The only thing more certain than a Ben Ainslie gold medal at London 2012 was the safe bet for free rein being given to the media to criticise of our ‘overpaid footballers’ in the wake of some impressive and exemplary British performances. As the post Olympic fallout leads to much finger-pointing towards some of the UK’s wealthier sportsmen, football fan Brendan King offers his input on the accusations being levelled at Premier League stars.
Like many football supporters, I found myself not hugely enamoured with the prospect of the Olympics, but willing to give it a go due to the fact that it was two solid weeks of sport. Like many people, I also found myself caught up in the emotion of the whole event, sharing the feelings of pride and self-congratulations with, seemingly, a whole nation. And like many people I am now an Olympics convert, having found many new sports in which I can become an armchair expert every four years.
Unlike many people however, the euphoria of this has been replaced with a distinctly nasty taste, as the public, the media and football chiefs and officials are using the Olympics in order to compare football in a negative light. I have read countless articles in various publications, and seen quotes from the likes of England manager Roy Hodgson and Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore taking swipes at the footballers, clubs and fans that dominate the sports world in this country.
From my point of view, all of these statements and articles were merely sycophantic and poorly educated rants playing on the good feeling generated by London 2012 and, as ever, turning the public opinion against the easiest of easy targets: football.
It is no surprise to me that football receives such negative press. In a world now dominated by social media, reality television and a craving for information, the life of the professional footballer is one comparable to a rock star: money being no object, desire fuelled by self-perpetuating capitalism.
Football is now a huge corporate and media maelstrom, filled with every type of cliché and marketing opportunity available. It is certainly interesting to me that up until the early 1980s, football clubs hadn’t really caught on to the idea that fans may want to buy replica shirts and up until 1982 league games weren’t televised for fear that clubs would lose revenue from gate sales. The exploitation of the national game grew and grew until, and this was really the turning point for me, Paul Gascoigne had to go and cry after getting booked against the Germans in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. Gazzamania was born, and all of a sudden the red-top media had a new breed of celebrity to fill their front pages.
There is no justification for the behaviour of some of the Premier League footballers over the last 20 years, and I am not writing this to proclaim they are all saints and have been misrepresented. They are however, on the whole, from working class backgrounds and, somewhat unsurprisingly, when thrust into a world of unimaginable wealth and idolatry have a few among their number who deal with this by being very naughty boys.
My point, perhaps controversially, is that rather than comparing these young men in an unfavourable way to every other sport and walk of life imaginable, we (as the public consuming the information) and the media (who have the power to sway public emotion one way or the other) should take some responsibility for what we have create.
We should cut this beautiful, broken sport some slack, and perhaps find it in our hearts to show even an eighth of the good-natured support our Olympians (deservedly) received.
Why can footballers not behave like Olympians? I say, would these men and women find it so easy to conserve this holier than thou image created by the media if there was as much interest in their personal life as in their sporting achievements?
The counter argument tends to be: ‘don’t footballers get paid so much money, and know they are in the public eye so should be good role models for our kids?’ These footballers are mostly kids themselves, and consider that there are around 540 registered players in the Premier League in any one season. Perhaps we should be reporting on the 538 players who don’t cause any problems year in, year out. With regards to the salaries, how much does Tom Cruise pull in for a film? And he is certifiably loco.
There is no doubt there are problems with football, but there is also no doubt that it touches peoples lives, brings them happiness and despair in equal measures and literally defines the way they live their lives. You cannot create a global giant for the masses by the masses and expect it to act like a group of scouts when we as consumers have changed the rules in which they operate.
I am proud to say that football is my passion, I am proud to say that I support my club. And, in danger of balancing precariously on the moral high ground, I will leave with a quote from one of the great all time sports masterpieces, Rocky IV: “I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”