Raheem Sterling is a national treasure. He grew up fatherless on a tough Wembley estate having arrived in Britain aged five from a notoriously dicey district of Jamaica rife with gun crime. At ten years of age he was switched to Vernon House Special School due to behavioural problems and his teacher suspected his future lay in the system.
There are a lot of excuses there if excuses were needed; if the years had gone astray. There are a lot of emotional and physical ceilings he could have lived under for the rest of his life.
Instead Raheem is the best at what he does in the country. In recent times he has bought both his mum and his sister a house. He is in a long-term relationship and has two beautiful kids. He is shy, funny and, anecdotally, a thoroughly decent lad.
More so he makes racists look stupid time after time after time. They boo because he once moved from one Premier League club to another Premier League club – something that 27 other footballers did that very summer – and because the Daily Mail and The Sun dog-whistle repellent stereotypes in among their obsessive reporting of his day-today existence. They boo because he doesn’t have the same colour of skin as they do and he was once spotted shopping in Primark. If that sentence doesn’t make sense that’s because racism doesn’t make sense.
How does Raheem respond to this small-minded imbecility? He scores goals. He sticks his tush out and dangles his arms like a baby t-rex and sprints into dangerous areas to convert 23 across all competitions. This season in the league alone he has scored more than Romelu Lukaku and Roberto Firmino and considerably more than Alexandre Lacazette and Alvaro Morata. He has scored twice the amount of Alexis Sanchez. He can’t finish though. That’s what they say, bitter and racist.
Better yet, in addition to shoving the taunts back down his hater’s throats Raheem also delights in teasing their bigotry. In 2014 he tweeted a photograph of his little daughter accompanied by the words ‘All my 8 kids in one pic…oh god do I love them all’. It should not be taken for granted how joyous that is even if the reasons for it are so utterly depressing. Here we have a young lad acing his life against the odds and to the backdrop of the most sustained and weird media castigation designed to incite hatred from strangers and his reaction to it all is to ace his life some more then make a joke at their expense.
This summer in Russia he will make them well up with patriotic pride. These idiots. These Neanderthal, tabloid-swallowing idiots.
Raheem Sterling is a hero. He is exemplary. He is a natural treasure.
Harry Kane is not a national treasure. That is not to belittle him in any way because there is a great deal to hugely like and hugely admire about the 24-year-old. He is a phenomenally prolific striker and given that only five short years ago he was struggling for game-time on loan at Leicester his is a transformation that truly staggers. Furthermore he is honest (mostly) on the pitch and loyal to his club and is quite clearly a genuine guy lacking in superstar ego.
His clean-cut image however works against him. Not to any damaging degree and it would be necessary to travel quite some distance from the Emirates to find anyone truthfully claiming that they have strong negative feelings towards the Spurs star. Certainly though his goody-two-shoes demeanour and consistent excellence is a combination that bristles with the British public.
It was the same with Gary Lineker and Alan ‘Mary Poppins’ Shearer before him. In the world of celebrity we like our national treasures to bring a smile to the faces of our grans: a Stephen Fry perhaps, or Sue Perkins. In football we prefer them to have an edge; for our icons to have feet made of clay. Paul Gascoigne perfectly epitomises this.
Therefore we tease Kane. Just like we did with Lineker’s avoidance of yellow cards and Beckham’s golden balls. We may mature as people but as a society we will always have one foot in the playground and here are life’s grade A students with their preppy manners, Peter Perfect conduct and apple for the teacher.
Of course we poke fun at them and that is why when Harry Kane swore on his daughter’s life that he got the final touch on a Tottenham goal earlier this month and was duly awarded it social media went mad with memes photoshopping Kane taking credit for pretty much anything from the moon landing to fathering Kate Middleton’s third child.
There was zero maliciousness in any of this and indeed so transparently light-hearted was the intent that the FA’s official Twitter account felt fine with joining in with the japery while this week PFA chairman Ben Purkiss joked at an awards ceremony that the forward was so prolific he no longer needed to touch the ball.
Kane however has not seen the funny side, making it known via some artful leaking that his family are ‘furious’ and that he deems it to be bullying. With such thin skin you really have to wonder how he would have handled the career-long taunting of Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney from rival fan-bases nauseated by the constant positive press they received but let’s give him a pass all the same here because the last time I looked having thin skin wasn’t a crime.
As far as the media’s reaction goes though, well, that’s an entirely different matter. The Mirror’s John Cross was very cross with the mockery and he was hardly alone as the tabloids and broadsheets combined in blind fury to defend the England forward and condemn the disrespectful ‘bullying’. The Telegraph’s headline on Monday said it all – “Harry Kane is England’s golden boy – it is disgraceful he is the butt of FA and PFA jokes”.
Golden boy or great white hope? Because while the media’s condemnation of bullying in any sphere can only be regarded as rank hypocrisy in this instance we can say without subjectivity that they are complicit to boot. Their whitewashing of Kane – commentators excusing any unsavoury action undertaken while elsewhere lavishing him with the same fulsome lauding as a young prince – has directly led to the public latching on to any perceived wrongdoing by the player and exaggerating it. Their treatment of Sterling meanwhile is one of the strangest episodes in modern sport, a witch-hunt no less and one that has directly led to the player being booed across the country and indirectly inflaming an unhinged individual committing racially aggravated common assault on the lad last year.
To compare the last few years for each player and the bullying they have been subjected to one is a singular flick of the ear while the other is repeated spitting in the face. How strange then that the media respond with anguished indignation to the former yet remain steadfastly silent to the other. How stranger still that they perpetuate and facilitate the latter.
This summer England go into a World Cup boasting two attackers with 44 Premier League goals between them. One is a media darling. The other is a media hate figure. One is white. One is black.
Presently the white footballer has had his feelings hurt ahead of a major tournament and the Telegraph are aghast. During Euro 2016 they ran a ticker showing how much the black footballer was earning daily while one of their rivals ran a gofundme campaign to have him flown home.
It is my job here to make a conclusion. I really don’t have to.