by Mike Forrest

I found myself at a bus stop today. The only person alongside me was an elderly man, both of us enduring the tedium of waiting for the late bus to finally arrive. I could sense though that the man would no longer succumb to the energy sapping wait and his tuts and sighs were subtle but effective hints that he was going to engage in conversation with me.

After a few moments of the obligatory mundane topics of conversation that one participates in with a total stranger, football finally cropped up. I could sense that his well worn face had perked up at the prospect of talking football and his slouched pose immediately straightened; both signs that he had a story or opinion that he needed to air.

I had read the signs right as the man immediately launched into a rant about modern football with such vigour that was not befitting of his apparent age. The wrinkles on his face contorted and twisted in keeping with the tone of his passionate, and it has to be said slightly aggressive, rant.

The crux of his whine was respect and class, or rather that in his opinion the players of today lacked both of these desirable virtues compared to his generation of footballers (which I am led to believe was around the 1960’s as Chelsea striker Bobby Tambling was his hero). It was hard to argue with him, partly because I couldn’t get a word in due to the verocity and ceaseless flow of words that was coming from him, but mainly because he was right, wasn’t he?

Well my initial reaction was to agree with him. After all it would have been thoroughly shameless of me to disagree given that the cretin El-Hadji Diouf is back in the news and of course yesterday’s rape conviction for Ched Evans. But after allowing his opinion to wallow on my mind, I have come to the conclusion that he is wrong. Very wrong.

The man’s opinion was that footballers in his day were better behaved than they are today on the field and off it; what a load of hooey. Let me deal with the on the pitch comparison for a start.

In the ‘good old days’ criminal tackles were almost commonplace and if anything were encouraged as after all football back then was very much a “man’s game”. These tackles left many broken limbs in an age before adequate insurance and the nest egg of big wages which often resulted in a man instantly losing his livlihood and facing a life of financial struggle. Worse still the perpetrator would often go unpunished. These days the game is better policed and whilst dangerous tackles still occur, appropriate punishments are dished out to the offender.

His rebuttal I’m sure would have been that in his day players would rather end up having two broken legs than being seen to dive otherwise known as to cheat. My response – diving, whilst contemptible, is as much a preserving act as it as a tactical one. Football is a well paid career, and a footballers most valuable assets is his legs so if by diving they protect their assets then so be it. It’s the players who dive to con the referee into getting fellow professionals sent off that are the ones lacking in any class or respect.

Now for off pitch comparisons. My generation (I’m an early 90’s kid) will be remembered as the voyeuristic, big brother generation with a parasitic lust for information; not just any information but for gossip that only has grains, if even that, of truth and is taken as gospel.

Whilst it’s true that many footballers abuse their liberty of privacy (Titus Bramble, the aforementioned Diouf and Kelvin Etuhu are just some examples) and their antics are rightly reported for the public’s consumption, do we really need to read trivial “news” such as John Terry parking in a space designated for the disabled or that John Carew was dining near a stripper club?

This type of “news” is poisonous and we have been subjected to it for so long that we have begun to believe the peddled bulls*** that players of today are all incarnations of the devil with such low levels of morality that they make Joseph Fritzl look like a f***ing saint.

This “news” fuels the nostalgic memory of the older generation who will remember their heydays as utopia, whilst condemning these days as something close to the apocalypse. But my point is, footballers no doubt committed all variety of vice and sin in previous eras but they simply weren’t splashed across the pages of the tabloids as they would be today.

Thus a player these days can’t drink to excess or engage in whatever vice that he finds entertaining without being thoroughly lambasted. These days, papers and internet forums will be dominated by “news” of players stumbling drunk out of night clubs or various assortments. Players, let’s not forget that they are human too, indulging in excess is not news. It happened in the man’s generation and it happens in my generation and it will happen in future generations.

Football has improved dramatically on the pitch and off the pitch since the man’s generation despite what his rose-tinted nostalgia has told him. You needn’t look any further than at the amount of football charities, set up by players and clubs, that help millions of people or on the pitch campaigns such as “Respect the Ref” that are under way.

Thus in my opinion the man was spouting clichéd, well trodden criticisms of the modern game but if you take the time to actually scratch the surface you’ll realise that – bar the odd rotten apple – modern football is not doing too badly for itself both in terms of respect and class.