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The social media bullying of sports stars is relentless unfortunately and has been for several years. But when it is iconic former players, pundits and major companies who are using their social media platforms to mock you, it cuts a little deeper.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher had a career to be immensely proud of. Goals in the top six divisions of English football. Scoring in a Championship Play-Off final. Appearing more than 30 times in the Premier League for two different clubs.
So when he appeared as a substitute for Leicester City in the second game of the 2014/15 season at Chelsea at the age of 33, it was a moment to be proud of. A moment to cherish.
However, his appearance and the subsequent abuse he received was to have a lasting impact on the striker.
“Gary Taylor-Fletcher has come on for Leicester and looks rather double-barrelled,” tweeted Match of the Day host Gary Lineker – a former Leicester and England star.
He, unfortunately, wasn’t alone.
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“Leicester bring on Taylor-Fletcher in case they need a free-kick wall,” ex-England striker Rodney Marsh added on his Twitter account.
As is often the case with social media bullying, a host of people then piled in, with betting company Paddy Power posting: “FT: Chelsea 2-0 Leicester City. Goals for Hazard and Costa, extra fries for Gary Taylor-Fletcher.”
You don’t need the value of hindsight to know the posts were in incredibly poor taste. But I’m sure Lineker, Marsh et al will regret the comments even more after hearing how it impacted the 39-year-old – who would not be included in another Premier League squad after that.
Speaking as part of an excellent interview with The Athletic, Taylor-Fletcher explained: “I came on as a substitute at Chelsea and played in centre midfield, and after there were a few comments made about my body shape by Gary Lineker and few others.
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“He said, ‘Taylor-Fletcher looking very double-barrelled and not just his name’. It was all over Twitter.
“Paddy Power took it on and said I was stuck in the transfer window and stuff like that.
“It wasn’t so much the fact they were ex-pros, it was that it was on a public social media account and seen by millions. The fallout from it went on for a few years.
“I have never had the chance to speak to Lineker about it and he probably won’t even remember it. At the time I made a joke of it but it didn’t half affect me personally.
“At that time there was none of this stuff we have now about mental health, but it really affected me.
“If it had been said now there would be uproar because of the awareness of mental health. I know it was meant as a joke but it really affected me.
“My confidence drained. How I thought of myself changed. I had worked really hard that summer to get into shape. I was 33 going on 34 and I knew to stand any chance I had to come back that season flying.
“Over the whole pre-season I was flying, and I was probably in the best shape of my career, but one comment like that absolutely knocked me senseless. I didn’t want to go into training.
“I would get to training and I would have mini panic attacks. My stomach would be in knots but I had to hide it. I would go into training and wanted to do my best, but when you were driving in and you didn’t want to do it, you had to try to do it for your family and your career.”
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