Intelligent Footballers – Is It Possible?

It is a well publicised and widely held belief that footballers are as thick as two short planks. The stereotype of an uneducated ruffian with little schooling and the total inability to string a comprehensible sentence together is confirmed each time you see the likes of Wayne Rooney interviewed!

That is very unfair because many of us would come over as less than the Brain of Britain if we had a microphone shoved under our noses after we had just run ten thousand metres in a European cup tie and some idiot asked us, “how do you feel?” In fact, if I’d just run ten thousand metres they would have to remove my oxygen mask to hear my reply!

There are of course many examples of footballers being thick. David Beckham is the most quoted and his statements like, “we are going to have Brooklyn christened, but we don’t know into which religion yet,” and Rio Ferdinand saying that as England captain he would “take up the mantelpiece,” all go to confirm what most people think.

There are some examples of a few famous English footballers who possess a great deal of intelligence. Former Manchester United winger and current Reading boss, Steve Coppell, famously didn’t join United full-time until after he had completed his degree at university. At my own club, Watford, we had a player called Steve Palmer who also had a degree. The fact that the other players referred to him as ‘the professor’, however, shows just how rare an intelligent footballer is.

On Saturday mornings in England on the TV show ‘Soccer AM’ there is a segment called, ‘Team-mates’ where a player is asked several questions about his colleagues. The questions are like, “who is the quickest at the club?”, “best dressed?”, “best dancer?”, “most stupid”, “joker?” etc, etc.

The players always rattle off the answers very quickly until they come to one particular question. “Who is the most intelligent?” There is always a long pause whilst the player tries to think of someone who possibly possesses more than one brain cell. Eventually, they say something like, “It’s probably so and so. He knows some long words,” or something equally banal.

Graeme Le Saux, the former England left back, was unceremoniously ridiculed by other footballers because he read the Guardian newspaper, a broadsheet, rather than one of the tabloids. It is just not the done thing to be a clever footballer in England.

It is against this background that I salute League Two Notts County midfielder Neil MacKenzie. He is flying in the face of tradition and risking ridicule for the rest of his life by publicly displaying that he is intelligent. He is going someway towards dispelling the myth that all footballers are stupid.

The thirty-two year-old MacKenzie has made football history as the first player to appear on an English Channel 4 afternoon quiz show called Countdown.

Countdown is a legendary programme that has been going for many years. It is watched by almost exclusively the elderly and students. It is a simple game involving two players playing against each other in a test of numeracy and literacy. The players take it in turns to choose nine unknown letters by asking for vowels or consonants and then compete against each other to see who can formulate the longest word with those letters in thirty seconds. There are five or six rounds of that together with two rounds of mathematical tests. The player with the most points at the end is the champion and remains so until he or she is beaten.

Footballer MacKenzie is proving to be a great success on the show, winning five episodes in a row and shooting to the top of the leaderboard. At the time of writing he is still the current Countdown champion and showing no signs of giving up his title without a fight.

MacKenzie was encouraged to enter by his mother, who is a regular viewer of the show. Of course, I guess footballers are another group of people who can watch afternoon television along with the elderly and the students. I would think though that most players would be watching MTV or the Sports channels, rather than Countdown.

So is Mackenzie striking a blow for footballers everywhere? Is he actually more typical of today’s footballer than the stereotypical thicko?

Let us know your experiences here at Soccerlens. Have you heard of stories about particularly clever players? Or do you have information that might confirm that Neil MacKenzie is a rarity amongst his peers?

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