Having a rest from the beautiful game

The late, great, Bill Shankly said ‘Some people believe that football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you that it is much, much more important than that’

Wednesday, 12th June 2019, 7:52 am
Updated Thursday, 13th June 2019, 4:03 pm
Bill Shankly
Bill Shankly

It’s a fact that football is much more important than religion to many people. In fact it is their religion.

His words couldn’t have been truer with the scenes a few weeks ago in Sheffield to celebrate the great ascendance of Sheffield United into the Premier League. The crowds outside the Town Hall reminded me of the Pope’s Easter appearance in Rome, but with Chris Wilder as the Holy Father.

There would be many a vicar wishing his church could command even a fraction of the numbers. Even that paled into insignificance beside the scenes in Liverpool when the team bus arrived.

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Wonderful for Sheffield and Liverpool of course but I tend to think that Bill Shankly might well have re-thought his words if he were alive today and could see what may well have been then ‘a beautiful game’ with gentlemen players of the calibre of Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and the player he considered the best ever – Tom Finney. I think he would have been horrified to see what football has turned into.

The first ever recorded football transfer was of Willie Groves from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa for £100 in 1893.

The current transfer record is held by Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint Germaine for £200 million in 2017. At the age of 26 his reputed weekly wage a year ago was £782,000. A mere £40 million pounds a year.

He is reputed to be seeking a transfer to another club as he says he is not happy. Just think what happiness he could generate by spreading his vast wealth around a bit.

Of course we are used to hearing about football gods and their extortionate salaries. Manchester City have spent over £1.4 billion on new players in the last ten years and still have enough left over to pay players like Raheem Sterling and others wages in excess of £300,000 a week.

I’m sorry, but it’s an obscene level of spending when the rest of the country are trying to cope with austerity and basic survival.

Only a week or so ago a top Premier League footballer was complaining that all the mansions in what is called the ‘Golden Triangle’ in Cheshire were being bought up by other top footballers, and he was having to stay in a hotel. The average price of an ordinary house in that area is over a million pounds.

Recently unemployment in the 18-25 age group reached one million, yet this group of young people, i.e. footballers, are earning so much money that they can’t spend it fast enough. Mansions, fast cars, luxury hotels, nightclubs, and lawyers to obtain court injunctions to stop stories in the tabloids. These are people sometimes lauded as role models. And yet this is far from the truth. Over the past years footballers have been involved in many scandals. Suarez who was transferred from Liverpool to Barcelona at the third highest ever transfer fee of 65 million hit the bad behaviour jackpot with biting, kicking, hair pulling, punching, racial abuse and obscene gestures!

Often copied by football hooligans, fuelled by alcohol and indulging in racial, sexual and homophobic abuse whilst worshipping their gods on the pitch. Bananas and monkey noises have been frequent occurrences.

But what can you expect when the game of football is often anything but ‘sport’. Sheffield United players have long been subjected to taunts of ‘pigs which originated because streaky bacon is red and white, whilst I once worked with a Blades fan who refused to attend a family member’s wedding reception because it was at Sheffield Wednesday. Like religion, football often generates the worst kind of bigotry.

And even Bill Shankly said ‘If Everton were playing at the bottom of our garden, I’d pull the curtains!’

I found it childish that Sheffield United fans paid nearly £800 to have a banner flying over Sheffield Wednesday’s ground to taunt them, but pleased the Owls rose above it and raised over £12,000 for St Luke’s Hospice. But both sets of fans descended to unacceptable taunts on social media.

I remember a time when players in our region had their roots firmly in South Yorkshire, and football scouts attended Sunday football matches in parks looking for home grown talent. Harold Brook, Albert Quixall and Derek Dooley to name just a few. Sheffield Wednesday star in the 1950s, Albert Broadbent used to travel to the ground by tram. Light years away from the Lamborghinis or Porsches of players today.

However and having said all that it does seem that football is good for our economy, bringing in eight billion pounds a year throughout the UK, with over 100 thousand people employed by clubs, and that Sheffield United in the Premier League will mean at least five million pounds to Sheffield’s coffers.

It’s just when I read the price of a ticket for a match in Sheffield, and supposedly affordable season tickets for pensioners, that I am horrified. The cost of a family day out is absolutely extortionate, not to mention the amount spent on the latest football shirts and I wonder where ’the beautiful game’ went wrong?

But we’ve got a brief respite now the seasons over and many star players will have gone off to Dubai or somewhere equally swish!

It’s going to be so quiet isn’t it, because let’s face it, forget the weather and Brexit, what Brits really want to talk about is footie!!