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One of the few times that journalists and fans tend to be united behind one point of view is whenever a dead person is being 'honoured'. The phrase 'classy touch' and 'great respect' are solemnly intoned, as a wreath is laid or a favourite song is played, particularly when fans of opposing clubs join in the reverence, as if basic human dignity was something to be congratulated. It was so during West Ham's ceremony marking 20 years since Bobby Moore's death on Monday night - the whole thing was mawkishly sentimental, but Bobby Moore was a brilliant player for the Hammers, so it would be churlish to deny he and his family their evening.
The problem came when Moore was described as a 'great man'. This was stated as fact, and because it was about the sainted Bobby, few felt they could disagree. Or point out that he left his first wife for an air stewardess. One also wonders how Moore - and indeed every other footballer of his generation held up as flawless by those with misty eyes - would fare with today's press and level of fandom.
The point here is not that Moore wasn't a great man, just that 95% of the people honouring him have no idea if he was or not. Moore was clearly a brilliant footballer, but this is where we get into trouble these days, by ascribing personal 'greatness' to a sportsman based on their athletic feats.
If the past year or so in sport has taught us nothing else, it's that 'heroes' always have the capacity to disappoint. Comic website The Onion (as is often the case with their sort) hit upon the crux of the issue with an ostensibly amusing piece after Oscar Pistorius was arrested: 'Report: World Now Down To 5 Stories That Are Inspirational'.
Pistorius was, quite rightly, a beacon to some, a physical embodiment of the idea that most things are possible. This guy didn't have any legs but ran in the Olympics. Lance Armstrong had cancer but won the Tour de France seven times. Tiger Woods redefined an overwhelmingly white sport. But they eventually all shattered an illusion that should never have existed.
When a narrative is being constructed, such as Pistorius The Inspirational Hero, everything that opposes it is ignored and swept under the carpet of sentiment. However, when the facade eventually does slip, the papers become full of stories saying 'Well, he was always a wrong 'un' you know.' This stuff was all there, it just didn't fit the story before, but when a man is accused of shooting his girlfriend through a bathroom door, suddenly all the hush-hushed tales of naughtiness seem more interesting and relevant.
In football, as with the rest of sport, we should not apply hero status to people just because they are good at something. For the most part, we've got absolutely no idea what happens in their heads and how that will subsequently define their actions. What if we decide on a hero, someone we raise to some sort of higher standard and anoint The One, but then discover they hold some rather questionable views? When I was a young lad, I thought Stuart Pearce could do no wrong, so when it emerged he racially abused Paul Ince on the pitch, it was enormously disillusioning.
It's an easy thing to do, particularly if you unwittingly develop an emotional attachment to a player. Sir Alex Ferguson recently described Ryan Giggs as "a fantastic human being" - one suspects his wife and brother might hold a slightly different view. Semantics it may be, but it's possible for Giggs and others to be incredible sportsmen and professionals without their characters being beyond reproach.
The other problem is that applying hero status to footballers can warp our sense of perspective and morals. When a player is held up as a hero, his faults are ignored to damaging degrees, the obvious examples being John Terry and Luis Suarez. These were two players that were so central to the success of their clubs that when their respective 'problems' arose, the support or otherwise for them was split, for the large part, along club lines. That was either a freakish coincidence or they were supporting a man and defending his actions simply because he plays for their club.
Terry illustrates another point, because those who have played with him rarely have a bad word to say. There are endless tales of him paying medical bills, taking care of young players as they join Chelsea and so forth, but his other well-publicised conduct means most people have made up their minds about him. I would guess that whichever way you fall on that one depends very much on whether you're a Chelsea fan. How do you balance out which characteristics are better or worse? Do you forgive someone of domestic abuse because they score the winner in a cup final? The easiest thing to do is not put yourself in that position, and simply treat these men that you've never met as football machines rather than people to admire.
It works outside of the athletic sphere too, of course - my favourite singer is probably Morrissey, and when I go to his concerts I become one of those fans, swooning over this bequiffed crooner because of his music and charisma. But off stage Morrissey is an insufferable arse with some hugely questionable political views, so my adoration is confined to his songs. A music reviewer recently received praise for refusing to write about Chris Brown's latest album, simply writing 'Chris Brown hits women' where the dissection of the music should have been. Of course, an enterprising soul then discovered that this reviewer's favourites list was full of artists that had their own, perhaps less publicised history with domestic violence. The art is separate to the person, as it should be in sport.
You're an adult, in all probability. You are capable of making rational, unemotional decisions, such as separating a footballer's character from their sporting ability. Sure, hold them up as fine exponents of their craft, but nothing more. This, as well as the ability to drive a car and buy a beer (not at the same time, kids) is what separates us from children.
So admire your footballers. Celebrate their achievements. Allow what they do for your club to make you feel happy. Just don't call them your heroes, because they're probably going to disappoint.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
This is a documented psychological phenomenon. It's called the halo effect.- up4thejamboree