This article was first published today in our bespoke Sports newsletter The Fixture. You can sign up in seconds to receive it straight to your inbox every weekday here 

There are some subjects that you know once you write about them you are opening the door to all manner of verbal abuse. 

The Fixture comes from an era of the early-internet journalist. It was a time when there was still the potential for a letter to arrive from a disgruntled reader which pointed out a major blooper but there are now other means of communication, too.

Now messages pointing out mistakes came via email leaving you with a sinking feeling at the realisation that you'd got something wrong. Despite what the legions might think, striving for accuracy was, and remains, a key tenet of the job.

Then there would be the messages that would directly counter a particular point or series of arguments. Back then, it would often result in dialogue between journalist and reader, a transaction that was grounded in civility and respect. It was one of the benefits of the new-tech era. Instant communication nurtured a rapport with readers. One erstwhile Herald letter's editor would have lunch with regular contributors years after he left the position, maintaining many of those relationships until his death some years later.

Things changed quickly with the advent of social media with its potential for transporting your words across the world in a matter of seconds and, similarly, the potential for a pile on. While they remain a relatively new phenomenon, they are also a relatively rare one, given the goldfish bowl Scottish sports journalists operate in.

Nevertheless, every once in a while, you'll alight on some topic of debate that stirs up the bees nest. Increasingly it has become an occupational hazard that presents itself when writing about particular teams.


It's understandable. Football is tribal, it stirs strong emotions. The old adage about it being okay to speak ill of your own family, but woe betide anyone outside it who speaks ill of your family, could just as easily apply to your football team. Football is communal and so it stands to reason that there is an esprit de corps, a tradition of sticking together.

What's less understandable is people, actual grown ups, who do similar bidding for sports stars or amorphous organisations such as LIV Golf. Bots help explain some of these accounts standing up for people who really don't require it but not all of the accounts are bots.

The Fixture touched on this in Friday's offering which speculated on the appearance of man-babies on social media who had been targetting Cam Norrie following his match at the Italian Open against Novak Djokovic during which the Serb had turned his ire on the Scottish-Kiwi following a rally in which Norrie had struck his opponent on the back of the leg.

The Fixture went on to outline all the times Djokovic had behaved appallingly, a decision which inevitably brought the man-babies – and plenty of woman-babies too it should be pointed out – rushing on to social media to vent their spleen: “disgusting,” “deranged,” “troubling,” they fulminated on my Twitter account, all because of a piece that suggested Djokovic might want to grow up.

It is a curious, some might say, slightly disturbing development. When did this type of groupie following spring up around modern sports stars? And for what reason?

In football, it has attached itself to a couple of names in particular. Jose Mourinho has a legion of fans who follow him around, pouncing on any hint of negative comment to ask why – despite one trophy in six years – anyone might have the temerity to suggest that he is not the manager he once was.

Ditto Cristiano Ronaldo, whose popularity these days seems to be as much about the ratings on his FIFA card as it is ability on the pitch (which are, of course, inextricably linked). Ronaldo has his own personal cheerleader who goes by the name of I Show Speed, a 28-year-old American – real name Darren Watkins' Jr – who has helped bolster his celebrity status courtesy of his devotion to the Portuguese striker.

In Watkins Jr's case there is an element of the pantomime about his hero-worship but for others it might be masking something else.

In 2004, American two professors, Dr Michael Hyman and Dr Jeremy J. Sierra, wrote an article on the potentially negative psychological consequences of hero worship. 

“Idolizing sport celebrities: A gateway to psychopathology?” concluded that excessive hero worship “can damage fans’ psychological and emotional well-being”.

When later interviewed Hyman added: “Hero worship [among adolescents] seems like an innocuous act, but there is definitely a dark side,” adding that “[He wouldn’t be surprised if] two percent of the US population had a serious problem with some type of hero worship."

Food for thought the next time you find yourself scrolling through a Twitter pile on.