Anybody who has written (or even read) an online article about Sarah Palin will be able to tell you two things that apply in all cases; she guarantees “hits’ to that particular website, and she also guarantees that the comment section will be full of passionate and contradictory opinions with very little constructive debate taking place.
Difficult then to reconcile the former Governor of Alaska with mild-mannered midfielder Owen Hargreaves; but not impossible.
To the majority of soccer fans worldwide Hargreaves is a talented, hard-working player who has had a career brutally cut short by injuries; but to a small group of supporters of the Canadian national team he is Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader and Vidkun Quisling all rolled into one very unappetising package.
His crime? Put simply, he chose to play for England ahead of his country of birth although the story is a little more complex than that.
From a young age Hargreaves was hyped as the best player to come out of Canada in a long while (which he undoubtedly was) and then publicly asserted that he had every intention of playing for the national team.
The machinations of how he decided, at the age of nineteen, to play for England instead are the subject of as many conspiracy theories as the JFK shooting and 9/11 combined but the plain fact is that he chose the biggest (in soccer terms) of the three available to him; the other two being Canada and Wales.
This decision set off a wave of anger that is still rolling forward, and when the Vancouver Whitecaps announced a few weeks ago that they had an interest in signing the out of contract midfielder the local message boards were besieged by fans claiming that they would never go to another Whitecaps game again if such an outrage came to pass.
In the same way that Sarah Palin has come to be shorthand for a particular political position in the USA, Hargreaves also seems fated to stand for so much more than he actually is.
This excellent piece by Richard Whitall argues that whatever these fans may think of Hargreaves there is little to be gained by living so bitterly in the past, and that the hour has come to ask genuine questions about what can actually be done to prevent the next world-class player from leaving the country instead of constantly reliving a past betrayal. In other words “it’s time to move on”.
The first comment following his argument?
“if he wants to come home and use our resources and my tax dollars go to his health care etc…he can get stuffed”
Still a long way to go then to convince some people that hating on Hargreaves is a waste of energy that only serves to divert attention and energy away from far more pressing issues, and that unwillingness to move on can only be bad news for Canadian soccer as a whole.
Good news for me though as I get to include the internet catnip of Palin and Hargreaves in one post (now if I can just shoehorn David Beckham into this somehow…..).
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