a player belonging to a major English Premier League football club, of which he remains a loyal fan, during an impassioned debate in a private football-based WhatsApp group recently, K.K. Shajeendran, a football analyst, had no clue that it would evoke such abusive backlash in the hours since then.
No sooner than someone leaked the voice clip and shared it in other WhatsApp groups of football fans had he started receiving abusive and threatening messages even against his family, mostly from people claiming to be fans of the player he criticised. As the number of such abusive messages entered into double digits, a rattled Mr. Shajeendran lodged a complaint with the Palarivattom police.
Since then, the police have tracked down a few of those numbers, including from abroad. While some have been personally summoned, others have been given a stern warning over the phone.
“Passion for the game is now denigrating into abusive behaviour. Also, modern football fans seem to be more fanatic followers of individual players rather than old school fans who supported a club or team. The players they worship are beyond criticism, and the ones who dare do it are singled out for abusive and hateful treatment. I had to quit multiple football forums after finding the fandom toxic,” said Mr. Shajeendran who runs a football analysis show on YouTube.
Charles Raj, vice president of the Kochi-based Hermanos FC Foundation, observed that hooliganism associated with football fans in Europe seemed to have crept into the fan following here as well. “Any difference of opinion often fast descends into abusive comments regardless of the player or club. Forget about rival fans locking horns, there are instances of fans of the same club going for each other. Such abusive behaviour is not restricted to football alone, but seems the norm in most social media interactions,” he said.
Akash Kesavan, chairman of Manchester United Supporters Club Kerala, said voice clips leaking from private social media groups and the abusive response are nothing new. “Some consider such abusive behaviour as proof of being hardcore fans, while anything devoid of respect for others can hardly be treated as fandom. We have made it a point to delete unacceptable comments and block the ones who post them from our official social media handles,” he said.
Yadu Krishna, president of Penya Del Barca Kozhikode-Kerala, the official supporters club of FC Barcelona, said animosity need not be the norm among rival fans citing how they got along quite well with the supporters of arch rivals Real Madrid. “Football is a game of aggression, and it breeds an intensity among its followers. But despite being fierce rivals in matters related to the game, there are good friendships beyond that. Some social media groups even organise sporting events and quiz contests to forge camaraderie cutting across club affiliations,” he said.