Mickey Blue Eyes...
Football and Morality
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“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.”

THOMAS MacAULAY, ‘Essays contributed to the Edinburgh Review’ (1843), vol. 2, ‘Lord Bacon.’


“The journalists have constructed for themselves a little wooden chapel, which they also call the Temple of Fame, in which they put up and take down portraits all day long and make such a hammering you can’t hear yourself speak.”

GEORG LICHTENBERG, ‘Georg Christoph Lichtenberg Aphorismen’ by A. Leitzman (1904).


Regular readers of these opinions will be familiar with my distaste for journalists. I have termed them “information clerks,” a title they fully deserve in our digital age. I think this kind of attack should be kept up and expanded, even though old-fashioned scribblers have less and less relevance in the internet era. Only partly tongue in cheek I once suggested that an introduction to a journo provides you with an opportunity to punch him in the face immediately and get it over with. This applies to virtually all of them, though there are honourable exceptions such as David Conn and John Pilger. In my worst moments I would go even further – if any of your kids show the slightest inclination to follow that mendacious trade you should take them into Stanley Park and publicly make them swallow a month’s supply of The Sun. You might as well put them out of our misery before they get a chance to inflate it.


Journalist hypocrisy has never been better illustrated than the recent media saga of John Terry’s carnal and imbibing activities. I won’t be going into the tedious allegations in any length except where it suits my general purpose........which is to say: Actually, what Terry does in his private life has fuck all to do with me, you, or the journalists who try to profit from it. The only people of importance are his family and others affected by his behaviour. Moreover, the media are intent on small-minded revenge for an injunction he stuck on them a few months ago. All their talk of freedom of speech is just so much hypocritical bollocks, since you scarcely hear from them about a proportionate right of reply after they have set out to destroy some unfortunate individual or organisation. Hell hath no fury like a journo scorned, as my email inbox has shown occasionally. They are a vindictive lot and not to be trusted under any circumstances.


In fact the whole miserable John Terry tale is just one more example of how football has become representative in a minor way of Western society in disarray, though I don’t for a moment support the preposterous notion of “a broken society.” The behaviour we see now has always been apparent in one form or another, only the emphasis fluctuates according to circumstances. And in football there is no shortage of personal and corporate immorality on all sides and at all levels. In the tired biblical sense, let he who is without blemish cast the first stone. That means that if you are one of those who gets rat-arsed at every opportunity, or you have howled foul abuse at a player for no reason, or you have urinated in a public place, or you have had an extra-marital affair, or lied to your kids, or you have cheated and lied to make money, then you are unlikely to be taken seriously if you start in on John Terry. Like journalists, you are likely to be laughed at as a hypocrite. It mystifies me why anybody should buy any of the media crap or its pathetic attempts at self-justification. But of course journalists do not exist in a vacuum.


The nonsense is symptomatic of a sport that has become dislodged, like our society, from a general consensus of morality. Nobody is free of it..........owners, administrators, managers, players or fans. Sadly for them, players have now become a separate social class with the mentality to go with it. There is no code except that of win literally at almost any cost, including bankruptcy and ruination. You are just as likely to hear from the same fan who bemoans the state of the game that what his club needs to progress is “more investment” when it is up to its eyes in debt already. You are just as likely to hear the same fan spitting hatred against some individual or club while whining about the state of the game. You are just as likely to hear an owner say he is a fan as he walks off with millions in profits from the sale of shares. You are just as likely to hear an incoming player claim this is his “dream move” as you are to hear the same thing when he arrives at his next club. While it doesn’t do to generalise too readily, all of these examples have happened far too often to be dismissed as aberrations. The reality is they are nearer to the norm.


What isn’t acceptable is that so much attention should be focussed on John Terry’s dalliances at the expense of a sense of proportion or context. I can only speak for myself when I say he is an excellent footballer, one of the best of his English generation, and what he does in his personal life has sweet fanny adams to do with me or anyone else outside his immediate circle. The only exception to this should be if his team-mates – rightly or wrongly – decide they can’t play in the same side. That is the absolute limit of interest. After that.........so what?


Much has been made of Terry’s supposed function as “a role model.” This usually comes from journalists and others who are in control of mass propaganda, accountable to nobody except a profits-seeking owner, and who would run a kilometre if their lives were subject to the malevolent treatment they deal out without a trace of conscience. Thus, a father who tells his kids to use anyone else as “a role model” ought to have his head examined for voids. After all, if you knew someone was dealing drugs you would do the honourable thing and make sure the police knew about it, wouldn’t you? Players – celebrities of any kind – are performers for a few hours each week, nothing more. Encouraging children to believe they are anything else is one certain way of introducing desperate disillusion when the performer proves to be all too human and eventually behaves badly like all humans do. Any parent who offloads his or her responsibility onto a performer is opting out of his child’s life education, which is why many of the media attacks on John Terry smack of gang cowardice. The only role model any child should have is himself, his own behaviour and responsibility to others, all of it initially guided by his family. In short, that age brings with it accountability in the most personal sense, that celebrity is a worthless illusion.


This fan long ago decided that players were great only for the ninety minutes they were performing. After that, they were on their own as long as they behaved – like the rest of us – within the law. What they did in their private lives was a matter for them. There is no reason to suppose they suffer less tragedy or adversity than the rest of us, though doubtless the money helps to cushion some of it. All of which is why in adulthood I have never sought the company of players. All of them have the same feet of clay as you and I; this is a fact too often forgotten by a lot of modern players who are unable to imagine life without a ball at their feet and a goal in their sights. They will find out soon enough just how hollow this can be, though it is partly understandable in the context of a young man at the peak of his life and athletic talent.


Where football and morality are concerned the link is tenuous and stretched. It always has been. Any veteran professional footballer or veteran fan will tell you the same. What is not in dispute amongst reasonably intelligent people is that football is no more than a mirror of the society we have created. It’s only a game, but you wouldn’t think so the way some miscreants behave. And which bed John Terry chooses to sleep in, or what company he keeps, or which bar he drinks in, is the least of it. It’s just his tough luck if he makes the wrong choices.

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