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.