Gunning for Sterling

The trivial and snobby arguments against Raheem Sterling mask a more sinister side of the tabloid press

This morning saw the news that anti-gun campaigners were calling for Raheem Sterling to be dropped from England’s World Cup squad.  The source of their outrage was a tattoo of an M16 assault riffle on his right leg.  The England forward said the tattoo had a deeper meaning, but this has not stopped the flow of vitriol heading towards him.

For people to be, deliberately, trying to undermine Raheem Sterling on the eve of a World Cup is bad enough, however there does seem to be more to this than meets the eye.  The trivial and faux outrage aimed at Sterling actually masks the true intentions of the tabloids and social media brigade.  There is a more serious side to this that goes deeper than an offensive tattoo.

Trivial argument

It really would be easy to by-pass the nonsense emerging from this story.  It would also be preferable to skip by the story altogether.  However, context is important here, as the people up high on their horses need to remember.  Some anti-gun campaigners have come out and said Sterling should be ashamed of himself and excluded from the England squad.  No doubt as this is written, there will either be an online petition circulating or one in the works.

The main argument against Sterling is that he is either failing as role model or worse, celebrating gun culture.  He has since come out and said the tattoo is simply a tribute to his father who has shot dead when Sterling was just two.  It was a reminder of him, of the pledge he made to himself, never to handle a gun.  See, context, it’s bloody important.


The fact that Sterling made such a pledge smacks of an American movie hero in a moment of pure cheesy indulgence.  But there is a serious undertone here and it actually underscores a worrying trend which has been emerging over the past thirty years from our tabloid press.

“If you carry on the way you’re going, by the time you’re 17 you’ll either be playing for England or you’ll be in prison.”  Harsh words for a ten year old to have to hear, but it’s what a young Raheem Sterling was told when he was still in school.  It speaks volumes of the troubles and tribulations faced by the youngster.

As a kid, his mother had fled the poverty and crime of downtown Kingston and moved to North London.  Her hopes of giving her kids a better life no doubt improved in The Capital, but Sterling was still dogged by gangland crime and was a problem kid in school.  Thus, the chances of him actually coming into contact with guns and gun crime were exponentially higher than most of us will ever experience. His tattoo should serve as a poignant reminder to us all of how far this lad has come.

Ability and achievements

Raheem Sterling is only twenty-three years old and yet he has already done so much in the game.  Two major honours, almost seventy senior career goals, and the Russian World Cup will be his third major international tournament.  He was also the world’s most expensive teenager and has already played for two of the current biggest clubs in Europe.  Not bad for a kid who was sent to special behavioural schools in Neasden.

His move from Liverpool to Manchester City was a hard one to take, but understandable given the revolution at the Etihad.  Since then, he has blossomed into a key cog in Pep Guardiola’s impressive title winners.  It has not always been plain sailing though.

Blighted by early inconsistency and not helped by impatience, Sterling has improved massively over the past couple of seasons.  He is still guiltily of missing a fair few chances, but there again we all short sighted with this.  He is not a natural goal scorer. His goal scoring record is excellent when you consider this and it just a matter of time before this translates to the international scene.

For people to suggest he should miss the World Cup over a tattoo is frankly an insult to his ability, for certain sections of the press and social media to run with it is sad, but not entirely surprising.

Sad Trend

In an age when the great lament from the fans is that the game has been taken away from the working man, another working class kid has made it to the top.  And yet our tabloid press and social media would not have us celebrating this.  Sterling has been targeted by certain media rags for all kinds of “offences” from ostentatious gifts for his mother to owning nice cars.

He is not the first man to be pillared by this abuse either.  Wayne Rooney before him and the most deplorable example; Paul Gascoigne, both suffered horribly at the hands of the tabloids in an age when they have should have been admired and celebrated.  Both are similar to Sterling; unbelievably gifted working class footballers, from deprived areas, who reached the top very early in their lifes, only to be dogged at each turn by the vipers of the gutter press.

Gascoigne is by far and away the worst example of this.  Arguably one of the most naturally gifted English footballers of all time, Gazza has been blighted by mental health issues throughout his life.  This didn’t stop the tabloids seemingly enjoying his every demise and foible.  The man should have been protected and nursed throughout so that his career could reach its rightful zenith, but instead from Italia ’90 onwards he was a sad figure of fun, dragged out for the amusement of the tabloid papers.

Rooney was a bizarre one too.  He remains Manchester United and England’s all time leading goal scorer.  He is a footballer, who on his day was top class. A great first touch, an eye for the spectacular and a fierce will to improve and win, his very success seemed to infuriate certain pundits and spectators. They questioned his game at every step and almost every aspect of his life was festooned on the front and back pages.  The fact he has managed to stay relatively sane throughout this is an achievement in itself.


A fair conclusion to draw with all of this is that all three men are easy targets and scapegoats.  In age when gossip rags and base stories sell well, the Gascoignes and Rooneys of the world were seen as fair game.  Now it appears to be Sterling who is next in line.

For him to be facing such bizarre scrutiny on the eve of a world cup is frankly, shameful.  Sterling has already risen above a lot in his life already.  He has good people around him, solid pros and good coaches.  They must protect a valuable football asset and above all, young man.

It would be glorious if Sterling could emulate Rooney and frustrate the tabloids with his continued success on the pitch and wealth off it.  It would be a tragedy if he went off the rails and followed the same troubled path Gascoigne, to a chorus of jeers and sniggering.



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