by Daisy Cutter
Ten years ago a certain Leeds United player would reputedly wander down to his local and, in front of customers quietly sipping their stout, light up a rolled-up twenty pound note as if it were a cigar.
Over the weekend it transpired that West Bromwich Albion defender Liam Ridgewell had gone one further in demonstrating a footballer’s complete disregard for the money we scrimp and graft for by wiping his arse with the Queen’s face.
Except of course he didn’t. The photo leaked by someone who is presumably now a former friend of Ridgewell was a staged piss-take directed at someone who had lost a bet with the player for the amount that lay scattered on his bathroom floor.
In that context the stunt takes on a much more excusable tone falling as it does under the guise of…brace yourselves people, I’m going to say the word….’banter’. Besides, who the hell are we to judge what a 28 year old does with his own money? If Ridgewell had spunked the grand on a three-legged nag at Chepstow no-one would have known about it nor batted an eyelid if they did.
The venomous outrage that greeted the photograph however, until the explanation was forthcoming, is what intrigues me. It was as if Ridgewell had simultaneously spat upon the memory of Matthews and Lawton – proper players who played for the love of the game and knew the value of a shilling – whilst mocking those amongst us who slave our fingers to the bone on the minimum wage to get through this harsh economic climate. In reality the former Villa and Brum man had wagered a twentieth of his weekly wage – the equivalent perhaps of twenty quid to you or I – and humorously took the mickey out of his mate in victory.
For this the ever-rational Sun called Ridgewell the ‘vilest footballer in Britain’.
Which is quite some claim when it’s considered just how low our general view of professional footballers is at present. I mean, they’re all vile aren’t they? Detached from reality in their blinged up bubble of fantastia these man-child cretins park their Bentleys in disabled bays and snot out nasal fluid at the feet of passing oafs like disdainful 18th century aristocrats as they swagger into designer stores to spend fortunes on horrid clothes they won’t ever wear. They then break speed limits that don’t apply to them back to their toytown mansions to bang Nuts models and flush wads of cash down the khazi.
The depressing thing is that the exaggerated stereotype above is probably scarily close to the truth with a select few but certainly not with the majority. Yet even if we venture to the extremes – and we’ve all heard the tales of some player’s complete disregard for ordinary fans or being so cosseted from real life they require a club fixer to change their fishtank water – we can legitimately condemn or mock them….but can we lay blame at their pampered little feet? I say not because really when it comes to footballers being labelled as thick or obnoxious or as brattish as Elton John during his drug years the blame lies squarely at football itself. It is football that plucks them from school and showers them with ludicrous riches from a very young age. And it is us who venerate them as other-beings and enable them to act like a minority of them do.
Take the aforementioned Leeds midfielder. A horrible little tool irrespective of his profession this weaselly t*** allegedly strolls into a pub and flaunts his wealth in the most contemptible manner possible. Yet as he does so you can guarantee at least one bloke twice his age will have simpered over and declared him to be a hero – all tactile bonhomie and meek requests for a scribble of his name – with a degree of open fawning the player has experienced many times a day since he was seventeen, an age when the rest of us were worrying about acne, listening to Smiths records, and generally feeling very insecure about ourselves.
Worse yet the Leeds man – along with virtually every other player in recent times – would have known he could look forward to a lifetime of such hero-worship from an even earlier age along with being able to walk into any nightclub and have a coterie of blondes desperate to suck your balls and a career where every whim and demand is met.
It’s not exactly an incentive to build up your people skills is it?
The football boom that exploded from the Sky in the early nineties brought with it an exaggerated and unrealistic expectation of what a footballer – a role model on the pitch but why so off it? – should be and perhaps it is time for reason to finally enter the fray. Imagine yourself at seventeen being lavished with everything you could possibly desire: I’m sure the temptation is to transfer your adult sensibilities onto this memory but the truth probably is that you were a hormonal little scrote who thought he knew all the answers and liked nothing more than getting wrecked and having a laugh with your mates too no doubt. Now imagine only being able to hang around with young lads in exactly the same wonderland because should you attempt to stay grounded and live a ‘normal’ existence every second person you meet either wants to babble about your greatness or punch you. This wonderland consists of every bar having a roped off area just for you and your teammates, an endless phalanx of women finding you suddenly and mysteriously desirable, supercars as standard and money in such plentiful and regular supply it almost becomes a meaningless commodity. Is it then any wonder that arrested development becomes a factor with most top level players? Furthermore, considering this all occurs during a time of college, uni or apprenticeships for the rest of us is it remotely a surprise that they don’t quote Nabokov or know a crankshaft from a ballcock?
The disparaging opinion we hold on footballers may be justifiable in part but I would actually counter such charges by referring to the above – and pointing out just how rarely we see a player these days stumble out of a club or smashed-up Ferrari – and claim they are actually a credit to the sport when all is considered.
And if we are going to persist in looking up to false idols – and give ordinary young men extraordinary lives – it seems a touch unfair to then feel let down on the rare occasions when they do err.
Liam Ridgewell is the latest victim of this disparity. He won’t be the last.