As sure as night follows day, the nation’s tabloids have found a reason to attack England’s footballers on the eve of a World Cup campaign.
This time, they’ve gone after their favourite target, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who has come in for criticism after displaying a tattoo of an assault rifle on his lower leg during a training session at St George’s Park in Burton-on-Trent on Sunday, ahead of their friendlies against Nigeria and Costa Rica.
The Sun decided that this was a front page story, running it under the headline ‘Raheem shoots himself in foot’ and declaring an outbreak of ‘gun tat fury’. They quoted Lucy Cope, who founded the group Mothers Against Guns after her son was shot dead in 2012, saying:
“This tattoo is disgusting. Raheem should hang his head in shame. It’s totally unacceptable. We demand he has the tattoo lasered off or covered up with a different tattoo. If he refuses he should be dropped from the England team. He’s supposed to be a role model but chooses to glamorise guns.”
However, while The Sun immediately declared that the tattoo had ‘sparked fury’, it turns out that it holds a deeper meaning for Sterling and was not in any way glamourising gun violence - indeed, it was the exact opposite.
He posted on Instagram to explain that the tattoo related to a vow he made to “never touch a gun” after his father was shot and killed in Kingston, Jamaica when Sterling was just two years old.
He wrote: “When I was 2 my father died from being gunned down to death. I made myself a promise I would never touch a gun in my lifetime. I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning - N still unfinished.”
Sterling has a long history of being attacked by the British press, particularly The Sun, The Star and the Daily Mail, as this Twitter thread demonstrates:
The campaign is a continuation of the tabloids’ strange desire to constantly attack England’s players, then look on, mystified, as they play with fear in major tournaments.
Former internationals such as Kieran Dyer have spoken candidly about how it would affect their’s and their teammates’ performances, and even their desire to play at all.
Dyer said earlier this year: “Too many players are afraid to make a mistake, because they know they will get battered by the media and fans if they don’t do well.”
“You don’t try to make something happen. You don’t try the clever pass because you’re worried the crowd will get on your back or the press will give you a three out of 10. So, you do not try to stand out. You don’t try to alter the game. You try to disappear. You try to make damn sure you don’t do anything wrong and you limit your ambition to that. And when you do that, you become average.
“Look at the way Raheem Sterling has been treated. He is one of the most talented individuals we have, and yet there have been times when he has been made a scapegoat.”
And who did he tell this all to? The Daily Mail, of course.
The Sterling criticism also carries with it distinct racist undertones - why is it that he, out of all of England’s players is seemingly singled out for criticism? Is it because he commits the crime of being young, black and successful? Of course, it’s impossible to prove, but it’s certainly true that he seems incapable of doing anything right, according to the nation’s tabloid press.
Luckily, however, there are plenty of people out there ready to point out both the great, unreported work that Sterling does, and to defend his right to express himself as he sees fit.
(Images: The Sun/Getty)