When football “banter” goes too far…

by Joseph OBrien

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

As a burly striker for clubs such as Arsenal, West Ham United and Celtic, John Hartson used to put his head where most players wouldn’t dare put their feet.

In retirement, he stood face-to-face with death during a life threatening battle with cancer and still came out on top.

But nothing would have prepared the Welsh dragon for the sickening abuse he has received on social networking site Twitter for visiting an 11 year-old terminally ill cancer sufferer – all because of his links with Celtic.

Now every single football fan loves banter, whether it be directed towards a rival team or player or towards one of your mates who happens to support another side. It’s all part and parcel of football. I’d actually go as far as saying that the match itself is just a tiny percentage of why we love the game.

But what makes people take that banter too far? What makes them go that little extra and slag off a guy who – for a few minutes due to his stature in the game – brought laughter and joy to a kid who had idolised him on the pitch?

Jordan Houston, from Musselburgh, East Lothian, was diagnosed with an inoperable form of cancer last August and Hartson had visited him at a hospice in Kinross shortly after learning about his plight.

However, after Hartson decided to use his personal Twitter account to raise awareness of Jordan’s ordeal, what followed was a series of shocking, sickening messages.

Now it’s perfectly alright to give footballers a bit of banter about the game, after all, as I’ve said earlier, that’s what it’s all about. A few light hearted jibes, as long as they remain that way, never hurt anyone.

Slagging Big Bad John about his weight battle during his playing days, or the colour of his hair for that matter, would see him raise a wry smile and probably spark some abuse of his own being hurled in the opposite direction.

But when does someone decide that a bit of banter is not enough and to then come out with this?;

“How long has your dying Jordan got john hahahaha watp 1690”.

Or another post to the dad-of-one which reads;

“Hey Fenian I hope your cancer comes back and also your girlfriend gets it and u both die from it leaving you kid with no parents.”

It’s bad enough thinking about this bile in your own head never mind being calculated enough to sit down, log onto a social networking site, click onto a profile and actually type them out. I mean do these people think that cancer, or other diseases and illnesses, can not effect their families or loved ones?

Replying to the messages on Twitter, Hartson revealed he thought about deleting his account, saying: “I was annoyed yesterday. It was hard enough seeing wee Jordan, then sick comments about him made me feel like chucking it!

“I’m not naive enough to think I wouldn’t get any stick on Twitter. So aim it at me and not at a little kid enjoying last moments of his life.”

To show that these twisted people will not win, John Hartson has kept his Twitter account open. Through Twitter he has helped raise awareness of Jordan, despite the cruel taunts and abuse that has came his way.

Football is a game loved by millions around the world. It injects life into people living in countries decimated by war, famine and disease and brings together humans from all walks off, no matter their nationality or colour.

John Hartson is a man and father that no-one would have known about had he not been a footballer. Jordan Houston just so happened to be the ill child that touched John’s heart because of his brave battle with cancer.

Sometimes people should remember that football is nothing but a game.

Let’s try to enjoy the “beauty” of the beautiful game – and not use what happens on a football field as a being an excuse to spout bile and hatred.

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