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The Online Abuse of Mason Mount is Only the Next in a List of Targets Which Bring Out the Worst in Fan Culture

Scanning Twitter after Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Leicester City in the Premier League brought a similar dispiriting feeling.

It was not the natural overreaction or hyperbole that engulfs most discussion online, it wasn’t the mass hysteria over the club’s lack of January transfer business – it was that once again, the name of Mason Mount was all too prevalent.

You might have assumed following the midfielder’s performance there would be a consensus of praise. Mount had been the creator of both Chelsea goals – a corner and a free-kick – headed in by Antonio Rudiger.

But no. For anyone verse in the current trends of Twitter regarding the West London club, Mount has increasingly become a prime target for harsh criticism and abuse.

The two are separate and that is something that should be made clear.

Criticism is different to abuse. By no means is this article an attempt to blur the lines and make broad strokes that anyone sharing their critical view on a player in a respectful way should be labelled as an abusive figure.

Though sadly, it is undeniable that in some corners, what starts out as criticism can lead down a toxic path pretty quickly.

Mason Mount in isolation is a frustrating case, but to look at it on its own would be reductive.

As online platforms have grown in stature, the 24/7 chatter has seen an increase in negativity. From managers to players, the wrath of judgement has come for all and it isn’t looking like stopping anytime soon.

Solely focussing on Chelsea, the first signs of this obsession with player criticism came with Willian.

The Brazilian feels like the perfect poster boy for this phenomenon. A player who has probably received the most amount of vitriol from his own supporters in his over six-year career with the club. The winger’s inconsistent form has sparked the ire of many and will regularly be a name attributed with the club’s failings. Even when the 30-year-old performs well – like scoring two goals away at Tottenham Hotspur – people still cannot let their personal grudge go.

Although many will concede Willian is by no means a perfect player, a lot of match-going fans commend his work-rate and loyalty to the club. Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard have all named him as a regular in their lineups which cannot be ignored.

Back in the summer, Willian announced that he would be releasing an online course titled “How to become a Successful Footballer”. This sparked a lot of mockery from those who regularly bemoan and dismiss Willian. Though after being a key component in 2 Premier League winning sides, picking up 2 Europa League titles, an FA and League Cup – plus a Copa America to go with 5 Ukrainian titles, it is fair to say there are not many better placed to share advice on the matter.

Gary Cahill also would find himself on the scapegoat train for a period of time during on-pitch struggles. Cahill, who had heroically played through injury in Chelsea’s European Cup final triumph over Bayern Munich in 2012, clearly didn’t have enough credit in the bank for a minority to spend months on end slandering and demeaning the defender’s abilities.

Even if both of their times were brief and unsuccessful, the toxicity shown towards Alvaro Morata and Tiémoué Bakayoko was less than savoury – leading to the most innocuous of Instagram posts as reason to spark another tirade of hate. Bakayoko being booed by a section of fans when he was shown a second yellow away to Watford in February of 2018.

Jorginho can be pinpointed as a player who became one of the centres of fan anger last season under Maurizio Sarri – with that abuse spilling into the stands. When booing could be heard when brought on as a substitute at home to Malmo in the Europa League – plus the sarcastic cheering when was replaced at home to Wolves not long after.

The Italian would also be smeared as “Sarri’s Son” a nickname to infer bias from the current head coach, leading to further bashing as the dislike for Sarri grew.

Whilst all of these players have different stories and levels of talent, it is hard not to draw a line through all of them – they were all subjected to abuse online.

Looking away from Stamford Bridge, you only have to gaze across to North London where Granit Xhaka was booed off the pitch by his own fans at The Emirates in November. The Swiss midfielder reacted by cupping his ears and telling the home faithful to “F**k off”.

In Manchester, both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have been subjected to similar – leading into racist abuse on Twitter which Tammy Abraham suffered after missing the deciding penalty against Liverpool in the Super Cup.

The counter arguments naturally lead down a road that links to a player’s extortionate wage packet and that their privileged lifestyle means any and all abuse is fair game. Because of the rising price of football, some feel they have paid the right to abuse.

Callum Hudson-Odoi’s wage has regularly been shouted in his face during his recent struggles. This line of thinking links to a concept that because footballers earn a lot, there is an emotional disconnection to them. Lifting them from having to deal with the plight of mental health issues, stress and struggle.

Just digging a little into the subject you understand this simply is not the case. The Athletic reported following a home defeat to Southampton that Hudson-Odoi had been affected by the abuse he had been receiving and was going up to fellow teammates for reassurance.

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It is a lazy retort to dismiss abuse from online or the stands from a player’s own supposed supporters as part and parcel of the system. When criticising this behaviour online one responded telling me to “Play the game” – well the game is broken and needs challenging. Just browsing through some of the replies to posts from player’s own official social media accounts is a cesspit of hatred.

This brings up wider questions. Do we want to live in a society where we continually turn a blind eye to this behaviour? Either it comes from a defeatist place or an idea the price footballers must pay for living out a fantasy of ours is regularly dealing with disgusting comments.

When looking for an explanation behind this obsession with criticism, a club like Chelsea’s success likely has been a major contributing factor.

Since Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003, the London club have been stepped in regular success. During the Russian’s ownership, the club has yet to go two seasons without claiming any piece of silverware. Whilst to many supporting Chelsea has been a fantasy, this has naturally led to an extraordinarily high level of expectation. For all of the glory and happiness this has brought to every supporter’s lives there in-turn is a younger generation (to which I’m a part of) who have only witnessed the club etched in glory.

Speaking with Twitter account @VialliChelseaFC on this matter he expressed this notion: “I think it’s a combination of factors for the abuse players have received in the last couple of years on social media.

“It’s from fans who are millennials and are expecting things to be handed to them on a plate. Imagine any of them supporting the club during a ten-year period when the club was relegated three times and had some truly atrocious players?

“As fans we should be the treating the manager, players and owner exactly how we would like to be treated. Respect. Yes, criticise but in a constructive manner and with a solution.”

Although elders and video can showcase the club’s rocky history, dices with danger and getting close to liquidation – without living through that period, it is hard to personally grasp it unless you were stood on the Shed watching Chelsea battle relegation.

Chelsea are symbolic of the win-now, ask questions later mentality. Fans have been conditioned by witnessing unrelenting victory, the revolving door of managers whose life span is equitable to that of a hamster. With the way Chelsea have operated, is it any surprise a character like Maurizio Sarri clashed so heavily with the soul of the club? 

It is also likely a good reflection of the current times we are in. We live in a binary culture, with harsh and absolute reactions to events. Everything has to be either 100% good or 100% terrible. You can feel pretty isolated if you are someone who sits in the middle, looks at both sides of an argument and tries to see nuance – that’s a bit of deserted wasteland.

The worrying aspect is how this hostility will impact the likes of Mount, who has grown up on social media. Despite heavy tabloid scrutiny, the likes of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba did not have to contend with their similarly underwhelming maiden seasons in Blue scrutinised to a microscopic level. If Twitter was around in 2005, it is likely Drogba would have been written off, a player who seven years later would kick the most important ball in the club’s history.

The negative mental effect of social media, the abuse received, the noise which can overwhelm even the calmest of heads. There needs to be concern for their development and to those responsible for this negativity, do they think their words will help or hinder the growth of a young player? 

It is hard to get into the same mind space of some who talk with so much venom towards their own players, the ones it is our duty to support. 

“I sometimes get told I’m too positive supporting Chelsea.” Chris Wright, a season ticket holder since the 1997/98 season and a CFCUK Fanzine writer.

“Red crosses through players is just attention seeking and best to ignore. People who do this can we really call them fans? This is a time we should be supporting our young players more than ever as we’re finally giving them an opportunity. Young players are inevitable going to have inconsistent performances as they’re learning, as is Lampard as a young manager.

“It is important we don’t overhype when they’ve played well and not be too critical, they have had a below par performance. We all want to win trophies but I’m happy for us to finally build for a better future. A rebuild was most definitely needed.”

In preparation for this article, I tweeted for responses and here is a collection of the best:

Returning to Mount, the raise in critique might be linked to a fatigue and the natural decline of Mount’s impact on the team as results have soured. Though this was apparent earlier in the campaign when the midfielder was playing with flair and confidence. 

Before a game away to Southampton, there were a flurry of calls for Lampard to drop Mount in favour of someone else. There has been a growing cry that Lampard has a bias towards English players – a conspiracy theory that can be easily dismantled with the most casual of inspection whenever Rudiger is favoured over Tomori, or Willian over Hudson-Odoi. Mount would go on to score in a brilliant 4-1 win.

There has seemed to be a strange obsession over Mount. His failings expanded and highlighted beyond proportion, his strengths dismissed. Many have lambasted Mount's creative impact on the team but in comparison to the likes of James Maddison and Jack Grealish, Mount's tally of 5 goals and 4 assists fares pretty well against his competition. 

However, it appears football fans sometimes want their own player's to fail. Whether it is because like Mount, some would rather see him falter so another can take his place, rather than rationally wanting all who play for Chelsea to do well – no that's far too logical. 

Though as this article has looked to illustrate its Mount today, but it will soon be someone else tomorrow. Kepa Arrizabalaga has come under fire from his struggle for form in recent weeks and has sparked similar scorn. This trend will only grow and go for more names the longer it goes unchallenged.

Free speech is a powerful tool and must be withheld, though that freedom of speech can be used equally to challenge others and if fans want a healthier level of debate, it is a responsibility to confront the issue face on rather than sweeping it under the carpet and letting it fester. 

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