There has been an awful lot written this season about the ‘respect agenda’, the malicious tackles creeping into the game and the hounding of referees. Most of what has been written has been along the lines of suggesting that the players at the very top of the game have a duty to act as role models to lesser and younger players around the country.
There have been articles about the lack of discipline shown by these ‘overpaid, playboy prima donnas’ in the Premier League and their terrible lifestyles and poor example setting on the pitch.
I would like to write something that tries to put some of these matters into perspective and stop some of the hypocritical, ‘holier than thou’ reporting we have seen every week throughout the season. (Yes, I agree, some of that has been written by yours truly. I have now seen the light!)
This season I have attended several games at under 14 level and I have seen players arguing with parents, parents arguing with parents, parents abusing referees, foul language and nasty deliberate fouls. I haven’t seen anyone sent off or even seriously reprimanded.
I have attended a few games in the Blue Square Premier League where physicality is a vital part of the game. I have seen a manager of one side head butt the manager of another. Off the ball incidents are commonplace, and everyone loves the aggression.
I have seen several games in a semi-pro reserve team league and have witnessed teams with no discipline whatever. Just yesterday I saw the player/coach of a team slap an opposing player hard around the face and get just a yellow card.
My point is this. The lower down the football ladder you go, the more violent and aggressive the game becomes. Anyone who has played Sunday league football will know that most weeks the games are a punch-up waiting to happen.
Does anyone care about the violence at the lower levels? No, it’s just part of the game. In fact, for the fans, a little bit of a fight or the managers getting involved with each other lifts the atmosphere and adds to the whole experience.
Then we come to the Premier League. If a player swears at a referee we have several column inches in the papers the next day telling us that this player is a disgrace and should be banned. I agree that all of the things in the news recently, Ashley Cole, Javier Mascherano, bad tackles etc, need to be dealt with and stamped out of the game, but don’t let anybody think that these incidents are setting a bad example or influencing the behaviour of the perfectly behaved and impressionable youngsters and lower league footballers who are watching.
Last night in towns and cities across England young men will have been drinking themselves into stupors, taking drugs and fighting. There will have been several hundreds of sexual offences reported to the Police and there will be thousands of young men waking up in prison cells.
I will wager that not one of these young men have acted in the way they have because Ashley Cole turned his back on a referee.
I want to make something abundantly clear right now. I abhor violence and disrespect on any football pitch and I would love to see it wiped out. I fully support the ‘respect agenda’ and believe that the likes of Ashley Cole and Javier Mascherano were out of order.
The thing that I can’t agree with is the media obsession with painting the young men entertaining us every week in the Premier League as violent, non-caring, disrespectful and badly behaved louts.
Anyone who watches a game from the 1970’s will see that the level of thuggery in the game at the top level was way beyond anything we see now. We look back at the Norman Hunter’s, Tommy Smith’s, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris’ and smile to ourselves thinking how we used to enjoy them crunching into bad and dangerous tackles. These players would be vilified in this day and age. They were legends in their time.
It is my belief therefore that Premier League footballers are better behaved than many of their age group contempories are off the field. It is my belief that Premier League footballers are better behaved on the pitch than footballers are at any other level. I also believe that the level of poor behaviour or dangerous play is lower now than in the past. If all this is true, then why is there such an outcry about the behaviour of the Premier League right now?
Premier League footballers with a few notable exceptions are generally young men who have had minimal education. They couldn’t have reached the level they are at without spending more time with a ball than they did with a protractor! They are also young men who are handed thousands of pounds each week and given almost every afternoon off.
If you are aged between seventeen and thirty, how would you behave in those circumstances? Those of us who have sadly passed that age, how did we behave, and how would we have behaved with the money and the time?
Most of us know the answer, and on the whole, I don’t think the current crop of players do too badly compared to how most of us would.
A couple of years ago Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew had a vocal disagreement on the touchline and it was major news for a long while. There were calls for them to be banned. At lower levels we have managers fighting almost every week. They are not doing this because Arsene Wenger once got a little bit cross.
I truly believe that most managers and players at the top level have a very real understanding of the responsibility they have. Generally, they behave well and provide examples of everything that is good in society.
David Beckham famously kicked out in a petty and not very violent way in 1998 and he and his family received death threats and effigies of him were burned on the streets. Does anyone seriously believe that the reaction was proportionate to the incident?
I think it is time that we all supported the ‘respect agenda’ and do what we can to eradicate the problems from the top level. I also think it is time for the media to keep things in perspective and to realise that millions of us are entertained each week by young men who, on the whole, set a very good example.