So, the denigration of football and footballers is well and truly in motion. In light of the success of our recent ‘heroes’ – commonly known as Team GB – players of the beautiful game have come under immense criticism. These arrogant, overpaid, badly behaved Premier League footballers could learn a thing or two from the role models of the London Olympic Games. And the world would be a better place because of it. This seems to be the collective cry from the ordinary British media.
Bill Turnbull of BBC Breakfast summed it up perfectly for me when he whinged that Premiership players do not come and sit on his sofa in the mornings like the British Olympians did. Talk about throwing one’s toys out of the pram, Bill. In addition his co-host Louise Minchin advocated that footballers should publicly apologize more often in the same way that Team GB’s also-rans did.
Realistically, the two cannot and should not be compared. Team GB have a spotlight on them for around a fortnight every four years. Top footballers, on the other hand, are under constant surveillance throughout their season and even during the summer months; when they may be taking part in an international tournament or be the subject of transfer rumours.
Football is our national sport. It’s our bread and butter. Two hundred metres in a kayak just isn’t. Yet, the common media are now prepared to lambast football from the Olympic bandwagon because it has become fashionable to do so. But guess what? Football will be the talk of the town again as soon as Rooney scores another over-head kick or Balotelli reveals another hilarious t-shirt. And, love him or hate him, Joey Barton has a million more followers on Twitter than Jessica Ennis.
Around 350,000 football supporters will attend Premier League matches every single week. It’s the people’s sport. But what about humility? Well, take a look at Paul Scholes or Tony Hibbert to name a couple. What about sportsmanship? Remember Di Canio catching the ball rather than shooting when the opposing goalkeeper lay injured. Yes, there’s gamesmanship. Yes, there’s cheating. But they’re not all tossers.
“Footballers should act like Olympians” is a predictable and lazy popularisation. Attempts to relate London 2012 to football are over simplified. An underlying resentment of football and richly rewarded footballers is understandable. But our national game offers a partisanship so distinct from any other sport. Footballers are our rock stars. We’re as absorbed in the villains as we are the good guys; Cantona and Beckham are loved in equal measure by many Manchester United fans.
If you take away the fervent tribalism, the camaraderie, the controversy and the anti-heroes then what are we left with? I’m getting away from the point here. But why is the success of the Olympics being warped into a failure for football? Can’t the unforgettable London games, it’s refreshingly uplifting atmosphere and haul of medals be enjoyed independently without having to turn it into a self-help book for football? The concept is romantic but unconvincing.
Written by Andy Cowan (@HashtagEFC)