Cole and Rooney incidents mean that something has to change

Posted by - March 2, 2011 - Premier League, Ranting and Raving

In danger of ruining the ‘beautiful’ game

In the modern era of English football, there is an inevitability about outrage and scandal, but it has at least always been in a football sense. We have grown accustomed to the merry-go-round of managers (32 managers have left their posts so far this season) and transfer sagas (God help Cesc Fabregas if he makes any more Catalan overtures), but we can accept that as a part of our changing game. In the last year, however, things have taken a turn for the tabloid. It has truly been football’s annus horribilis

One year ago on Saturday, Wayne Bridge refused to shake John Terry’s hand because he had slept with his girlfriend. It was the Hollyoaks Omnibus live on Sky Sports 1. We had slow motion replays, we had mind-numbing analysis, and we had people wearing Team Bridge t-shirts. On a regular basis I had to forcibly stop myself from vomiting.

Since then we have had photo messaging sex scandals, cheating on wives with hookers, an international team threatening to pull out of the biggest competition on the planet and an England striker holding his club to ransom only to change his mind when they demonstrated the fancy to give him a quarter of a million pounds per week.

I could go on….and will. Because on Saturday it was reported that Ashley Cole took an air rifle into training, has a little mess about, and a sports science student on work placement was accidentally shot in the shoulder with a lead pellet. It was a story that should have needed repeating, such was the sheer idiocy and thoughtlessness of the individual. And, in the same manner as the Rooney elbow incident (I refuse, even in a cynical way, to use the suffix –gate) the day before, the most depraving aspect is that we are not surprised by action or punishment. Twelve years ago the England left-back was Stuart Pearce. And now we have this.

Whereas once our heroes were relied on to be role models to their adoring army of wide-eyed children, parents across the land now have a responsibility to shield the behaviour of our greatest stars, such is their wanton neglect of decency. Their actions have made a mockery out of the adulation they receive. Our football is coming dangerously close to farce. Sport has become soap opera.

But I’ll level with you. I don’t like soap operas. I don’t like the poor acting, I don’t like the fake tears, and I despise the way that the viewer always needs a scandal in order to keep them entertained, as if watching dishonour and outrage on the television will somehow bring a degree of excitement to their mundane lives, getting a thrice weekly hit of stimulation to pierce a tedious existence.

And I do like football, for precisely the opposite reasons. Football’s principal rationale for success is that the simple kicking of a ball around can instigate, and indeed demand, such thought. It is the reason that sites such as this exist. Everyone has different opinions on the same incident. Football necessitates loyalty, dedication, rationality and passion, and that is why we love it so. And that the thought can be intelligent and intellectual sets it apart from Eastenders and Coronation Street, for me.

But the occasions when the borders between football and soap opera are merged is the time when I fall out of love. I don’t like the poor acting (diving), the fake tears (the death of loyalty), and I sure as hell don’t like the scandals. I want to turn on my television and the debate be about a wonderful overhead kick, not a player elbowing his peer with no reprimand, or another hitting the target with a gun better than he takes a penalty in the FA Cup.

And, for once, the tabloids can’t be blamed. I can’t be the only one that dies a little bit inside when I read “Police probe Cole gun horror”, but the fault is not of the newspaper. It is a major story, because the behaviour is so scandalous. The players are the true headline writers.

We have already made an example of our culprits (John Terry will never again captain England under Fabio Capello) and still nothing improves. For his part in the incident, Cole will presumably be given a fine by Chelsea, and a (increasingly ironic) warning as to his future conduct. But will that really stop the rot?

Something needs to change, or in ten years time we will have a nation of 16-18 year olds that can get their football news from Heat magazine and The Sun’s 3am girls. And that, to me, is football Armageddon.

And before you think that I am overreacting from a significantly high horse, and demand that I step down from the soapbox, this is not me getting all old farty and misty-eyed. I’m 25 for god’s sake. I shouldn’t have to feel this level of resentment.

  • r g k

    Good work here mate. I don’t think it is just a coincidence that as we see more and more of this ill-discipline, the average fan becomes more and more disconnected from the game. But amongst all the things you rightly point out here, I think you are missing a key factor in all of this – the FA. Our game (and it is still our game, no matter what Sepp or Michele think) has been utterly bereft of leadership and guidance since I can remember. I have to declare an interest here, I’m AFC Wimbledon, and Wimbledon before that so I’m not a fan of the FA to start with. But you just have to look at the litany of idiocy and foolish nonsense that has come out of Lancaster Gate/Soho Sq/Wembley since, well for as long as I can remember. Our current disciplinary system is a mess. Our standing in the world game has never been lower. The national squad set up is in disarray. The new Wembley, (hallowed be thy turf) beautiful though it is, has to host concerts to the detriment of football becuase of the running costs. The Premier league is riding roughshod over the wishes of the rest of the clubs. Where does it all lead? Right to the doors of the FA my friend, that is where. Guidance and strength from the leaders of the game, and this would not reach the extent it has. Do you honestly think that Der Kaiser would put up with this from his national association? Of course not. It amazes me that the FA are still in charge, despite being such a shambles. Sorry, a comment turned into a blogpost there but I do feel very strongly about this though! Perhaps we could take a leaf out of our middle eastern brothers’ books and organise a quiet revolution… anyway I like the blog, it’s good to get this out in the open for discussion…Come on you Dons! (and come on Forest too!)

  • neil

    Daniel, we haven’t always agreed on things, but there is one thing I am fully behind you on – not adding “gate” onto the end of anything remotely scandalous!

    The blood boils everytime I see it!

  • Dean

    I agree wholeheartedly with this column and both posts here.

    There are few too many pedantic articles on this site nowadays (Mark Lawrenson’s Comedy Column being the biggest offender); however this post is spot on!

    I do think that the problem runs much, much deeper than even football though. It’s more about how society views the idea of celebrity.

    The great footballers of our past, the hardmen and characters of the game right up until the 90s would have laughed then slapped you upside your head for even suggesting they were ‘celebrities’. Nowadays it seems it’s, at least, a size aim of the modern footballer – Everybody wants to be Ronaldo or Beckham, no one wants to be Tudgay or Hyypia. I fear my team, Liverpool, had a large hand in this with the ‘SpiceBoys’ of the mid-late 90s.

    And you can’t even really blame the players when you look at it:

    The kid grows up and his over-enthusiastic and fame-hungry parents see an opportunity to cash in on their young son’s skills.
    As they grow they begin to get treated like the elite just because they can kick a ball around quite well.
    Soon girls, who’s only role models in life are socialites and WAGs, see their chance to jump on the bandwagon.
    The kid gets into his teens and starts reading magazines like Nuts and Zoo, which are basically Heat and OK! for lads. On one page is an advertisement for some product endorsed by their new impossibly young sporting hero seeing out his healthily rewarding contractual obligations and on the opposite page is their other sporting hero falling out of a nightclub with some plastic, half-dressed, reality TV star/failed ‘Page 3’ model hanging off their arm.
    They break into the first team squad an get rewarded with a contract, that whilst seeming underpaid in comparison to their idols, is way above the wage of anyone this kids know outside of football.
    He breaks into the first team and he starts to think “Why not me?”, so he demands, and gets, new improved deal after new improved deal.
    Now he has shitloads of money but with everyone in his life a glorified ‘yesman’ he makes stupid decisions, he makes mistakes that would normally cost people at least their jobs, but as you say – no one punishes them.
    Without this punishment they repeat these mistakes, like say continuing to send nude pics of yourself to girls when your wife has already nearly left you once!

    If we want to fix any of this we really do have to go in at the grass-roots level. Listen to Sir Trevor Brooking and not just teach these ridiculously young kids how to be good footballers but it seems now that teaching them how to be good people would also be as equally imperative.