FORMER Hearts star Sam Nicholson has lifted the lid on the strain of being a high-profile footballer in Edinburgh as he warned young players risked being destroyed by “poisonous” social media insults.
A lot of the problem for younger players comes from the abuse they get on social mediaSAM NICHOLSON
Nicholson, 22, who this summer left the Tynecastle club to sign for Minnesota United in the US, spoke out about being verbally abused by supporters of both Capital clubs when out in the city centre with family and friends, while his parents even stopped going to away games due to the criticism he received from “a minority” of Hearts fans.
While he stressed that the vast majority of Jambos were “brilliant” during his time as a prominent first-team player, the former Penicuik High School pupil had a warning for other young players about what they may endure, especially on social media.
Nicholson said: “As a young boy, I always thought football was – win, lose or draw – about enjoying yourself, but once you get into the first team, you quickly sense the negativity creeping in when you get beaten or don’t play well.
“I felt like I needed to have a chat with my mum and dad about getting used to it all, and now it doesn’t really bother me so much.
“What still annoys me is if I go up town for food with my family and somebody says something or shouts something at me. I think to myself ‘come on, have a bit of respect.’ It just comes with the job now.
“It’s hard not to bite when someone says something to my face if I’m out with my girlfriend or my pals. I’ll always give people time if they’re being nice to me, but the abuse is hard to deal with sometimes.”
While Nicholson feels he is now strong enough to cope with life in the spotlight, he fears many young players may simply wilt under the pressure of learning their trade in an era when others are openly discussing their trials and tribulations on social media.
“A lot of the problem for younger players comes from the abuse they get on social media,” he said.
“I came off Twitter a while ago and made my Instagram and Facebook private, and it’s helped me a lot in terms of not caring so much about what other people say about you.
“I’ve told some of the young boys at Hearts that it’s all sweet when you first get in the team, but the negativity soon starts. I’ve told them not to make the same mistakes I did. I used to bite back and tweet stupid stuff, and it’s the worst thing you can do because it gets you a reputation for being an idiot.
“I worry that social media could destroy a lot of young players because some of the stuff you get can be really poisonous. Not everyone is strong enough to handle it. Sometimes you come home thinking you’ve had a great game and somebody tweets you saying ‘you were terrible, today’ and, when you’re young, it can take the wind out of your sails. I don’t mind a bit of abuse from Hibs fans or whatever when I’m out on the pitch. I enjoy that. But when it comes to your private life, it’s a different story.”
Both Hearts and Hibs Football clubs have social media guidelines in place for their players to follow and say they offer support if they are having difficulties. Hearts also have an in-house chaplain, who makes his services available to any player who wishes to discuss, confidentially, any issues or problems that they are facing.