Watching football fans watching the football
Footballers are all idiots and Olympians are all ideal, right? FFT's Ben Welch isn't so sure...
Right now, football is in the bad books. Like a cheating lover, it’s on its knees begging for forgiveness from us, the loyal partner who has stuck by it through thick and thin, but grown tired of it taking us for granted.
We even resorted to standing football up, as was evident in the number of empty seats at Villa Park for the Community Shield.
We, the fans, have had our heads turned by a new man. A loyal, brave and selfless knight in shining armour: The Olympics.
As Team GB won the hearts and minds of the nation with their heroics during the London 2012 Games, we’ve all started to question why we’re so attracted to the self-centred, egotistical pig that is football.
But in truth, we’ve all been duped. Seduced by the feelgood wave sweeping over the nation, we’ve turned a blind eye to the misdemeanours of some athletes and turned on our childhood sweetheart.
Yes, the incredible achievements of Mo Farah & Co. deserve all the plaudits they get. They trained hard, sacrificed a lot and delivered under pressure. It was inspiring. The peerless performances and showmanship of Usain Bolt were enrapturing. He’s just the sort of cheeky chappy with genuine charisma that football is crying out for.
But did we forget about Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who was stripped of her gold medal after failing a drugs test? What about the eight badminton players who were disqualified for throwing games? And the 75-minute strop thrown by South Korean fencer Shin A-lam when she lost her semi-final?
"You must try harder. No, really; you must."
While the public sympathised with her, they were quick to brand William Gallas a petulant brat when he sat disconsolately on the turf at Birmingham after a stoppage-time penalty dented Arsenal’s title hopes in 2010.
Don’t forget Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi, who was ejected from the Olympics for not trying in the 800m so he could concentrate on the 1500m final. Consider the footballing equivalent. When Wolves fielded a below-strength side in their match against Manchester United at Old Trafford two years ago they were hit with a £25,000 suspended fine.
And just like footballers, Olympians love a good bit of filth. According to one report in a national newspaper, those two glorious weeks in August were full of “Womanising sprinters at strip clubs, kinky foursomes and female athletes begging for sex”. Hope Solo, goalkeeper for the gold medal-winning American women's football team, said: “I’ve seen people having sex out in the open, getting down and dirty on the grass between buildings.”
I’m fully aware there are plenty of stories of footballers failing drugs tests, shagging just about anything with a pulse (including grannies) and taking bungs, but when you look at the vast number of professionals playing the game across the globe, it’s a small minority that are tarnishing the game. The same also goes for the Olympic athletes, but their accomplishments and failures get seen through a different prism of morality – as does their dedication to training and self-improvement.
The gruelling training regimes and sacrifices endured by the athletes has been celebrated and admired by the journalists and fans alike, prompting an evaluation of how hard footballers graft for their vast wages.
You can’t compare the two worlds. Footballers train for two 90-minute games per week; if we want them to churn out the 120 miles Mo Farah runs a week, we can expect to be see more injuries and less ability. Elite athletes train smart, with the mechanics of their respective sports in mind.
Last season Leo Messi played 60 games for club and country. He is expected to deliver on the highest stage, week-in week-out. Athletics’ box office star Bolt may run 10 times a season during a non-championship year and his races last between 10 and 20 seconds. I’m not undermining his achievements – he’s one of the greatest athletes of all time – but you can’t say he or anyone else works harder than a footballer, they just work differently.
Worthless, workshy, etc
I’m not saying footballers are innocent, I know some of them have been very naughty boys, but Olympians are by no means the Messiahs. We have to put things into context.
Owing to their celebrity status, footballers are fair game for the front and back pages of the national press. The season lasts nine months and then the cameras follow them abroad, making sure they catch them indulging in sun-kissed debauchery.
Olympians don't come under such scrutiny. Before he won gold in the long jump, who knew who Greg Rutherford was? The ‘Ginger Wizard’ could have walked down Oxford Street a month ago and no one would have batted an eyelid. We don’t know what he or any other athlete was up to, because quite frankly no one cared until the Olympics came along.
We also have to consider the mood of the nation. After another dreary display at a major championship, England fans were left feeling empty and frustrated.
In this mindset, we were susceptible to the advances of another suitor. In swept the Olympics, and in a change to the usual routine of high hopes being dashed, we found low expectations being exceeded enormously, with Team GB delivering on the biggest stage. Like a gold-digger, we were hypnotised by shiny medals dangling from the necks of our athletes.
It's not even real gold... well, 98.66% of it isn't
Recession? Pah! Unemployment? Bothered! Feral teenagers running wild on the streets of London? Oh, they’re just cheeky little so-and-sos. Everything was rosy again.
Heartwarming stories of athletes overcoming adversity to win gold in front of a home crowd tugged at the heart-strings. They were billed as one of us. We could relate to them, they were ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. As Seb Coe roared “When our time came – Britain, we did it right. Thank you!" at the closing ceremony, we were made to feel part of the success.
By contrast, we’re just observers, looking in on football’s bubble. Fast cars, fast women and eye-watering wages draw a huge line between us and those whose reputations have been further tarnished by the high-profile misconduct cases of John Terry and Luis Suarez. With this in mind, FA chairman David Bernstein called on the players to clean up their act and pay heed to the shining example set up the Olympians.
Sure, footballers could do with stepping out of their privileged worlds, rising above the hangers-on who indulge their every need, and adopting the same grace, humility and class that many of the Olympians displayed. But we should remember that not all footballers are dastardly villains, and not all Olympians are super-heroes.
As with every relationship, there are times when our partner lets us down, but the grass isn’t always greener and we should consider this before we have an ill-judged affair. And let’s be honest: don't we all love a bad boy?
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