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The Raheem Sterling saga: malicious journalism missing the point

Seven days ago, it was all going a bit too well. There was no looming media presence surrounding the England national football team demanding that they win the World Cup.

We had even skirted around the minefield of the country’s 24-year-old captain claiming they could win in Russia – everything was brewing for a sensible summer of progress on the pitch and a dose of realism off it.

Sometimes things are too good to be true, and this was certainly the case in one of the most bizarre weeks in the history of the mainstream media’s relationship with the English national team.

Even members of the media have been voicing their distaste at the way Sterling is being treated

The Sun newspaper, an absolutely abhorrent organisation, typifies everything that is wrong with journalism in this day and age, and their coverage of Raheem Sterling perfectly exemplifies this.

The three year witch hunt of Manchester City and England midfielder Raheem Sterling reached its farcical peak this week after the uncovering of his most recent tattoo – an M16 rifle in tribute to his late father, a victim of gun crime.

Except of course, the tattoo was first photographed during Manchester City’s title celebrations on the pitch, and kept until it would cause maximum damage to the player and – inexplicably – the team’s chances in Russia.

Sterling is pictured here on the final day of the domestic season with the tattoo, more than two full weeks before the Sun’s headline.

Starting in the summer of 2015 when Sterling forced through a £50 million move to Manchester City from Liverpool, the media circus surrounding this young man has been absurd.

Simon Hattlestone summed it up perfectly in his piece this week for the Guardian.

“The character assassinations are as endless as they are bizarre. He can’t win. He’s either too tight (buying clothes from Primark while earning £180,000 a week, eating pasties at Greggs while signing for City for almost £50m, taking an £80 easyJet trip while earning £200,000 a week) or too flash (his fleet of cars, the private jet he hired to take him on two holidays in a week).

He is the “love rat” who dared to propose to his long-term girlfriend Paige Milian, the snake who looked “TIRED” at a party at 3am (yes, tired!), the scoundrel who bought his mother a nice sink despite failing to win the World Cup or the reprobate who drove a “FILTHY £50K Mercedes”.

The Sun’s initial headline about Sterling’s tattoo

All of these examples are accompanied in his original piece with links to articles from some of the usual suspects – the Sun and the Star – but it is the former that I want to focus on, who have been seen as the figurehead of the anti-Sterling campaign. 

The initial Sun article, revealing Sterling’s ‘shocking’ tattoo was filled with negative tweets and interactions about the tattoo, while ignoring the massive outpour of positive support.

As well as that it seemingly took pleasure in reminding the reader of every single indiscretion and misdemeanour that Sterling had ever committed in his young life.

An article on knife crime in the Sun referencing Sterling’s tattoo

This was subsequently followed by a quite astounding article on knife crime that insinuated that Sterling’s tattoo (of a gun remember) played a part in two knife related murders.

The effect that this coverage had was surprising to say the least. It felt like people had had enough.

The outpouring on social media of support for Sterling was overwhelming. The vast majority of level headed Britons judged that it was his own business what he gets tattooed on his own body and how he commemorates his dead father.

At Wembley on Sunday, Sterling’s name was cheered loudest when the team was announced over the tannoy.

Of course this weekend didn’t pass without controversy for the tricky winger. Not only was he late to report back to England training last week after a flight mix up in Miami, but he also dived and was booked for trying to win his side a penalty in the 2-1 win over Nigeria yesterday evening.

Cue the Sun’s onslaught…

Except there was none. The coverage from the Sun in particular was shocking. Not shocking in its extremism or ridiculousness, but shocking in its total and utter hypocrisy.

They ran a piece on the morning of the game with the headline “I’m so sorry for late show”, and their coverage of his blatant dive began “Raheem Sterling shows why he has to be starting at the World Cup”.

The Sun headline after Sterling arrived late to England squad

I was at the game at Wembley and Sterling was OK, if quite profligate in front of goal. His dive left a sour taste in the mouth and I left the national stadium wincing at the prospect of the headlines to come. 

Poor Raheem is going to get slaughtered again – except he didn’t. And the outrageous irony of the whole situation is that the only two things he didn’t get caned for by the Sun were the only two things he did wrong all week.

The public outcry from their disgusting coverage seemingly impacted on the – wait for it – football journalists’ desire to provide us with fair coverage of the only football related Sterling stories this week. 

Gareth Southgate’s excellent conduct with the media since taking over and his insistence that Sterling’s foul treatment at the hands of the press forced his hand with his selection have, if anything, endeared Sterling, Southgate and this young England team to the public even more.

The country is rallying around it’s national team, not because of the press but in spite of them. 

The nation is rallying around Sterling in the wake of the criticism

These ‘football journalists’ don’t want to give you the real football stories, and would rather attempt to sew hatred and discord into an already fractured nation.

Diving is a blight on our beautiful game, and Sterling should have been hung out to dry for it – as he was by more reasonable arms of the mainstream media – rather than for every other action of his that finds its way into national newspapers. 

But goodness me, after the persecution he has been through of late, what I would give for him to score the winning goal for England in the World Cup final.

And I’m a Scotsman.


Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Matthew Horsman
Matt, 23, hails from the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. After 18 years, and a high school career littered with mediocre sporting achievements, Matt set off for the sunny shores of Cape Town to live and work for a year at Wynberg Boys' High School. It was here that comparisons between South African sporting cultures and ones closer to home ignited a passion in him for a career in sports journalism. Since then Matt has graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Glasgow, and is now studying a Masters in sports journalism at St. Mary's. He became heavily involved with the University Rugby Club in Glasgow and progressed through the ranks holding various committee positions alongside a prominent role in the club's 1st XV. In his final year Matt was elected as the club's chairman. In his final two years in Glasgow Matt began to seek experience in the field of sports journalism and has written articles for online publications such as InTheLoose and Global Rugby Network that culminated in a fortnightly column for SCRUM magazine. Despite the majority of his experience coming in the field of rugby journalism, Matt has a passion for many other sports, ranging from cricket all the way to the NBA. His first and most passionate love was for Heart of Midlothian football club, and after 17 years as a season ticket holder Matt feels grateful for the harrowing lessons he has learned along the way of the fleeting highs and gut-wrenching lows of modern sport. Away from sport Matt is a keen musician and a four-time World Bagpipe Champion, although now he has moved down south he feels safe enough to admit that he is far from the stereotypical Scotsman. He was raised to support the English in rugby and cricket by his father who, it seems, turned to desperate measures in his search for a sporting ally north of the border.
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