Saturday, May 15, 2010

Football : It's A Funny Old Game

It's a sunny May day and in the world of British football, it's FA Cup Finals in Scotland that only viewers of Sky Sports 1 know about and the important one in England, being contested right now by Chelsea and Portsmouth.

So an all 'southern' Cup Final then and that's just not right. Most footy fans would want a good old North/South game as there is always a bit of needle in such contests even before the ball is kicked in anger.

Back when I were a lad and football was played in black and white, at least on our telle, the build up to the FA Cup Final started at about 11am. Thankfully, despite the game now being played for the benefit of the tv companies and their advertisers, it tends to start at a more reasonable 1pm, two hours before kickoff.

But it's a sad sign of the times when the build up is not so much about the games played by the players ON the pitch but by the games played by a few of them OFF the pitch. The term WAG (Wives And Girlfriends) came about several years ago when cable television took off and the amount of money that was paid to televise live games went from a few £million to a few £billion and almost overnight, footballers became celebrities based on their income and subsequent socialising more than their ability, although the two sometimes went together.

Back then, those who played on the field earned the money that was spent, often very publicly, by their partners who enjoyed playing off the pitch, by shopping, partying and generally appearing in any glossy magazine with a photographer on its books and every tabloid that didn't.

With their lives in the spotlight more than ever, it was only a matter of time before sordid stories of marital infidelity came out and as is the way these days, such stories generate more interest than the goings on during a game. The best one was when a high profile married player, captain of Chelsea and England, was found to be having a bit of extra practice with the girlfriend of another player, a player who had been his team mate a few months earlier. This particular soap opera was enriched by follow up stories of the girlfriend getting pregnant, having an abortion and lover boy trying to seek an injunction to have it all hushed up.

And we thought the football bad boys had all 'died out' in the 70's. It would be tempting to think that we have a different type of bad boy now, but I'm sure it's been going on for decades. It's only since becoming instant celebrities with their £170,000 a week salaries that their every move, on and off the pitch, is scrutinised, often in super slow motion !

Back in those black and white days, players didn't earn much more than the fans on the terraces who supported them. They kicked a heavy leather ball around a pitch that often resembled a muddy field and went home to fish and chips on a good day. Now they kick a ball that is so light that it moves several times in the air and play on pitches that resemble a deep pile living room carpet. After a game they dine out at fancy restaurants and settle a bill that would be the monthly salary for a stockbroker.

Their lives are as far removed from the fans on the terraces as those of Hollywood movie stars and I wonder if their private lives are heading that way too. If today's pre match build up on telle was to include such affairs, literally, then I think we'd be back to the show starting at 11am, on Friday !

But it's still our national game and has never been more popular. Thanks to safety regulations and many more games being televised live, we'll never see actual attendances like those in the early days but it doesn't matter anymore. The money raised by ticket sales are a drop in the ocean compared to television rights, advertising and other commercial ventures. It also helps if the club owner is as rich as Croesus of course.

Last year Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in a deal worth £80m, the current world record for a football transfer. Were Real Madrid mad ? Many thought so at the time.

Ronaldo has played 34 games since then for Real Madrid and although he has scored 33 goals, the even more staggering statistic is that in this first season, Real have already recouped the transfer fee in Ronaldo shirt sales alone ! Who is mad now ?

So as long as football itself is supported like this by the fans, it will continue to flourish. A match day ticket for a high level Premiership game may be out of the reach of most working fans but television coverage will continue to bring it to them in their armchairs and down at the local pub, as it will with games from the FIFA World Cup which starts in just under 4 weeks time in South Africa.

I can't wait.

The FA Cup Final has just finished with the victory going to Chelsea, who only managed to score once.

Unlike their captain.


Daphne said...

Real Madrid have already recouped the £80 million? - - - I knew it was a world I didn't know much about, but that astonishes me.
I'm not interested in what the WAGs get up to or in the players' infidelities - - and especially not, as was in the papers recently, in the fact that Romeo's dad was done for drugs offences.

rhymeswithplague said...

The only three things I know about your national sport are David Beckham, David Beckham, and David Beckham. Oh, and his wife, Victoria "Spice" Beckham.

I'm woefully out of touch.

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards