We fans know more about our favourite club’s players than ever before. We follow them on social media and read stories full of gossip about their personal lives. Their agents, teammates, and family members leak players’ inmost thoughts in an attempt to gain the upper hand in negotiations or just press attention. It is because we know more about players and managers than ever before that we often see the ugly side of the game. We see that they want to make money, play in a better situation, make mistakes with significant others, and express uninformed or dumb opinions. We see that they are, in many ways, just like us but with more money.
This colours how we view players and often we turn against them. We see Alexis Sanchez not wanting to play in the Europa League in the prime of his career, and we see so many tidbits of what he is thinking from the people around him, that we get a picture of a greedy ungrateful player.
A few years ago this happened with Theo Walcott. The player’s agent or someone kept leaking tactics during the negotiations, including the demand that he play in the middle. While Theo got the new contract and raise, he was mocked and many Arsenal fans turned on him. He won many of us over with his mocking of Spurs fans while being carted off the pitch during a Tottenham match but as he approaches the end of the current contract, that incident hangs over him in the coverage of a possible new contract.
Then an incident happens like the one this week that changes how you view these players you think you know so well. Edward Herdman is an Arsenal fan in Texas whose young son named Theo died tragically. Somehow word got back to the club and Theo Walcott found out about the death. As a father of young kids, this obviously is an experience that every parent fears. So Walcott took time to pen a letter in an attempt to provide some solace to the family.
It was a gesture that did not need to happen but because he did it Theo gave grieving parents the one thing they need the most: a sense that their son’s life had purpose. Writing a letter and sending it – a simple gesture – makes a huge difference in helping a family cope.
The optimism this week during what is one of the darkest weeks in recent Arsenal history has nothing to do with tactics or management. Rather it is the reminder that players are people who, even though they can be fabulously wealthier and more famous than us, suffer through this roller coaster of life like us. And they do appreciate those of us who watch week in and week out, in their own ways.