Explained: What are 'snakes' in football? The meaning behind insult aimed at players accused of transfer betrayal

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Goal dives into the meaning of the slight and animal-themed emoji and why it's used for a select group of footballers

Chances are you've seen the snake emoji in Twitter replies or Instagram comments on the social media pages of notable footballers. But what does it mean?

Kim Kardashian is a known user of the snake emoji – and its connotations. In a carefully disguised subtweet in summer 2016, Kardashian accused Taylor Swift of being a 'snake' and called her out on 'national snake day'. The snake emoji was used in the aftermath of a feud involving Swift and Kanye West, with the 'You Belong With Me' singer having been accused of lying and betrayal.

The snake emoji is also prominent in the football world, however, and Goal takes a look at its meaning, its connotation – and which players are accused of being 'snakes'.

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What is a 'snake' in football?


The term 'snake' is used by football fans to describe a player who has wronged them for an act of betrayal, such as leaving their club to play for a rival team. The term is also used when a player has left the club in ill-favour, or when they are accused of leaving the team in search of measures such as more silverware or a better salary.

When Raheem Sterling left Liverpool for Manchester City in 2015, Reds supporters accused him of leaving Anfield in search of improved pay amid a reported contract dispute. 

“We’re certainly not a club that is going to give way, way above what a player is worth at a certain time in their career," former manager Brendan Rodgers set at the time amid contract negotiations between Sterling and Liverpool.

“I’m not just talking about Raheem here, I’m talking about any young player.

“It’s very important young players have something to strive for. If they get too much too young it can sabotage their development for me. It’s about mapping out the career of a young player."

Sterling has always denied that he left Liverpool in search of better wages, but that hasn't stopped Reds fans from branding him a 'snake'.

Raheem Sterling Man City 2018

In the summer of his £44 million transfer, Liverpool fans congregated on his social media accounts and left hundreds of snake emojis all over his Instagram comments after what they felt was an act of betrayal – especially as it had involved a rival club like Manchester City.

"The main [comment] on my Instagram is the snake sign - that's the biggest one so far - and someone that loves money, hungry for money," he told Sky Sports after he joined Man City.

"Realistically, I am trying to improve as a player and that's the most important thing for me and for my development. I just did what I thought was best for my career at that moment in time."

"Obviously getting a move to City was a great opportunity for me and a great stepping stone, but I thought to give myself the best chance to progress and do well was to try to stay out of people's TV's and headlines.

"I tried to be seen to focus on football and make it the right headlines. It's a difficult one because people formed an opinion on me and I can't do anything to change that.

"If I came out again and said something else it would probably make the situation a lot worse. Maybe it could have made it better, who knows?"

Liverpool fans still treat Sterling with derision, inundating him with boos and whistles every time the two sides meet, especially at Anfield. Sterling has still never managed to score against Liverpool.

Since moving to Manchester City, the England international has enjoyed tremendous success, especially under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola who has turned the forward into a truly elite player. Sterling has won both the Premier League and Carabao Cup with Man City – and so has the last laugh.


Who else are considered football 'snakes'?


Robin van Persie Manchester United

What with the nature of modern football, there are always 'snakes' aplenty. Robin van Persie immediately went hero to villain after signing for Manchester United in 2012 and scoring 26 goals in his debut season to win the Golden Boot as well as the Premier League title.

Michael Owen broke through the Liverpool academy and was a crowd favourite at Anfield before he sought pastures anew over at Real Madrid. The move didn't turn out according to plans as he had an injury-wracked time at the Santiago Bernabeu, and he was already off the Liverpool faithful's good books – but exacerbated his reputation on Merseyside after he agreed to join fierce rivals Manchester United in 2009.

Leeds United fans had to endure heartbreak when icon Alan Smith chose to join Man United in 2004 – despite the player stating that he did not intend to sign for the Red Devils.

Arsenal fans still view Ashley Cole's move from the Emirates to Stamford Bridge as nothing more than a 'cash-grab' following stalled contract negotiations in 2006. The ex-England international decided to make the rival switch across London in order to be a part of Jose Mourinho's revolution at Chelsea.

The term 'Judas' is also used to describe players who fans feel are a traitor, referencing the apostle in Christianity who is accused of betraying Jesus. Fernando Torres endeared himself to the nickname when he decided to leave Liverpool for Chelsea in the winter transfer window of the 2010-11 season. Liverpool and Chelsea have a history of modern rivalry and so Reds supporters felt betrayed at his decision, particularly after he had made themselves a Kop darling in his three and a half years on Merseyside.

On rare occasions, the 'snakes' insult will be used by football fans without referencing a transfer. Riyad Mahrez and many of the Leicester City players were sent a barrage of snake emojis during their farewell messages to Claudio Ranieri when he was sacked as manager midway through the season following the Foxes' famous Premier League title win in 2016.

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