Why Social Media has reinvigorated the art of the football cult hero
Such is the nature of the digital age that we currently live in, it seems that no realm of society is immune from the globalized phenomenon that is social media. Be you a notorious celebrity, fame seeking reality star or merely even a long haul truck driver, there is no walk of life that hasn’t been seemingly invigorated by the power of Twitter, Facebook and the like.
And unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere for the past five years, you’ll be very aware of the efforts those in the footballing world have made to dine at the table of Twitterati prestige. But far from boosting the already inflated egos of the Ashley Cole’s and Rio Ferdinand’s of this world, it’s served a far greater purpose by cultivating the rebirth of football’s cult hero.
Within all the doomy analysis of the state of the game within the 21st century, the penchants for nostalgia among us can’t help but look back to the game of yesteryear. Even just ten years ago, ticket prices didn’t involve the remortgaging of homes, simulation was used to describe PlayStations, not players, and a prawn sandwich was a culinary delicacy that had yet to morph into the footballing antichrist.
But perhaps just as poignantly, cult heroes rightly got the recognition they deserved.
The Manchester City attack may currently be inhibited by a quartet of multi-millionaire, precociously gifted talents, but ten years ago, one Shaun Goater was still lining up for The Citizens. Which begs a good question, in that where have all the Shaun Goaters gone?
Enter the 90’s and beyond, and football seemed to bestow such a wealth of characters, adored by fans not because solely on footballing ability, but because they harnessed more than one iota of personality.
The likes of Jason Lee, Efe Sodje and Marc Bircham were more famous for what was going on with their heads, than down at their feet, but you knew you were in for a bit of entertainment going to watch them every weekend. John Jensen, Julian Dicks and Steve Stone were never the most technically accomplished of footballers, but they always wielded an affectionate response from fans.
Their cult statuses were forged by fans, within the grounds; not because they banged in 30 goals a year, but because they had a little something more about them. In the PR sanitized world of the modern day Premier League which we currently live in, it does sometimes feel like these characters are no more than a distant motif of yesterday’s game.
But although it does feel like there are generally a lot less silly haircuts and eccentric personalities within the English game, this isn’t necessarily to say that the practice of the cult hero doesn’t still exist. It’s just that today, perhaps, cult heroes are forged more in the digital domain than the physical one.
Take Emile Heskey, for example. During his time in the Premier League, he came in for a bit of stick for a suspect goal scoring record, but such was his relatively serious public demeanor, you could never coax much in the way of humour out of the big man, on or off the pitch.
Type his name into Google, however, and you become instantly exposed to something of a digital underworld of cult practice. Indeed, the first three related searches for the ex-England striker, include ‘Emile Heskey jokes’, ‘Emile Heskey drinking game’ and ‘Emile Heskey Twitter’; the latter of which produces a page of four parody accounts with near on 30,000 followers in total. He’s even got his own parody rap song, which has around 2,500,000 views on You Tube and counting.
The cult hero phenomenon isn’t dead – it’s just experiencing a rebirth.
Again, take Mario Balotelli as another example. With an off field resume that includes the lighting of pyrotechnics in his own mansion, the racking up of £10,000 in parking fines and various tales of random acts of generosity, he’s got all the trappings of a classic cult hero. Yet he feels somewhat maligned by the frowning corporate face of today’s Premier League. But in the digital domain, he’s the stuff of urban legend.
Balotelli himself can boast two parody accounts on Twitter to the combined tune of half a million followers. His iconic, hulking celebration after his second goal against Germany in the European Championships has produced hundreds of memes and comedy photoshopped images that have spawned the world over. You could argue that the cult of Balotelli, despite his obvious higher profile than your archetypal cult hero, has gone further than anything we could have ever imagined ten years ago.
Some will of course argue that it’s not the same and that the social media fuelled revolutions of Heskey, Balotelli and the like, can’t be compared to yesterday’s heroes. But there’s no need to fear, as even they’re now joining in on the fun.
Are you a QPR fan craving a bit of Marc Bircham related banter? His bio says he enjoys having a cheeky few drinks now and again, and you can ask him all about it here. Former Spurs Uefa Cup winner turned London cabbie Micky Hazard is a prolific Tweeter and he loves nothing more than interacting with fans.
Still not enough cult heroes for you? You can get nuggets of Dean Windass related wisdom on Twitter, legendary cult left-back Rufus Brevett would be only too happy to have you on board and if that’s still not whetting the appetite, then why not add to ex-Plymouth Argyle and Nigerian legend Taribo West’s 5,254 followers?
Football has changed in almost ever respect within recent times, and even something as trivial and as organic as the creation of a cult hero, isn’t quite the same as it used to be. But it’s still there and in one guise or another, it most certainly always will be.
How do you feel about the evolution of the Cult Hero? Have I missed any social networking phenomenons or do you just want to fire a few Eoin Jess’ at me? Tell me all on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and get involved.