Stop Kicking The Beautiful Game In The Teeth!


England’s footballers should tread carefully. After almost a fortnight of genuinely heart-warming Olympic action set against a backdrop of overwhelming public support and good humour, now is really not the time for a £100,000 a week mouth-breather to start acting the pillock.

There is a backlash brewing against football and it’s going to be nasty. Indeed, given the extraordinary column by esteemed author Hunter Davies in The Sun today, perhaps it’s already begun.

After a winter of discontent was made glorious summer by the efforts of our under-paid Olympic athletes, Davies asked how over-paid footballers could, “ever hold up their arrogant heads again.” It’s a view that’s hard to argue. The Olympics have been amazing, life-affirming and inspirational, while last season football gave us the Suarez affair, the Terry affair, more Giggs affairs, and a lifetime’s supply of Joey Barton.

Davies is a purist, he loves football. He once told me that he has a season ticket at White Hart Lane AND at The Emirates, because he loves the way that both teams play and it means he’s always got a seat for a game at the weekend. He’s also Wayne Rooney’s ghostwriter, so he knows a bit about the modern footballer’s psyche. That’s why it’s a surprise to see his column take a sudden detour into loopy town.

“I wonder if our top footballers will now feel so guilty that they will donate nine-tenths of their income to charity,” he muses. Erm…probably not, no, This, sadly, is where the debate is heading now. Football’s getting a kicking and everyone is lining up to take a swing.

We’ve been here before, of course, in 2007 when footballers were publicly urged to give a day’s pay to nurses. "Nurses are under-valued and are holding down two or three jobs just to nurse," said the campaign’s organiser Noreena Hertz. And she was right. Nurses are treated appallingly. But, and I’m prepared to admit I might be wrong on this, I’m not aware of any footballers working in the Department of Health.

You can’t arbitrarily hold people to account for the sins of the society simply because they earn a lot of money. It makes as much sense as hitting up the cast of EastEnders to subsidise the RNLI, or blaming Cheryl Cole for the lack of lollypop ladies in rural Shropshire. It’s the politicians who should be blamed. Or the people who vote for them…

Footballers are paid ludicrous sums of money and athletes aren’t. This is the way of things, sadly. This is free market economics. “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it,” said 1st Century BC wit Pubilius Syrus in…erm…‘Civilization 4’.

But you can change the way of things and you will find no opposition from me. If you’ve been blown away by the Olympics and you want a new world order, cancel your satellite subscriptions and start attending athletics meets. Stop going to the pub on Monday night for the game and get yourself to Crystal Palace or Gateshead.

Some footballers are absolute rotters; selfish toe-rags you wouldn’t even lend a book to in case they tried to either eat it or shag it. Some, on the other hand, are actually quite nice. To kick all of them, to attack the sport itself, because other sports are popular this month, makes little sense.

I hope that footballers do learn something from the Olympics, but only in the same way that I hope we all learn something. The past fortnight has not only shown us the heights that an individual can scale, regardless of the odds and expectations, they’ve shown us what we can do as a nation when we drop the cynicism, stop whining and show some positivity.

There has been hardly any crime in the Olympic Park, hardly any oafishness and apparently people have been talking and laughing with each other on the London Underground. If we’re going to take anything from the Olympics, let’s take that rather than just swinging a boot at an easy target.