Toxic Fan Environment

Wednesday was a very low point for Milan fans. And we have had way too many low points in the past ten years. After abusing their own player for four years over rumors that were never even true, they abused their country's own player for an entire Italy match. Which Italy then lost. At one point, the opposing captain came over to reassure him, that's how embarrassing it was. Italy manager Roberto Mancini condemned the abuse, and rightfully so. I have no idea why fans would go to a match specifically and intentionally to abuse a player, the definition of a fan is to support your own players. Or at least watch football. But this was very shortsighted of Milan fans, who have been creating an increasingly toxic fan environment, because we have a number of players who we need to renew. What player would want to stay at Milan after seeing how "fans" treated one of their own? A player who was playing for his whole country, not a bunch of ungrateful, entitled delinquents.

Does it make you feel good about yourself to make someone else cry?

When the Milan Ultras booed Paolo Maldini and raised banners against him during his farewell match, Serie A and the world were shocked and appalled. After 25 years at the club, a second generation Milan captain, having played his entire career sweating blood for these fans, to treat him like this in his final match was unheard of. To this day, fans of other clubs in Italy and around the world bring up this shame  any chance they can. Years later, the Curva Sud finally admitted that they were wrong to do so. But did they plant the toxic seeds back then? Ironically 12 years to the day that Maldini played his final match for Milan, they were at Casa Milan revering him and his success in bringing the club back to the Champions League. To be fair, Milan Ultras are literally criminals, but this scar is a huge blight on a club that is known for being classy and sporting.

Global shame from the Curva Sud

But the abuse of Donnarumma is different. It started with entitled, PTSD-suffering fans completely overreacting to a bunch of rumors. Then it grew into a dysfunctional cycle of abuse every year when the words "contract renewal" were spoken. Death threats were made. The Ultras abused him in person and with banners at the games. Fans on social media had nothing better to do than to abuse someone who was basically still a child. When he finally left Milan, like the fans had told him to do many times, the abuse didn't stop. People are still defending what happened on Wednesday, but it never would have been like that without the history and culture Milan fans and the media created around this specific player. Here is a timeline of how this toxic cycle of abuse began:

Denying rumors with his actions, but fans clung to falsehoods

• Mirabelli and Fassone were in a hurry to renew the player in June of 2017, who still had one year left on his contract. Without even sitting down to negotiate, they set a deadline within mere days for him to renew, and threatened to freeze him out the following season if he didn't sign, despite the fact that the player was on National Team duty for Italy.

• Mirabelli broke protocol and attempted to contact Donnarumma's father directly to intervene in contract negotiations.

• Donnarumma and his family received death threats in addition to much abuse online, threats which even the Curva Sud distanced themselves from in their angry statement.

Other fans jumped in, too

• Mino Raiola refused the first contract offer for his client while he was playing for Italy, due to disagreements about a release cause and the uncertainty of the new ownership. It was never about money.

• Members of Milan Club Poland booed, raised a banner against, and infamously threw paper money at the player during an Italy U21 match, causing the match to be interrupted to clean up the mess. The myth of "Dollarumma" was born. There was no truth in their claim, but that myth has remained to this day. The trauma of their incredibly shameful behavior lives on in pictures of that paper money in the goal whenever there is a story about finances or corruption in football.

A few fans interrupted a U21 match and brought permanent shame to the club

• Many words were exchanged in the press between the currently still unemployed former Milan sporting directors Fassone and Mirabelli and the obese criminal of an agent Raiola, a public spat that only harmed their player and client and his entire career trajectory. Much of the anger of Milan fans was also developed at this time, particularly with so many different rumors and accounts reported in the media.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

• Despite Donnarumma eventually renewing, fans somehow stayed randomly angry at the player, though the events in the media and on social media had very little to do with him and everything to do with everyone else involved.

• The deal Fassone and Mirabelli made was absolutely terrible for Milan. After completely screwing up the negotiations, they had to bend over and ended up encumbering the club with a €6 million per year contract for Gigio Donnarumma, and a €1 million per year contract for his brother.

All of this could have been avoided with adults who were professionals 

The cycle of abuse continued, with him receiving insults, boos, whistles, chants, banners, abuse and threats before and during matches, on social media, in both his home city and at Milan, and everywhere he went. Fans never minded the hundreds of saves he made to keep us in the game, to keep us in the competition, or to get us back to Champions League. Accusations and "reports" of him being in negotiations with Juventus were never true until after his contract expired this past June, when there were only brief discussions with the club. All parties involved acknowledge this, but 99.9% of Milan fans still believe otherwise to this day. That fact alone is what they claimed to give them the "right" to do horrible things.

Abusing an 18 year-old during warmup, ahead of a game they should have wanted to win

But he chose PSG, he didn't go to a rival club. Certainly, Milan fans are shocked and betrayed by his decision to leave. He came up through our youth system, he was Milan nel cuore, he infamously kissed the crest when Juventus fans thought for sure he was coming to their soulless club. He left for free, when we could have made a boatload of money on a player we had developed in our youth system. Yeah, it sucks. But thanks to Maldini, we are better off as a club, with an incredible keeper now playing for less than half the wages. And to be fair, his decision likely hurt his career far more than it hurt us. 

All of his heroics forgotten by toxic fans

But did he leave because of the toxic fan environment? Certainly his wages reinforce the concept of the "Dollarumma" belief. Yet after those toxic fans gave him that label, he stayed for four more years, sweating blood for us and helping us back into the Champions League. When he left, Maldini talked about how the days of the bandiere are gone. The modern game no longer allows us to cling to one player for his career and adore them.

More than just boos or whistles

However, Milan fans have no problem at all clinging to one fan and repeatedly abusing him with boos, whistles, jeers, signs, and even threats. Even during a game that had absolutely nothing to do with the club or his decision to leave. He is like their punching bag, and they are controlling and possessive of their right to insult and threaten him. Like any abusive, dysfunctional relationship, the fans have become so toxic that they don't even remember how to be fans. 

Is our President the next victim of Milan fans' toxicity?

This is an incredibly myopic position to take. Not only have they pushed out other, lesser players over the years with their abuse, they have created an environment that no player will want to stay in. Who is next? The cycle is already beginning with Kessié. The media is hysterically overhyping his contract renewal process, reporting on it every day, even when he is... yes, you guessed it, playing for his National Team. Fans are already abusing him, and it looks like history is going to repeat itself with perhaps our most important player right now.

Children have to see this banner, posted in the city and signed with love

The fans are starting to say they don't care. Maldini can just get another midfielder. Which may or may not be true this time, but at some point, he will reach his limit between budget limitations and available players. More importantly, new players will not want to come to a club whose fans are so toxic and abusive. Not even for Milan, nor the history and trophies. 

What kind of gratitude is this threat?

Because at the end of the day, the players are human beings. They signed up to be football players, hoping to have the additional perk of being revered by fans. But when being booed, whistled, and jeered by their own fans, abused on social media, threatened with death, and having to hire security to stay safe from their own fans, why stay? They could play for a club like Inter or Lazio, who shockingly have both recently supported their goalkeepers after making terrible errors. Milan fans have brought shock and disbelief to the world and shame to our storied club internationally.

Just because they are professional footballers does not mean they signed up for entitled fans to make their lives a living hell. Certainly in the case of Donnarumma, he cannot win. The fans abused him when he stayed, then again when he left, and now when he's not even playing for his club team. And eventually, these same fans will cost Milan so much more than they already have, by creating such a toxic fan environment.

This post inspired by the music of NIN's "Mr. Self Destruct"

Toxic Fan Environment Toxic Fan Environment Reviewed by Elaine on 2:14 AM Rating: 5
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