CR7: Let’s be intelligent hooligans

Looking back at almost two decades of football admiration, my most crushing experience was not a lost final or a last-minute goal, but rather a retrospective slow motion replay. In it, Chelsea captain John Terry, targeting Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand, could clearly be seen mouthing the words, “fucking black cunt”.

It was particularly painful because, prior to being presented with that indisputable evidence, I had fiercely denied to anyone who would listen the plausibility of the accusations that emerged in the aftermath of that 2011 match. Rio Ferdinand had long been a resentful leader of a rival team and now his brother was getting in on the act.

More importantly, this was Terry, “Captain, Leader, Legend”, as the banner says. He had come to represent everything the club hoped to stand by. The only thing he had done wrong in his life was slip in the 2008 Champions League final. Even sleeping with his best friend’s former wife and cheating on his own wife was never vilified through Blue eyes.

There have been countless such mass occurrences of indifference and insensitivity in football. And now there’s one brewing that threatens to be nastier than any we’ve seen before.

Allegations of rape have emerged against global phenomenon Cristiano Ronaldo. Kathryn Mayorga says the Portuguese forced himself on her in a Las Vegas hotel in 2009. She then reportedly agreed to a settlement that would see her remain quiet until now.

Police confirmed on Tuesday that they have reopened the investigation.

Ronaldo’s lawyer have dismissed the reports as “one of the most serious violations of personal rights in recent years”.

We can only wait and see how this progresses through the official channels. The public trial, of course, is well under way. Particularly disturbing has been the volume and tone of the support for the accused. Hashtags such as #IStandWithCristiano and slut-shaming projectiles have been thrown around with reckless abandon. Thousands of others have refused to acknowledge that the allegations have enough space to accommodate a fragment of truth.

While Terry had a few stubborn Chelsea fans to propagate his disbelief, Ronaldo has achieved superstar status on an unprecedented level. There are zealots around the globe that would arm themselves in his defence, solicited or not. Speaking out against this man is, in their opinion, legitimately dangerous.

To these people the message is simple: don’t be a wanker.

Yes, he’s innocent until proven guilty. No, you don’t have to sharpen your pitchfork and hunt him down yourself. But, whatever you do, don’t add to the noise and voice your support for someone who’s been accused of a heinous crime.

Football naturally pitches you as in opposition to everybody else. To this day, Stoke City fans boo Aaron Ramsey because he decided to get his leg broken on their pitch. Liverpool players wore T-shirts in support of Luis Suárez after the Football Association dared to sanction him for racism — not long before the Terry incident, in fact. It’s in our nature to clam up when our teams and idols are challenged — after all, a sizeable chunk of us are football hooligans. Maybe not in the Mill wall sense, but certainly in the Maradona mould. Let’s not pretend we don’t jerk our bodies and throw our hands about in manic fashion in front of the TV on weekends. This is who we are.

But let’s be better hooligans.

Der Spiegel, the German publication that revealed the Ronaldo allegations, is a respected outlet that has evidently put in sufficient work to give this story credibility. They knew full well if they hadn’t, a pack of hungry lawyers would be savouring the meal to come. (Indeed, CR7’s team have said they will be suing “fake news” Der Spiegel.)

The point is that this is not coming from American radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. It’s not some YouTuber or Buzzfeed journalist trying to get clicks. It doesn’t mean Ronaldo is guilty;it means you are in no position to dismiss years of research the way United States President Donald Trump crushes truth under his heel.

With the evidence presented before us, Ronaldo at the very least appears a philanderer who dismissed a woman’s concerns by paying her off. The importance of this attitude goes far beyond the confines of the football pitch. Should he be found guilty of much more, your shouts of support make you an accessory to the crime. This powerful icon and his lawyers do not need you fighting for him. It’s hard, but even the most fervent hooligans among us have to accept at some point in our lives that what happens in our favourite stadiums can’t compare to the crimes of racism and sexual abuse. And being the best in the world does not absolve you of those crimes, or our scrutiny.

So let’s not send our abuse in the direction of alleged victims — save it for the referees.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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