It is not a good time for football at the moment. No sooner had we lost one England manager in the aftermath of yet another humiliating early tournament exit (this time to a country with the population of Swansea) than another was embroiled in a financial scandal. Add to this the vile details of the Ched Evans rape acquittal, in the same year as Adam Johnson was imprisoned for sexual activity with a child, and the beautiful game has never looked so ugly.
Ask anyone who is to blame for the one way trip to hell the game is taking and you often get the same, clichéd response, “They earn too much money.” But surely the players are the one group of people in the game who deserve every penny they get?
Consider the Liverpool-Man Utd game last week, a local derby between two clubs thirty miles apart yet a global event which attracted a crowd of 53,000 people with millions more huddled around TV sets from Kuala Lumpur to Kentucky. This one match alone generated untold millions of pounds worth of sponsorship, gate receipts, TV money and merchandise sales. And not one penny of it would exist without the 22 lads on the pitch pushing themselves to their physical limit. Who could possibly deserve the cash more?
Some argue they don’t mind them doing all right but that the size of the sums in question are too vast, the disparity with average wages is too huge. But consider for a moment what it takes to become a professional footballer. Almost every boy in the land dreams of it, to make it to a level where you earn a living playing, even in a lower league, you must have proven yourself better than thousands, even tens of thousands, of others. And it’s not simply a case of God-given talent, what often separates the very top players from the rest is their determination and dedication – the biggest stars are often the first at training and the last to leave.
And let us not forget the huge contribution the game makes to our economy. Physios, doctors, cameramen, journalists, stewards, caterers, club shop assistants, printers, police, brewers, bus/train/taxi drivers, butchers, bakers and coloured scarf makers! All employed directly or indirectly by football. Not to mention the international prestige we enjoy as the home of football, bringing millions into the country. I once met a Korean couple who had decided to study in the UK for no other reason than Park Ji-Sung had signed for Manchester United. It is also worth remembering that the vast majority of players pay huge amounts of tax, yet another case of the rich propping up the welfare state despite socialist allegations that the wealthy are to blame for all our problems.
The bile spat at our footballers is most bitter when from the mouths of the middle class left, a group which knows little if anything about the culture it castigates. Their resentment reeks of the same kind of sneering snobbery we’ve come to expect from the Islington commissars. “How dare working class kids get super rich and send their kids to private schools! Don’t they know their place!” I would love to see Shami Chakrabati or Diane Abbott’s face as they sit down at their kid’s school prize giving next to a reality TV Glamour mag WAG. It’s called aspiration, ladies, and it shouldn’t be denied to anyone regardless of whether they went to university or hang out with comrade Corbyn.
The left has always had a problem with competitive sports, and its unmistakably working class nature ensures a special kind of disdain is reserved for our national sport. Of course there are the pretentious Dukla Prague & CCCP shirt owners who glorify the triumphs of teams from behind the Iron Curtain, conveniently forgetting their successes were less the result of comrades from the same factory/Army base/Power plant working together than the threat of a bullet awaiting them should they lose. It’s also worth reminding any middle class lefty footy fan you know that the club they worship is in fact nothing more than a company. Every week they pay homage to a corporation.
So who is responsible for paying footballers such immense salaries? Ironically it is the very fans who complain the loudest. If you think footballers earn too much stop buying season tickets, stop buying replica shirts, stop buying SKY sports subscriptions, stop getting Wayne Rooney’s deformed face tattooed on your thigh. Be an individual, don’t just follow the herd. Vote with your feet. Start watching a local side, your support will be much more appreciated and you’ll be far closer to the action. And there’ll be considerably less foreigners there if that’s your gripe, a complaint I have never understood – why would it be better for the best English players to play against second rate English players rather than the very same top class foreign players they are expected to beat when wearing an England shirt?
Otherwise, get over yourself and enjoy the sport for what it really is – one of the most amazing spectacles this country has to offer and one of our most valuable cultural exports. Ched Evans, Sam Allardyce and Adam Johnson are all knobheads but look around your office and you’ll notice a few knobheads too, football doesn’t have a monopoly on them. But even knobheads have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour guilt free.
The commitment and sacrifice shown by thousands of lads in pursuit of a professional career should be a cause for celebration and national pride. We should hail the idea that young men from some of the most deprived backgrounds have the opportunity to earn riches beyond their wildest dreams.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty