Often deified as the beautiful game ever since pig bladder was embryonically entombed by heavy-duty leather and lace. Is the much-lamented epitome just a romantic notion? Is the game anything remotely associated with a term that exalts one of the highest accolades mere mortals can bestow upon animate or inanimate objects of desire, affection or pleasure? Was the game ever thus? Has it now never dimmed so pale in our naive, stubborn refusal to see the game as it has become? Something perhaps beauty has all but succumbed to time, ethos, virtue less vulgarity and an holistic holocaust of distasteful, ugly practise.
There is no doubt that the game has become so much bigger in terms of worldwide popularity, revenue and media coverage than in any other period of time. With that elevated mantle, the game must surely have changed. Footballers are heralded as demi-gods, wages soar and never cease to amaze. We now know match officialdom names where once they were just faceless men in black with a whistle.
Just over thirty years ago, every team had a Smith, Brown or Jones. All home grown men that would occasionally uproot sticks from London to Leeds, Bolton to Bradford. Now the game has seen a mass influx of hungry young men from such far-flung places like Bosnia, Belarus, Rome and Rio. Never has the domestic league seen such an array of non-indigenous peoples.
There in, that type of change in an embracing collection of cultures must surely bring additional traits, qualities and accepted practises that create an evolving environment. Not so much an eradication of philosophy, but absorption of values and volition.
The fouling, shirt pulling, holding, diving, simulatory antics are all too evident on any given day, any given league. Hand in hand they filter down through the myriad of football level tiers, borne out on local parks by copy practising ten year olds.
Each opportunity to make claim regardless of actuality in a match is vehemently applied. Decisions are abusively contested, officials harangued relentlessly. Sledging and dissent are readily applied. Even body language or a turning of ones back can highlight the level of disrespect officials are subjected to. Niggly fouls and incessant ‘wind-ups,’ shoulder or forearm checks that unfairly deter advantage are discreetly applied. Cheating, disrespect, swearing, playacting – anything to gain an individual or collective advantage or express opinionated extreme bias. Where is the self-respect let alone respect of the game and participants within that? Has the game deteriorated that much, or has it never been anything other?
Where will the game go from here? What can be done so that people who don’t particularly like football don’t regard the sport as a playground for self-obsessed, vulgarly overpaid prima donnas that have no regard for loyalty, fair play or an iota of concern to change the game for the better, or more importantly for the generations to follow. Who knows? Who cares?
Respect and discrimination campaigns are bandied about and heralded as game and society changers. Are they making an impact? Is it too early to see change? Are the penalties imposed for breaches mere soft hand smacks? Perhaps it’s not even really a football problem. It may be prevalent elsewhere. Is football just a reflection of traits in our societies? Is society therefore ugly, and magnified out of proportion in what we see when exposed to the world’s biggest sporting stage? Is it too late for change or too early to worry about progression?
A young footballer was asked from the sidelines to man-mark an attacking opponent when a corner was conceded. The defender immediately homed in on his counter-part and once in very close proximity they both proceeded to tug on each other’s shirt before the corner kick was even taken. They were both four years old.
Maybe we don’t have the answers. But the questions need to be asked. Is this what we want - not just for ourselves, but more for those who follow in our strides?