Football's Decline

Posted by Garstonite on January 13, 2006, 12:05:37 PM

For the fee of one Wayne Rooney, you could have acquired 60,000 (!) Billy Liddell’s. For the price of one Juan Seba Veron, you could have signed over 60 Kenny Dalglish’s. And for one Hernán Crespo, you could have purchased just over 1,000 Kevin Keegan’s.

OK, times have changed, I accept that. Everything from houses, cars, chocolate bars and football tickets – prices are on the increase. The cost of going to a football match was once not too dissimilar to the price of a trip to the pictures. Now, it is five or six times the price to follow your team. Is it any wonder that empty seats are becoming a common occurrence?

At the end of the day, why spend £30+ - working hard and saving up - to see 22 men who gain more money in a week than you do in a year? If a parent takes a child to the game nowadays, they'll get little change from £70 after buying a pie, the petrol home and, of course, the ticket itself. It's ridiculous and people need to take a stand.

To say the players that grace our pitches today are all “mercenaries” is a harsh generalisation, though, and is often unfairly used these days. Many players do work genuinely hard. Then, with money earned, help various charitable organizations. However, when you put it into context and think to yourself that a fireman, somebody who saves lives, earns, on average, 21.5K a year - quite a lot in comparison to many of us, no doubt - it is inexcusable, when you think to yourself that such fee is a mere quarter to what perennial bench-warmer and drug-addict Mark Bosnich once received in a week during his time at Chelsea.

Harry Kewell, who largely spent last season on the sidelines, was bringing home £62,000-a-week. And he has yet to prove his worth at the club. Billy Liddell, who is considered, quite rightly, as a legend in the L4 area, was earning £20-per-week during his spell at the club. It is quite difficult to get your head round it.

Players are often hugely over-rated too. Nobody is now ever “a promising youngster”, “a good player at [enter team name]” anymore. They are the “nation’s saviour” or “the next so-and-so”.

I can recall an age when players who skipped past challenges, whipped in crosses and scored goals from ridiculous lengths were conventional. I remember an age when strikers who scored the team’s only goals were ‘run of the mill’. I remember an age when the sight of a midfield general – with the ability to shoot, tackle, pass and cover tonnes of ground – was a common sight.

It is not to say that they were never adored. Quite the opposite. The Kop, the Stretford End, the Gwladys Street (and so on) loved them; they chanted their names and held flags with their names displayed on them aloft. Kids had posters with them on in every location of their rooms. People implanted their moves and body actions into their own games down the local parks.

This was also in a day were players lived, breathed and slept football. They didn’t juggle it between appearing in ‘Hello!’ or ‘3am’, or in between getting their hair styled or promoting every product available on the market, including their own range… making even more money! Unbelievable...

Players played for the good of the team and for the fans who adored them from the terraces. Where’s loyalty gone in today’s game? It exists, sure, but players want to be remembered – they want medals and the only place you get that is at the top clubs. Days of when you were able to be promoted from the second division and go on to win the title in the first are long gone. Players like Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney who sold their souls, going on to play for a bigger (rivalled) team would have been lambasted for what they did once upon a time. Now they have “made the right decision” and “it’s for the best”.

In addition, not only do these players move on from their boyhood clubs, they go that extra length and take it that little bit further. Who remembers Denis Law, playing for Manchester City, and his last minute goal that would relegate Manchester United, his old club? Or, more to the point, who remembers his reaction? Dignified, professional… even embarrassed. I think to myself what, say, Wayne Rooney’s response to such situation would be. He would no doubt run up to the United fans hand cupping his ear and a finger on his lips, rubbing salt into the proverbial wound.

Football still has those types of players who wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they're a dying breed. I recall a certain Gary McAllister scoring a free-kick against Coventry back in the 2000/2001 season. He turned round with a morose look on his face – whilst his team-mates jumped all over him – knowing that that goal could well send down his old club.

Just imagine a player of Billy Liddell’s talents in today’s game, floundering in the Second Division like he did. Or imagine a Johnny Haynes – a player easily good enough to play for Liverpool or Manchester United, but stuck it out at Fulham because he was idolized by the fans. It just wouldn’t happen. That’s what football, to me, is all about, and yet it rarely exists now.

In modern-day society, it is seen to be ‘cool’ to be egotistical. Something I fail to comprehend. The press worship the likes of Wayne Rooney and Jose Mourinho. Those who stumble out of night-clubs and bars in the early hours of the morning, are rude to those that pay their wages, are vainglorious in interviews gain acclaim for such actions. How? I will never know unfortunately. Then there are those who attempt to ruin somebody else’s career, or others who take drugs and then sell their stories in their autobiographies to poor buggers like us. What would Shanks have said, I wonder?

I remember I met the Leeds team in Manchester airport a few years back. I was with my brother and my nephew. As a kid, naturally, my nephew was desperate to get the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Lucas Radabe’s (yes, that was how long ago it was) autograph. They were trying to get food from the large canteen area I recall my brother saying to him, “Alright, come on, leave them alone now,” to which George Graham, manager at that time, answered, “No, listen, that’s what they’re paid for.” How damn right he was as well!

Why aren’t are players as passionate, when did the media have so much control, when was it the working-class members of society no longer ruled football, when was it football lost its fun-factor, when was it the legendary cult-hero figures like Joey Jones no longer graced our football pitches so often? Where did it all go wrong?

When I watch and listen to Andy Gray over-analyse every aspect of the game, or read journalists criticise one thing or another, or see players out shopping for Versace or Gucci goods with OUR money, I have to think back to the point to see when the game I fell in love with became this media-driven joke.

Was it the day stadiums became all seated? The day writers started giving opinion, rather than just facts? The day the likes of Roman Abramovich began arriving on the scene?

The true stars in the game today are those who are driven by passion and glory, rather than the lure of money and an easy ride. Those that dictate from the touchline, those that get up through wind, rain or shine to see their side play, accepting the ludicrous amounts of money that are asked for.

Are modern-day footballers even grateful for the benefits and wages they receive? For the majority, it appears not. After all, somebody who plays football from, say, the ages of 18 to 38, in this day and age, will be set for life. They will never have to work again and they can enjoy the rest of their life in retirement (if they so wish). Back up until the 1980s and 1990s, players had to find work after they had hung up their boots.

On the back of an FA Cup weekend, I think to myself “that’s what football is all about”. That is what separates it from cricket, golf or whatever. A side at the top of Europe’s elite held by a side divisions below them. That never-say-die attitude no matter what the score or situation is. That is why I fell in love with the game as a lad and, as much as it pains me to say this, we are losing our grasp. When was it we fans lost our contact with the game?

The day football turns into a non-contact sport played in front of insipid domes sponsored by huge brands, where every club is owned by a merciless billionaire who is more interested in takings than trophies, where cameras and computer chips inside balls dictate the game, will be the day football dies and the day its governing bodies go completely nuts.

Give me back the game I fell in love with.

© Garstonite 2006

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