How do you respond to the spectacle of a grown man bawling his eyes out in public?
In the case of Luis Suárez, who was sobbing into his shirt on Monday night, the reaction among the Crystal Palace supporters was to sing, dance, clap and mock. ‘Three-nil and you fucked it up’, bellowed the delirious Palace fans after Liverpool’s spectacular 11-minute collapse all but gifted the Premier League title to Manchester City. Noel Gallagher, a notable celebrity City fan, also revelled in seeing his title rivals crying. ‘It was nice to see Suarez in tears at the end. I like that because he’s a blatant cheat’, said the Oasis star. ‘And it’s nice to see him and Steven Gerrard cry. It’s an endearing image’. Is this mockery just harmless terrace banter or symptomatic of an unreconstructed ‘boys don’t cry’ machismo?
These days, the sight of a blubbing footballer is no longer an eyebrow-raising curiosity. Gazza’s tears in the 1990 World Cup semi-final were game-changing, launching a thousand turgid cultural-studies dissertations on the changing norms of British masculinity. While we were taken aback by the sight of footballer crying in 1990, on-field weeping now seems as obligatory as shirt-swapping. In fact, springtime is practically the weeping season, the time when trophies are won or lost, teams are promoted or relegated, and dreams are shattered.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Luis Suárez all weeping publicly. As for the fans, when they’re not mocking their distraught opponents, they’re probably welling up, too. The obligatory close-up of a weeping fan has become the ‘money shot’ of sports broadcasting. This preoccupation with the emotional narrative of a football match is a relatively novel phenomenon. In the 1970s and 80s, the focus was on the game itself. Now the cameras zoom in much more on the faces of managers, capturing their agony or ecstasy; they linger voyeuristically on red-faced fans mopping their tears. Likewise, interviewers now seem more interested in how the players feel than how a match was won or lost. It feels more like grief porn than football coverage.
But while commentators are focusing more on the emotional drama, the old irreverent, thick-skinned terrace culture is still alive and kicking. We see it in the Twitter jokes and memes that go viral after every high-profile blubbing incident. John Terry’s tears after Chelsea’s defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, prompted a bout of e-mockery, such as the picture of the ‘Terry Tiny Tears’ doll (‘she’s just like a real baby’). We saw a similar schadenfreude-fest when Terry blubbed uncontrollably in 2008 after defeat in the Champions League final.