Such is fan unrest over Sunderland’s acquisition of Titus Bramble that manger Steve Bruce has made a public appeal to, well, lay off the centre half. Considering Bramble’s rep for “comedy defending”, When Saturday Comes’ James Calder considered a media climate given to all sorts of exaggeration.
To get regular publicity these days it seems players have to fall into one of three categories: overrated, very good or plain rubbish. And in the latter case, just as Bramble once did, they can almost certainly expect plenty of ridicule on Facebook and YouTube, and in fan forums, newspaper columns and those “worst ever” lists that papers like the Daily Mail take a pride in compiling.
Scrutiny comes from a proliferation of media outlets, all competing for more hits, viewers and sales, with the internet blurring the lines that once separated the experts and analysts from the fans. No longer seeing their brief as merely to inform or even to criticise, an increasing number of writers and pundits now seek to entertain, to be one of the lads and, above all, to avoid being bland. And if not being bland means upsetting the sensibilities of a few overpaid footballers, then so be it. Should anyone take offence, you can always pass it off as banter.
The people in the know will argue that wealthy players can handle the darts and brickbats. But when you read that Bramble’s self-confidence was once so fragile that he used to watch Match of the Day with the volume down and that his mother was often on the point of tears, it becomes clear that money doesn’t buy you a thick skin. I’m just pleased to see the former butt of everyone’s jokes doing well for himself and kept out of the media mainstream. I bet he is too.