The fascination behind cult heroes in football
Of all the tropes I have come to learn about in this short life of mine as a football fan, the concept of a cult hero is quite possibly the most baffling one.
Why anyone would put a seemingly incompetent athlete on a pedestal is beyond me. To miss tap-ins or fade into obscurity should evoke apprehension, not admiration. After all, why would you worship a footballer who is terrible at football?
The answer to that question transcends the statistical aspect of the game and emerges from a more sentimental place amongst fans.
Most cult heroes became celebrated after only one standout event in their careers. It may be remarkable or even downright terrible.
Lee Bowyer, for instance, was adored by Leeds fans for his performance but eventually became a cult figure for his on-pitch brawl with a teammate. Nicklas Bendtner, or Lord Bendtner as most people know him, is infamous for his off-pitch theatrics and will continue to occupy the minds of Arsenal fans for a long time. Divock Origi was in the middle of a pretty nondescript Liverpool career, until that one legendary match, followed by a few more.
On the other hand, you have Michu, who blew up everywhere after scoring twenty-two goals for Swansea in the 2012/13 season. He was possibly the best player I've witnessed in a Swansea shirt.
There are no clear guidelines as to how a player may achieve such a title. The reason cult heroes exist is out of love and passion from the fans. They decide who gets to write their name in the cult hero book. If you take a close look, one can see most of the cult heroes come from lower-end clubs; clubs that have very few things to celebrate.
Fans start glorifying lesser-known footballers with unique quirks and for different reasons other than athletic greatness. Building a community around someone for these reasons is actually wholesome and enjoyable, even for people who are not fans of that club. There's something beautiful about an average Joe going against all odds and achieving magnificence.
Cult heroes often represent brilliance in the ordinary. As a kid, watching Michu score 22 goals in a single season for Swansea and giving the great Robin Van Persie a run for his golden boot was inspiring. Yes, Michu disappeared into football obscurity the following season, but for that short moment in time, he managed to inspire millions and bring happiness to everybody watching him.
The concept of cult heroes might seem a little vague to anyone hearing of it for the first time. But it makes sense if you spend some time with it. The idea behind cult heroes is fascinating and fun, and they add something really unique to the sport we all love.
Syed Tamjid Tazwar is a contributor at Shout. Contact him at [email protected].