‘Digital’ fans, skin-deep love, and Emile Heskey 0

The game has changed in the last ten years.  Not necessarily the sport itself, but certainly the way in which we digest it.

Before the internet ‘happened’, football watching was divided into three categories: live, live on television, recorded highlights.  There were no alternatives, save for having VHS copies of season reviews or particularly memorable past games.

That’s not the case anymore; the online world caters for everyone and whether via illegal streaming, Vines, or YouTube footage, there really isn’t much of the game which isn’t immediately accessible at every hour of the day.  Football used to be more of a commitment and knowledge of it was only ever really acquired through genuine dedication.  You went to the matches, you read and re-read the magazines, you collected the stickers, you stayed up as long as you possibly could during Match Of The Day, and you probably subscribed to Roy Of The Rovers - and if you weren’t prepared to put that time in, then you could never really become part of the conversation.

In a snobbish, non-inclusive way, maybe that was a good thing and maybe that was a natural filter for some of the bullshit under which the game is now drowning?  If that’s elitist, then so be it, the football periphery felt like a better place to be twenty years ago.

There’s a new phenomenon: the digital fan.  Characteristically, that’s a younger, video game-playing, Vine-making, LOL-monger.  To that sort of supporter, the football is a secondary priority behind the OMFG! moments, the opportunity for contrived homoeroticism, and the indulgence in and the creation of false transfer-rumours.  These are like those people who claim to really ‘feel’ hip-hop but whose iPod’s are littered with redacted Eminem tracks.  It’s skin-deep fandom.

And this is a changing world which Emile Heskey fell foul of.

More than just any other contemporary player, Heskey represents how easy it has become to be falsely categorised.  As a footballer, he was essentially a gift to the kind of fan described above: he got older, more clumsy, less mobile and less effective - and he became ‘bantz’ fodder in about a million different YouTube videos.

Over time, that became fact - the depiction of him as just one, big ‘MEGALOL’ became the reality.  Emile Heskey is forever a punchline because of how easy it is to create viral content around the last years of his career.

How terribly unfair; the powerful, mobile forward who ran through defences like a bowling ball in his Leicester City and Liverpool days reduced to being retweet-bait for FIFA kids and banter accounts.  The 62-caps for England Emile Heskey who was physically eroded by the Premier League over 500 appearances?  That’s your punchline?

Would that ever have happened twenty years ago?  Would we have had such a selectively reductive attitude towards a player’s career?

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