by Daisy Cutter
There are approximately 4000 professional footballers plying their trade in the UK yet my research for this article produced precisely two who received a private education.
Even that shocking statistic is flawed due to one of them – Victor Moses – being enrolled at the private Whigift School in Croyden as part of his Crystal Palace academy apprenticeship.
The other of course was Frank Lampard, a manager’s son whose blue chip education was never going to divert him from his footballing destiny.
Data released by the Independent Schools Council in April of this year revealed there are currently 479,000 British kids in private education. Assuming this miniscule percentage trend continues – and there is no reason to assume any different – that is one hell of a talent stream the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish national sides are missing out on. Nearly half a million kids at a time lost to banking, law, commerce and recreationally mauling for an egg-shaped ball on weekends. The figure is so substantial it is fair to surmise that down the years we’ve missed out on an articulate Rooney, a John Terry type who actually has leadership qualities and a future Harry Redknapp but with tactical nous.
So why is it so engrained as the norm that those that attend fee-paying schools do not pursue a football dream? It seems that the blame lies on both sides.
Firstly we must dispel the myth that footy is not played in private schools or is held in low esteem. It is true however to state that rugby is generally given far more prominence and this is reflected not just in the time allocated towards it during games but in the student’s overall preference.
A friend who attended a boarding school informed me that in his experience 20% of the students had posters of footballers on their bedroom walls and would spend every bit of free time having a kick-about (as opposed to perhaps 80% at the comprehensive that I went to) but though competitive fixtures were occasionally organised by the school they were done so on an ad-hoc basis whereas rugby was a constant, its status overshadowing all other activities.
Even so, if we were to extend this figure to a nationwide level that still leaves 20% of 479,000 that equates to nearly a hundred thousand football-mad kids at a time and not one of them progressing through an apprenticeship to a professional standing in the game.
Which all things considered is just….strange.
Perhaps not though when we venture beyond theory and reality bites. To succeed as a professional footballer requires a tremendous amount of drive, ambition and dedication that exceeds most other team sports, a single-mindedness that necessitates a sacrificing of qualifications and whatever they bring. Furthermore it is not only the dream itself that is so hungrily lusted after but the vast improvement on present circumstances. This explains why so many of our footballers derive from humble to ordinary backgrounds and perhaps sheds some light on why so few middle-to-upper class individuals grace our pitches.
Would daddy permit his son to throw away a hundred grand’s education on a 1000-1 shot? Would the child himself be willing to discard a paved future of prosperity and opportunity for a £100 a week apprenticeship at Shrewsbury Town or Yeovil where there is always the likelihood he’ll be thrown onto the scrapyard once it’s completed? Meanwhile his peers embark upon their Oxbridge adventure.
No matter how understandable these financial and lifestyle reasons may be it remains a genuine shame that such practicalities are so influential in denying the pursuit of a dream which is, by its very nature, an illogical heart-over-head quest.
Yet sadly perhaps this is all for the best anyway. Because even if a Harry from Harrow or a Sebastian from Stowe did forgo an internship at Lloyds, ignored his parent’s threats to cut off his inheritance, and somehow made it to the dreamlands of Old Trafford and Anfield he would undoubtedly find himself alienated in such an environment, his dream soured by an inverse snobbery that has polluted football for far too long.
A startling and depressing aspect of the research undertaken for this article was noting the high number of times Graeme Le Saux appeared on Google when any variation of ‘class’, ‘football’ and ‘education’ was typed in.
Le Saux attended a perfectly average secondary school in St Helier in Jersey but of course famously used to enjoy reading a broadsheet newspaper in the dressing room. For this heinous crime the player was forced to endure a career-long castigation that largely involved taunts alluding to homosexuality. The player has since equated it to a sustained bullying campaign and his persecutors included Robbie Fowler, David Batty and – according to Le Saux in his autobiography – that most metrosexual of footballers David Beckham (a charge that was strongly denied by Beckham’s representatives). It seems that in football you can publicly wear a sarong and pose provocatively for Attitude magazine but if you have a basic understanding of the Middle East conflict that somehow makes you a ‘poof’.
This distrust of intelligence and education is as bizarre as it is archaic. Wayne Rooney may find himself staring at an orange juice carton because it says ‘concentrate’ but his football IQ is Mensa standard whilst Beckham’s free-kicks – if they were transferred to equations on paper – would trouble most with a physics degree.
Unfortunately, whilst the stands are now a classless medium inhabited by every social demographic that makes up modern Britain the same can hardly be said of those within the game itself. Inside the inner-sanctum of football’s clique the culture remains as stoically working class as a ferret down the trousers which, considering the fortunes they quickly amass and the influx of foreign players with their cosmopolitan ways, is baffling.
A similar inverse snobbery used to sully the world of music – ‘He studied Latin in school and has a rich dad. What does he know of fingering a girl in a bus stop the big fraud!’ – but with the proliferation of Brit school singer-songwriters at least that is thankfully on the decline. Did we really used to think posh people were inauthentic when it came to penning songs about teenage problems? Looking back it’s all a blur.
Unless the St George’s Park National Football centre however specifically targets a quota of privately schooled prospects I fear little with change with our national game. And football will remain one of the last remaining bastions of accepted social exclusion.
Lord Moynihan spoke this week of the need to capitalise on our Olympic success and increase funding for school sports. A particular concern for him was that certain sports excluded many due to background. We heartily agree but, as this Cutter Class Special hopefully illustrates, this highly laudable intent works both ways. Bluntly put, class division has absolutely no place in sport. Indeed it contradicts the very ethos of sport.
Also this week came the news that the coalition government have gone back on their word and approved the sale of 21 school playing fields in their time in office. This is a disgraceful turn of events that needs rectifying.
Bring back the playing fields but, crucially, let’s make them level.