'It shouldn't happen but it does' - sadness at abuse revealed as Hibs ace says it's so easy to target players
After Hibs had recorded an opening-day victory at Fir Park, a Motherwell fan contacted Joe Newell on social media querying if he was good friends with referee David Munro after escaping caution for persistent fouling.
In fairness, the midfielder had got away with one or two fouls more than might be expected and while the tweet contained an insult, Newell’s response – typed out with tongue firmly in cheek – earned plaudits from Hibs fans and opposition supporters alike.
“Wouldn’t say he’s my best mate, but we text every day and he did just come over for a Chinese and a chill after the game,” he replied.
Even the ‘Well supporter had to laugh at that response.
Newell’s way of dealing with barbs on Twitter often defuses the situation but the 28-year-old is concerned at the level of abuse dished out to some footballers, including Easter Road team-mate Ryan Porteous in the aftermath of his red card in the 2-1 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox.
“It’s been disgraceful to be honest, some of the stuff he’s had to deal with,” Newell said when asked how the 22-year-old was coping.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about abuse online and the need to do more to highlight it. It shouldn’t be the case but it seems to be the way of things right now.
“These people online, if you walked past them on the street they wouldn’t look at you. But they will have a go at you online.
"Some of the stuff that’s been said has been horrible, it’s been completely unnecessary. Shocking, to be honest.
“But Ryan is a strong lad mentally and he’ll get by.”
Porteous has benefited from a good dressing room and the support of the coaching staff and player care team at Hibs but Newell believes that the scale of vitriol sent to the centre-back is simply the norm, although he conceded that the messages sent to his colleague were of a nature that would disturb anyone.
“We have all rallied around him. Ryan is a great lad and while I say he’s mentally strong, it would upset anyone the stuff he’s had to put up with.
“We are all right behind him, we’ve got our squad group chats and Ryan is good mates with a lot of us so there’s been plenty of reaching out to him.
“It shouldn’t happen but it has. People ask if I am surprised – sadly, I wasn’t surprised by the level of it and that says it all.”
Newell also referenced the shocking abuse endured by England trio Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho after the Euro 2020 final. The trio missed penalties in the shoot-out with Italy and were subjected to racial slurs on social media, sparking a huge outcry as supporters rallied around the young players.
“This seems to happen all the time. I’m English and you saw all the abuse the English guys got at the European Championship final,” Newell added.
“It’s sad, but this is where we are right now. It’s so easy for people to abuse online, so easy to put it out there.
"As players we just have to try and ignore it. That’s all we can do right now.”
Newell regularly interacts with fans on social media and nine times out of ten the public exchanges are positive – supporters thanking him for taking a photo with their child, or congratulating him on his performances.
The former Rotherham United man is well-placed to appreciate the benefits of social media and the positives but is dismayed by the darker corners of platforms where abuse is commonplace – and that there are no easy answers when it comes to addressing it.
“It’s just so easy, isn’t it? I don’t know the answers; none of us do really in trying to stop it. It’s just so easy to do.
"Social media has plenty of positives but there was a time 20 years ago that after the football, fans would have gone to the pub and slagged their team off over a pint or something for half an hour and gone home.
"Now everyone just goes on their phone and laptops and types it in and it’s there in black and white for everyone to see forever."
Newell sounds weary as he voices his irritation at the rise of persistent online abuse.
“It’s just the way it is and I’ve not got the answers. It’s just so easy to do, that’s the sad thing.”
Hibs head coach Jack Ross was vociferous in his defence of Porteous insisting that the Scotland Under-21 internationalist had not let him or his team-mates down.
He also took to task those who he felt had escalated the abuse by blowing the incident out of proportion while questioning the hypocrisy of pundits who went on to discuss mental health in footballers barely 24 hours after dissecting the incident at Ibrox.
Newell, who is expected to start for Hibs on Saturday when they welcome Dundee United to Easter Road in a bid to bounce back from the defeat by Rangers, believes education is the key.
“It’s pointless doing an interview if you are not going to be honest with what you say. You get to the final line, how do you react to it? Do you just say ‘no comment’?
"You’ve got to be honest and try and educate people are much as you can. There is no need for the abuse the lads get nowadays.”