I for one completely agree that footballers are massively overpaid for the role in which they play in our society. It is my belief however, that it is in fact us, the general public, whom have to take some responsibility for the way things have panned out in top level football. Now I am not saying that footballers shouldn’t be held accountable for their own actions, although many appear to be a pack of gullible lemmings, but what I am saying is the clear need for many football fans to know about top players personal lives has forced some, not all, towards coping with media pressure in the ‘wrong way’. I put ‘wrong way’ in inverted commas as what constitutes ‘enjoying yourself’ and ‘irresponsible’ are up for personal interpretation.
What the British success of the Olympics has shown is the real agony and ecstasy of competing at the top level of any form of competitive sport. The connection that we felt with many of these athletes were similar to that of the connection that many football fans would have experienced supporting their local club up until the 1980s. These athletes, the majority, are not paid so much money that, although they are only 40 yards away from you in the stand, they seem thousands of miles away as human beings. This should not be the case perhaps we ask too much of footballers and this seems justified by their incredibly high earnings.
A successful career used to be about winning things, now it’s about how much money you end up with – Graeme Souness
The Olympics were a great success not just down to the athletes but also to the amazing support inside the Stadium. There was no booing when a Team GB athlete underperformed just support. I know it is difficult to compare the atmosphere of the Olympics to a Premier League football game but it doesn’t help. The problem of abuse from crowds at football is a problem that goes way back to when the first organised teams and leagues were set up. Now-a-days we just shrug off the personal abuse we shout at players by suggesting that they ‘get paid enough to deal with it’, that is not acceptable, would you take a raise at your place of work but under the condition that your boss could shout obscenities at you and humiliate you every time you made a mistake? It is a sensitive issue, a lot has been done in the English game to combat racism and its been a long time since I’ve experienced racism at an English football match, but some players do get an earful. Taunting the opposition and chants against local rivals are a traditional part of the game that adds more passion (to a degree) to the playing field, but personal attacks on individuals just appear petty, as they are in a team of 11, whereas the fans are in a crowd of thousands.
You can also argue that some players deserve the media attention and crowd abuse due to their antics off the pitch. The modern footballer must recognise that they do not have a choice in being made a role model of, naturally children are going to look towards the players of their favourite teams as examples. Recent cases such as John Terry and Ryan Giggs’s actions off the pitch have led to many back page headlines. This however would suggest to me that the tabloids will run the hell out of any scandal story involving a footballer as we all regrettably want to know their every dark secret. This is the main reason, in my opinion, why there are very few openly gay footballers in the past and present game, coupled with the obvious abuse the player would receive from opposition fans.
My final point is that we all know a negative story attracts more media attention than a positive one. Watch the news, the main headline is always surrounded by corruption or death, and rightly so these matters should be at the forefront of our awareness, should we really care that John Terry is sleeping around? There are plenty more like him in the world, why can’t we focus on the footballers that do loads for charity and put these pre-Madonna’s in their place. Didier Drogba gave all his advertising money to charity, built a hospital in his home town in Ivory Coast, Craig Bellamy has a football foundation set up with his own money for underprivileged kids in Sierra Leone and we rarely see articles praising the model professionals of the game who stay when training is finished to get further practise in. The problem is that many of the big players were most probably once of these hard working individuals but with success in football apparently comes a big ego. Look at Robin Van Persie, he arguably carried Arsenal last season and is a well known Arsenal supporter, but yet we see him move to Premier League rivals Manchester United in the search for trophies. Not much of a dedicated Arsenal fan is he? He’s had one good season and left, despite Arsenal sticking by him through an endless list of injuries . Perhaps football is too focused on success rather than heritage or loyalty and respect, Clint Dempsey refusing to play for Fulham in order to engineer himself a transfer is a recent example of this.
Why has this happened? Football was taken from the working classes and made into a global business and franchise which like with anything that expands so vastly may soon suffer from imperial overstretch. As wages rise, so do ticket prices and the price of the most average of players, we see more empty corporate seats, not because no one has paid for them but rather the person who could afford it enjoys the 3 course meal and hospitality suite better than the match itself. We are slowly seeing the sport we all love being taken away from us, but with the coverage of Sky television we can watch it, but never truly experience the sport that once was played by heroes for the badge of a town, village or city. We asked for this change, not directly but as a result of wanting success for our clubs at any cost.