by Jay Edwards

Being a young football player in the Premiere League today is the envy of every boy, teen and man. You have it all: a glamorous lifestyle, money and your whole life ahead of you, never having to worry about finances again. But does it earn you respect?
In my opinion a Premier League football star in this day and age gets everything handed to them too easy and on a silver platter and it shows no sign of slowing down. With more and more young players coming into the game from all over the world to the English league and more and more money being thrown at them at younger and younger ages is it any wonder the game we all love is falling apart? We have boys as young as 17 already making more money in a week than both his parents earn in a year put together. Is it any wonder then that young players are behaving so poorly on and off the pitch when from a young age they are told by agents, managers, and even us the fans, they are untouchable and “legends”. When did it all become so easy for young players? What happened to the days when as a young player at a professional club you had to graft for your wages? That’s right, I am talking about the glorious days of the boot boy.

Ok glorious may be the wrong word to describe it but at least it kept everyone in check. Could you imagine a young Frank Lampard at West Ham stepping out of line back when he was nothing but a boot boy? Falling out of nightclubs at 3am or bedding someone’s nan? No I can’t either. Even going back 15 years when Frank Lampard was a boot boy it was so different to today. There were more principled characters in those days who commanded respect – and fear –  from the youngsters who were enforced to polish their leather and muck out the mud from around their training studs. Could you imagine Lampard getting above his station with Julian Dicks around? I don’t know Julian Dicks at all and have never met the guy but I know exactly how that one would play out.

The average boot boy earned a weekly wage of £27.50 plus a £4 win bonus (based on stats in 1992). I seriously doubt that the youth of today would even get out of bed for that amount of money. How could they afford all the bling?  Earning that amount of money would deprive them of iphones, fancy jewellery, designer clothes, etc and additionally they will would be forced to do what they’re told, and earn respect by doing jobs such as cleaning the dressing rooms, showers/baths, floors,  dirty boots and clothes (such as dirty underwear). It doesn’t sound like a job for today’s modern young footballer but it would teach each player discipline, build character and bring any player with a big ego back down to earth with a bang. Such menial chores stands you in good stead in life whether you make it to the very top of the game or fall short and end up having to work in the real world and I personally think that the best way forwards is backwards in this instance. The boot boy system had value and worked. It can do so again.

I’m reminded of the time when Frank Lampard was sent on loan to Swansea City by his uncle Harry Redknapp when he was in charge of West Ham. He was told and taught to live in between his means and whatever money was earned at Swansea was all young Frank had to live on. At the time I believe the story goes that he couldn’t even afford to run his own car to training so he had to cadge a lift with other players which I’m sure helped keep him grounded. Nothing glamorous there; renting a room, feeding himself on only the bare essentials of what he could afford (I promise you there was no champagne or expensive fish etc) and couldn’t even run his own car. Mission accomplished. But these days are totally different. Theo Walcott was brought in to Arsenal from Southampton in 2006 for a fee believed to be £12,000,000. At this time Walcott was only 16 years old and had made 21 appearances, scoring 4 goals. It was a fortune for a young boy but that’s how the transfer market is these days so we’re told. Fast forward 5 years and Theo has played 133 times for Arsenal and scored 20 goals. He has been to two major tournaments with England making a grand total of two substitute appearances and though he’s scored four times for his country three of those were a hat-trick against Croatia. His whole playing career (including the England youth levels) stands at 214 games and 33 goals which hardly sounds prolific to me yet apparently that kind of record is deserving of £85,000 a week! Usually here I would question what world we’re living in but we all know he’s living in the environment of the privileged, pampered and spoilt world of football.

It’s hard for me to except all this in the “modern day of football” as I feel like I am one of the few realists left in football by supporting a lower league team. Where a week’s wages from one of these spoilt rich kids would keep a club like mine running for pretty much the whole season and would go a hell of a long way towards helping teams avoid entering administration, liquidation and possible extinction. I find it a very bitter pill to swallow and if I had my way I’d have these young players doing the duties of the boot boy again or similar such as helping the groundsmen keep the playing surface up to spec or even helping them clean off the snow in the winter months like some fans do in the lower league.

Many people may disagree with me here but I do believe that reintroducing the chores of the boot boy to the young players again would help replenish some traditional values back into the game whilst giving these youngsters a grounding in the importance of graft and obligation; life lessons he will forever adhere to and pass on to his own kids someday.
I am not saying bring back the old days completely as most top players undoubtedly use a new pair of boots for every game and pitches are in a hell of a lot better shape than they used to be but in my opinion a compromise can easily be met. Let them earn a decent wage but also lets really make them work hard for it. At least then when they come through our youth ranks or play against our teams we can respect them for working hard throughout their apprenticeship in order to attain their dream whilst they can look themselves in the mirror and be proud of what they have achieved.