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Ashley Young and the loss of innocence in the age of ‘anything goes’ social media

Nothing is sacred, not anymore, and your team has a social media account ready to lead the pile on.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Aston Villa v Blackburn Rovers - Villa Park Photo by Stephen Pond - PA Images via Getty Images

Football is built on moments. Moments of bravery, moments of skill. Most importantly, goals that elicit the purest joy and the rawest outpour of emotion among fans.

There will continue to be debates – far beyond this season – on how VAR negatively impacts such moments. The rush of blood may become tempered by the anticipation of a disallowed goal or drawn-out review.

On Monday 26 August, however, Andros Townsend sought to highlight how a different aspect of the sport that has brought its own wave of negativity.

“Wilf had him dancing”: was the tweet from Crystal Palace’s official account, captioning a clip of Zaha turning Ashley Young twice before striking his cross against the United defender.

That Townsend saw fit to intervene, commenting on his employers’ lack of “respect”, was significant.

Ashley Young, Manchester United’s club captain, is a player of significant pedigree. Now converted to full-back, the former Villa winger registered a phenomenal 16 assists in the 2007/08 campaign – a figure only bettered by Fabregas, Ozil, and De Brunye over more than a decade in the Premier League.

His talismanic performances in claret and blue saw him receive the PFA Young Player of the Award in 2009 – twice being included in the Premier League Team of the Season – and is one of only two players, alongside Harry Kane, to win Player of the Month three times in a calendar year.

That Townsend felt compelled to talk of respect indicated how the sport’s relationship with social media has continued to sour. Showcased by the hypnotics of the transfer window, footballers are now regarded as disposable items by some supporters. They all have a limited shelf-life.

The performances that mesmerised Villa Park, dazzling both Martin O’Neill and Alex Ferguson are consigned to something less than a memory, or worse not even acknowledged, by those who would gleefully berate his performances in a United shirt.

Soccer - Premier League - Aston Villa vs. Birmingham City Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

*Before I begin attempting to deconstruct football’s ‘banter era’, I am a laugh at parties…*

Since clubs’ fanbases have transmitted over to Facebook and Twitter, there has been an attempt to move the humour from the stands over to the more modern platforms.

Palace’s fairly innocuous tweet, at face-value, speaks on two levels about how football fans have attempted to adapt to social media: the first being the desire to build-up a player by knocking another down.

This confused, conflated narrative among supporters places their players’ successes on the inability of the opposition. Never considering that to pay an opponent the highest respect, would see the light shine more positively on one of their own.

Young’s achievements would be wilfully ignored by fans wishing to reduce players’ careers to a single clip, comfortable with its rudimentary simplicity. That Zaha appeared to have the ability to better an England international full-back should rightfully be lauded by the club – but not at their opposition’s expense.

The second theme stemming from Palace’s tweet is the high esteem in which clubs are still held by fans.

The banter from the terraces may have moved online, but the club itself is still viewed as an almost ethereal entity; a higher power, seated above the incessant noise placed below the line. Their accounts are seen to be the standard bearers, the setters of the moral code.

Mirroring wider society, football twitter is steeped in an “us vs you” mentality, mapped out like the home and away ends of every football ground. Highlighting Zaha’s skill, away at Old Trafford, against his former side, was Palace’s attempt to connect with those fans that have stood staunchly along the battle-lines.

That supporters now have 24/7 access to this fervent battleground, compared to just two hours every week, has seen this become entrenched. A collective psyche has formed: their club is now under constant attack.

Subsequently, a ‘humour’ has developed, centred around the celebration of others’ failure. A lack of empathy appears to be woven into the fabric of this fractious mentality, leading to vitriolic debates between fans throughout the country. Unknowingly, all are obsessed as one another.

Football, the sport that has the strongest ability to bring communities together, has led to the creation of a toxic environment: a faceless twitter profile will label another with a slur in a disagreement over a predicted team line-up.

Somehow, Townsend’s tweet appeared to be an attempt to start redressing the balance, beginning with demanding respect for his fellow professionals.

Palace’s tweet may not take away from the pure elation of football, but it did succeed in encouraging infantile responses from supporters. What would a blocked cross from Zaha do for my fantasy team, anyway?

All rivalries aside, your tweet was class, Andros - from a football fan.