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Death of ‘The Hero’, birth of ‘The Bastard’
By Anthony Leahy
Once upon a time, when football was littered with heroes beyond reproach, support for your idols was on a par with revering your mum and dad. Now, with the Premiership awash with TV money, the heroes seem to have disappeared. Do ‘idols’ and the beautiful game just not mix any more?
Recent headlines have revealed tales of sexual excess, infidelity and the delusional notion that playing for your country is permissible despite being a stupid bastard playing in the little leagues of the USA.
The higher up the football chain you go, the more you find a poisonous culture of prestige and arrogance.
Once upon a time, footballers were modestly paid individuals who not only smoked prolifically but also continued playing into their 50’s.
Kits were basic affairs and the footballs were specially designed to induce dementia in later life.
There was also a good chance you’d be sharing the bus home with one of the young and aspiring stars of the game. The difference then was that your daughter would actually make it home without being roasted.
As for the fans, they enjoyed a desegregated existence, and there was none of the ‘tribalism’ that pervades the modern game.
Life was simpler back then (it was also black and white too).
Ok, I wasn’t born when any of this was the case, but I’ve never been one to question the integrity or the accuracy of the British media.
As a Manchester United supporter (although I could more accurately be described as a ‘convert’ to FC United of Manchester), I spent the greater part of my 33 years worshipping Sir Alex Ferguson as a man of unparalleled genius.
Not just a hero for masterminding United’s treble winning run in ’99, Sir Alex was a shining example of working-class made good: worked in the Clyde shipyards as an apprentice tool-worker; former trade union shop steward; un-ashamed socialist; and a thorn in the side of many a Plc fat-cat.
The first challenge to this untarnished reputation came during the infamous race horse dispute with two of Manchester United’s major shareholders.
“Does it matter?” we said, “Anyone can have a misunderstanding about a race horse and gallons of horse semen. “
At the time, most United fans, including myself, were prepared to overlook this ‘private matter’ on the basis that Sir Alex was beyond reproach (after all, he’d liberated United fans from years of private shame and Liverpudlian vitriol).
The problem was he didn’t stop there.
The unrelenting capacity of footballers and high profile managers to constantly besmirch the good name of ‘modesty & virtue’ has had the reciprocal effect of turning football fans into primal thugs with a penchant for Stone Island and Fred Perry.
It’s this culture that not only makes life difficult for players and managers (albeit as a consequence of their own arrogance), but also encourages fans to see the game in terms of winning at all costs – even if it includes battering the shite out of the local constabulary and the local opposition.
Since my relegation to the arse-end of the northern non-league circuit (the price you pay when you reject corporate takeover) I’ve noted that life is a little less hectic and, dare I say it, more geared toward embracing financial ruin and sporting defeat.
At the lower levels of the footballing pyramid, maybe the fundamental lame-ness of football acts as a pacifying ‘drug’ that subdues fans and tempers their expectations?
Devoid of the magnifying glass of media attention, and overwhelmed by average gates of 12, the game at the bottom retains a relative calm that gives short shrift to big time Charlie’s.
This is starting to sound like a liberation theology pamphlet so maybe I should pause for a minute, on top of my well worn soap box, and ponder the joys of being freed from the greed of debt-laden American owners; the vicious cruelty of the media; the congenital idiocy of over-paid players; the vulgarity of gin-soaked WAGs; the incompetent spite of the managers barely clinging on to their jobs; that pathetic, needy desire to appear one of the lads in the face of ‘the opposition’ which to this day still leads some of us to believe that ‘firm’ members are anything other than extra virgin twats of the first pressing.
That was quite cathartic. Thank you.
‘Big time’ football doesn't yield heroes any more; they simply turn out to be utter bastards who pretend you don’t exist whenever you strike up a conversation with them, or ask for an autograph on a cheque laden with zeroes. Heroes like Bryan Robson (how many times could he dislocate that shoulder? What a legend!) just don't seem to come along any more.
It's a sign both of how low my expectations have fallen, and at the same time of how high my standards have been raised, that the game for me has become embodied by 11 blokes playing in the Unibond League Division 1.
If they ever turn out to have feet of clay, be it taking backhanders from the local chippy or seducing lonely Bovril vendors, that'll be the last time I shed a tear for the beautiful game.
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