Football, we’re often told, has a morality problem.
Players dive (if foreign) and go to ground too easily (if English). Players (foreign) wave imaginary cards. Fans sing offensive songs, abuse referees, name rape victims on social networks.
God, everybody’s on them social networks.
Can you dive on Twitter? I’m sure they’ll find a way, so intoxicated are the stars of our national game by the 24/7 cheating and lying binge they’ve been on since foreign players came in (some time in about 2001, if I remember rightly).
Mihir Bose, among many others, is very hot on this. He’ll knock out some words on football’s morality at the drop of a hat, provided there was clear contact and the hat tried to stay on its feet.
Here’s an example piece. The conclusion, as always, is that football should learn. Football must learn. Learn from cricket, rugby, handball, the Olympics, Our Brave Troops.
From a journalism point of view there’s something vaguely admirable about an ability to make old rope extend so far.
Writing in 1945, George Orwell was already treading familiar ground with an attack on the game’s players and followers. “They (the fans) forget that victory,” he wrote, “gained through cheating…is meaningless.”*
Since then the concept of a lack of morality at the core of the game has been picked over repeatedly, often in reference to other sports’ supposed moral superiority.
It’s become a truism that football embodies degeneracy while the rest of the sporting world is a Panglossian one of good cheer and free cake for everyone. So the England manager agrees the Olympics (two participants sent home for racist tweets, 117 drugs cheats caught in the four months before the Games alone) put footballers to shame.
Meanwhile, Newcastle United sign a deal with payday loan firm Wonga to quite literally take from the poor and give to the rich.
Alan Pardew, apparently a Labour supporter, reckons his club has been singled out for unfair criticism when several other more or less tainted brands were associated with clubs up and down the leagues. His argument has some traction, but ‘everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?’ seems a bit thin, as credos go.
Pardew added: “If our fans do have any concerns maybe they should contact Blackpool supporters and see how they’ve done.”
Deliberately missing the point is the defence de nos jours. Lance Armstrong’s ever decreasing circle of admirers will point to his massive ‘awareness’ raising for cancer charities (or rather his own, and attendant commercial interests) as if that makes the cheating allegations, the hypocrisy, the bullying less rather than more repugnant.
Nobody’s problem with Wonga is based on what they will or won’t do for Newcastle United Football Club. Odd as it may seem to those inside the bubble, football isn’t everything. A family on the breadline turning to Wonga and finding they owe probably won’t be warmed or fed by the prospect of a fresh set of cones at Darsley Park.
Perhaps – and I’m aware this is pretty leftfield thinking – multi-million pound deals to make money from the misfortunes of the poor and the gambling-addicted are the real moral question facing football.
Maybe an invisible card being waved at Kevin Friend is actually less important, substantively, than offshore betting firms and 4,000% APR loan companies becoming involved in the game.
It’s probably not ideal that a bottom-up economic recovery that brought improvements in employment and living standards for the people of the North-East would be less desirable to Newcastle United’s sponsors than a prolonged slump and a continued widening of the income gap.
In another, saner world, there’d be some kind of FA commission on this. The media would clamour for action, not to stop Newcastle (or Blackpool, or anyone else) right now but to safeguard the game’s future independence from companies for whom misery is a commodity.
Instead we’ll be fed, and consume, the usual diet of inflated controversies, pantomime villains and easy copy. And in the end we’ll get the game we deserve.
Follow Steve on Twitter @steve_graves
*Orwell’s puritanical piece was answered by a reader who defended the game and concluded, brilliantly, “I’m sorry for George. He’s missed a lot of fun in life.” Quite.