John Terry’s Penalty Miss & the Birth of Football Meme Culture

Cast your mind back to 21 May 2008. The Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow hosted the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea – England’s two biggest sides at the time. The game was huge.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s header opened the scoring for United, but Frank Lampard fired home an equaliser for the break. The score was 1-1, and it stayed that way. Extra time couldn’t separate the two teams, so we went to penalties.

Ronaldo actually missed his effort, and after four impressive Chelsea penalties, John Terry stepped up to take what could have been a winner. Mr Chelsea had the trophy in reach.

But he slipped.

He missed his effort and was left sitting on the ground in the cold Moscow rain. Chelsea fans were devastated, but that feeling wasn’t shared by everyone. In fact, there were plenty who decided it was funny.

It was just so funny. The world had to know how funny it was.

People logged on to Twitter and Facebook, armed with their wittiest “Hahahaha, let’s all laugh at the sad man” jokes, and they were funny. For anyone who wasn’t a Chelsea fan, it was funny seeing Terry’s fall edited over some music, or just a zoomed-in image of his devastated face.

Sure, watching the highlights was fun, but there was something a little better about seeing this mishap over and over and over and over again. The schadenfreude that defines social media today began sprouting from its comedic seed.

And football meme culture was, if not created, then finally birthed.

There was no denying that football memes were the new currency. Funny pictures began cropping up everywhere. Every single meme-able moment was well and truly memed. If you weren’t constantly flooding your feed with football memes, you were wasting your time.

Back in the day, old-school memes were pretty much just pictures with a cheap font plastered over it. The internet wasn’t as powerful as it is today, so every post came with some ‘witty’ comment. By today’s standards, that’s poor, but because it was all so new and fresh at the time, it was gold.

As time went on, the number of memes kept growing and growing, and the type of memes changed too. It didn’t necessarily have to be a bad moment, but just something bizarre.

We had Mario Balotelli flexing.

Phil Jones pulling faces.

Bruno Martins Indi being hyper-focused.

Ashley Cole being awkward.

And of course, we had Steven Gerrard completing the meme cycle by being rinsed for a slip of his own.

At this point, everything’s a meme. If you do one thing that’s even remotely wrong, there are millions of people ready to capitalise on it. For some, it’s all that’s wrong with Twitter, but many think that’s what makes it so special.

In football, whether it’s a failed pass, goalkeeping mistake or a missed shot, you can guarantee it’s going to do the rounds on Twitter. For some, making a joke and blowing up on social media is almost as important as the game.

Terry’s slip birthed a culture of dark comedy online. It was undoubtedly the toughest moment of the Chelsea man’s sporting career, but that made it even sweeter for rival fans. The moment lasted just a few seconds, but the memes will last forever.

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