Everyone has been saying how nice it was to see happy, smiling, approachable Olympics competitors instead of those surly, monosyllabic footballers. Without quite suggesting sainthoods for best fan-avoidance technique – hoods, Ipods, earphones, shades, lowered heads – Stephen Goldsmith offers some balancing thoughts …
Well thank heavens the Olympics have passed and we can get on with the football.
I promised myself I wouldn’t write about the Olympics. Especially once our athletes’ achievements surpassed all others except those of the hugely populated nations of China and USA. Because although this made the temptation to do so greater, it’s also predictable and unoriginal.
But Joe Public and his overreaction to it all has compelled me to do so, well more so use it as a platform to have a moan about something. How I love moaning. And how I love dressing it up as a “debate”.
What made the middle Saturday of the games particularly impressive was that the golds started to appear in the track and field events, the one area that was lacking in success four years ago. Indeed this is area that gives with the games their worldwide identity. Citizens of countries that don’t excel in cycling events are hardly likely to have been exposed to our marvellous acheivements in the velodrome, making the accomplishments of Jessica Ennis, Tom Rutherford and Mo Farrah particularly proud moments in addition to all the other victories that came with awe-inspiring regularity.
I refer to the middle Saturday of the games rather than following Saturday where Mo shone once more, partly because I have been sitting on this article for longer than anticipated but mainly because that was the night football spoiled the feelgood factor.
Like the majority of the watching public, I had the men’s Team GB football side on the reserve list that evening and as Mo powered home and reduced the British public to emotional wrecks, the football match was due to enter that all too familiar phase of the penalty shoot out.
I doubt anything, at any time, in any walk of life could have highlighted the refreshing change that this fortnight has brought to us all then the contrasting fortunes of Team GB’s footballers bowing out to a side that has our very own Ji as a starter in their side. I could hear the collective grumbles of the entire nation bemoaning in how typical it was for football- and penalty shoot outs in particular – to ruin things.
Even more painful reminders came crashing down into the heads of Sunderland fans as Daniel Sturridge’s little pre-run up dummy brought the inevitable disastrous consequences that come with that particular manoeuvre;:the epic fail. The epic fail of Jeff Whitley proportions. Unless you’re John Aldridge, never try this as some sort of keeper distraction as it doesn’t work.
It was bound to lead to comparisons between athletes and footballers, especially from those who can’t help having a go at the latter. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, however, especially when some of it, like always, seems based on the obsession with how much footballers earn. It’s irrelevant, unnecessary and tedious. There is much I would like to see change with our generation of spoilt footballers, don’t get me wrong. I could hold entirely new and full-blooded debate on where they go wrong. I will touch on that later and while measured and constructive criticism regarding the morals and behaviour of some of our footballing elite are more than welcome, I would call for a re-think before using the Olympics as simply just another stick to beat them with.
Football is a multi-billion pound industry, its top entertainers should have a right to earn a large portion of that money, the same way Hollywood actors do when they are in high demand.
I am the first to criticise the likes of Bent and Gyan when their thirst for cash goes too far, and when the likes of Man City throw quarter of a million pounds a week at players it’s ridiculous. Of course it is. I’m generalising though and the global monster that football has become in this modern era sets it apart from the individual amateur events that collectively form the Olympics.
It is possible to enjoy both without having cheap shots. The Olympics is a monster of an event itself, of course, and a very enjoyable one at that.
But when I hear people claim football is in the dirt and can’t unify people in the same way, I have to disagree. Nothing unifies people like football. Nothing is as globally available to children and adults on a daily basis; children of all ages and social backrounds are offered the chance to use football as a platform to better themselves, keep fit and become part of a group.
And as a coach I see regular voluntary work within the sport that is unparalleled. I wonder if all these band wagon jumpers will be attending their local athletics events in the near future, and investing their hard earned cash in sport. Will the athletics events in the Gateshead Stadium start rivalling the Stadium of Light and St James’ Park for attendances? Thought not.
But I suppose that’s part of the problem. It seems that football and its professionals have become victims of their own success.
Of course it was a breath of fresh air to see our athletes give down to earth interviews on the telly, a hugely refreshing change to that of the robotic type of interviews and predictable media-trained answers that our footballers present us with. We have to remember why this is common place now though.
People are shy in comparing how our footballers are targeted in a way athletes could never imagine. Even global superstars like Usain Bolt have it fairly easy. As he approached one of his big races during the games, he was photographed partying until 3am in his room with the Swedish female handball team (lucky fella).
There was no alcohol involved but imagine that being Wayne Rooney on the eve of a World Cup quarter final? You know how people would react.
Even the disgraceful actions of badminton players attempting to lose games weren’t really covered extensively. Not in the manner of a scandal-hungry media fest as comparable underhand tactics been deployed in a World Cup game or even, come to that, in a League 2 game.
Until Olympic athletes have their every move and decision scrutinised, until they have their heads turned by agents and their pockets lined with gold in the manner, the comparison will often be unfair. Bolt has all the advertising money, sure, but he doesn’t have an agent in his ear saying “change running clubs, son, and we make a fortune”.
Not that footballers couldn’t learn the odd thing from some of the personalities that we have had the pleasure of being exposed to in the last fortnight. Down to earth doesn’t do the description justice.
Seeing the way Steve Kean interacted with fans on holiday last year, only for it to be posted on YouTube as a stitch up and subsequently provide him with a lawsuit, seems to offer some justification for the way in which the footballing family communicate with the public, and how they’re reduced to offering dull and predictable cliches.
As ill advised as Kean’s comments were, they weren’t supposed to be public and the incident reflects why nobody is trusted to be interacted with.
I would like to see them try, however. It would be nice to think that they could try and connect with the people who are the main contributors for where they are today. Suppose there’s a fine line with trust, especially when you’re in the public eye and an easy target for a scandal story.
Our new signing Carlos Cuellar has openly engaged with fans on Twitter. Some question how reputable Twitter is for reference. Not me. Words straight from the horse’s mouth with no dressing up. No question, trivial or creative, appears to be too much for Carlos to answer. It’s only a little gesture but I can guarentee that it gives him a huge head start here and it’s the closest we’re gonna get to a player walking in your local and having a pint with you.
If this were the norm then some of this anti-footballer feeling may start to evaporate.
Roy Hodgson has said the games are a wake up call for fans and players alike. And that’s the point. The same fans who abuse players no end must learn it’s a two way thing. Players need to learn it won’t harm to pause their Ipods, take their earphones off, lift their hoods and speak to fans every now and again. Hell we might even get them to stop diving. Well we can dream can’t we?