On Sunday evening, as Aston Villa fans were drowning their sorrows from the embarrassment of a 6-0 loss against Liverpool, they stumbled over a quizzical tweet from Joleon Lescott just 15 minutes after the game. This tweet, in case you somehow hadn’t seen it, consisted of a bold website photo of a silver Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe, without any caption. Instead of immediately publicly apologising to the clubs fans for the result or keeping quiet for the next few hours, Lescott somehow forgot his media training and unashamedly showed off his new £121,000 supercar which he will drive up to training in. This certainly was a mindless thing to do in the circumstances, but he clearly doesn’t see it that way as the tweet is yet to be deleted, despite the media storm against him. Does this show that footballers are unfairly paid for what they do? More importantly, do they truly take responsibility for their actions?
In our modern world of overwhelming political correctness, footballers are rigorously lectured about how to respond to each and every question any journalist could ever have, creating a lack of individuals in the game today. On Match of the Day every weekend you will hear “It was nice to score, but it was more important to get the win for the team” or “We can’t focus on this game too much, there’s another important one coming up next week”. These clichés for players (and managers who have come through the same system) are somehow the norm today, showing that football clearly wants to get rid of all characters and emotion of their employees, and that is all the players are these days. They aren’t normal people; they are talented, robotic millionaires. They are made to pent up their emotions, which inevitably they will have to release at some point.
The only problem is, the paparazzi are always following these top-level footballers through the city streets of London, Manchester and Birmingham, so any of their mistakes will be shared immediately through social media. So when Jack Grealish or Jack Wilshere are pictured taking laughing gas, or John Ruddy is filmed punching a fellow drunk man, the evidence will be found by their managers, and they will be punished the next day. But do they go out to the bars with their entourages and do it because of frustration or sheer foolishness?
It is very easy to see why people would say that footballers are often very impressionable and unlikeable people, and are more likely to make mistakes. They are massively overpaid, with (by my calculations) the average Premier League player making £69,204 a week this season, which compared to the British average worker earning £25,000 in a whole year is absolutely crazy. It would take the average British worker 140 weeks, or nearly 3 years, to earn the equivalent of a top footballer’s weekly wage. Footballers will never serve such an important role in society to ever earn as much money as that. Don’t get me wrong, I realise that footballers have to push their bodies through around five or six hours of training a day and have numerous media duties to carry out, but that does not add up to 140 times the work of a plumber, a builder, a chef or a business owner who all earn far less. They get around 8 weeks of paid holiday time every season, in which they could earn an average of 11p every second just sitting on the beach in Dubai with their model wives, they drive Ferrari’s or Lamborghini’s and eat at Michelin star restaurants. Not exactly a hard life, is it?
On the other hand, footballers, as they try to keep reminding us, are as much ‘normal people’ as the rest of us, and should be able to wind down and relax the same as anyone else. Managers may not like it, but their players are actually young men who need to live their lives and maybe learn from their mistakes if it makes them a better person. They do this at their own peril though, full in the knowledge that they will be found out, even if they have done nothing serious, as it is a risk that comes with the job.
The problem is, when these young men do live the high life, they believe they can do anything without a consequence, as is the case with many young players. I was watching a BBC Three documentary last year called Footballers, Sex, Money: What’s Gone Wrong? which involved an interview with Harry Redknapp, who admitted that with a leading player at a club “there’s no doubt about it, he’ll get treated differently”. This blunt truth demonstrates just how bereft of good morals football is, as players like the example of Mario Balotelli can get away with setting off fireworks in their bathroom, or throwing darts at an academy player. These acts would be seen as unacceptable for any other young player, so why was Balotelli special, why did he deserve to have a second, third and fourth chance?
This sort of behaviour was first majorly welcomed into the game by the world-renowned beer-guzzling, sombrero-topped figure of George Best, who summed up a carefree culture of teenagers in the 1960’s. We do have to remember that it was an era when drinking pints and smoking a few cigarettes was a regular pre-match ritual, but Best pushed the boundaries of what was possible when he went on national chat shows and proudly talked about his womanising antics. He was legendary for his media-friendly quotes such as “If I had to choose between dribbling past 5 players and scoring from 40 yards at Anfield or shagging Miss World, it’d be a hard choice. Thankfully I’ve done both”. Now these were fine for promoting himself and gaining public support, but in the end he did waste some of his immense talent by ruining his liver with all the glasses of beer and champagne. Overall, he spent too much time away from the training ground, where he could’ve really gone on to be known as the (excuse the pun) best player in the history of football by more than only those who ever saw him play. You wonder how many talents have been wasted to the dark side of fame, the antisocial drinking to try and cure their hidden depression.
With the right management and assistance, though, media attention can be the building blocks of a glittering career. Just look at David Beckham, who has built his own free-kick scoring, underwear modelling, London-based empire of multi-million pound success. He is probably the first name any non-football fan would say as the most famous footballer of the past 20 years; such is his degree of fame in the worlds of fashion, television and charity. He is the remedy in the world of football to the Balotelli’s or John Terry’s, the complete anti-Best figure of footballing royalty, and the perfect example of how to play out your career for any young children.
The percentage of crimes committed by footballers compared to the rest of the population is probably quite low in all honesty, but the more important aspect is how many more headlines are written based on sportsmen. Far more was written about Adam Johnson and Ched Evans compared to other sex offenders in society, Gary O’Neil and Arturo Vidal became more famous than any other speeding drivers and Joleon Lescott has definitely caused the most controversial car tweet in history. The basic fact that football is the most popular sport in the UK immediately results in tabloids wanting the surname of anyone involved in the game, as they need big headlines to sell papers. If you look at it from the perspective of players, managers and directors, tabloid writers are poisonous people to surround yourself with; they were the downfall of George Best, Paul Gascoigne and David Bentley. The players had their own faults, though, they were vulnerable enough to be influenced by fame, it could be argued they ruined their own chances in pursuit of what they thought was best for them.
In the end, the after-hours pursuits of these rich 20-somethings will never be any of our business. We, as the fans, can never be there to tell these footballers that what they are doing might be wrong. But we can chant their names from the stands every Saturday, purely because our happiness for the next week depends on how they kick a ball. It may seem mad when we put it that way, but it is the truth of the matter. The way these sportsmen behave on the pitch is our concern as supporters, but the way they act off of it is not, and that is what we have to teach the tabloids. Leave these young men to sort out their own lives, let them seek help when they need it, teach them to make up for their mistakes. Some of them may make life-changing errors, some may not be so serious, but the media have had such a manipulative role in this, when they seriously shouldn’t have.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!