Dave Woodhall wonders whether football and footballers are getting an unfair press.
Another week when the biggest news is that there’s no real news. Uefa are saying that any domestic league being voided won’t be eligible for European competitions in 2020-21 while the Premier League is asking players to take a pay cut. The first of these is a blatant attempt to keep football (and therefore income streams) going come what may and the second is a belated and largely ineffective PR exercise.
There’s no doubt that football has done itself no favours since coronavirus first became a serious issue. The Premier League insisted that their programme should carry on as late as two days before the next round of games was due to begin. An hour later players started to become infected and the league was cancelled indefinitely. Top flight clubs putting employees on furlough while continuing to pay their players is also not a good look; last year the two sides who played in the Champions League final made £129 million profit between them. This year they’re asking for government subsidies to pay their office staff. Then there’s Jack Grealish and today’s news about Kyle Walker doing much the same.
I do, though, have a small amount of sympathy for players in this situation. They might be earning a vast and completely unworthy fortune, but so are bankers and top industrialists; indeed, when this whole crisis is over it would be interesting to see which people are a lot better off and how they made their most recent piles. But footballers are bearing the brunt of public criticism. I wonder whether they deserve everything that’s being heaped on them, or whether their real crime is to be rich, young and working-class. Inverse snobbery is a terrible thing.
The other thing is that, as always, the good work that football is doing at the moment goes largely unreported. For every Grealish behaving like a daft, spoilt kid screaming “I’m borrrrreeddd!!!!” there’s Tyrone Mings offering training sessions to the children of NHS workers. While Liverpool and Spurs abuse their privilege in the way mentioned earlier, Manchester City and others have offered their grounds to the NHS and publicly stated that they’ll continue to pay their staff in full – the least any Premier League club should be doing and something that Villa should have already made clear.
Football is an easy scapegoat to be blamed for the ills of society. The players are over-paid, the clubs are greedy and the authorities seem to be primarily ruled by the fear that someone, somewhere in the world, has a spare pound, dollar or euro that they haven’t yet spent on football. It can do much more than it has so far, and at all levels it can be seen to be doing the right thing. All that is true, but the game hasn’t caused this particular pandemic, nor has it contributed to the chronic lack of preparedness around the world so neither should it be the only industry targeted in the way it has been this week.
And while I might think that football and footballers might have been in part at least unfairly criticised, all bets are off when it comes to the PFA. Their insistence that players continue to be paid in full, and the mealy-mouthed excuse that it means more tax revenue for the NHS, might have been valid even until fairly recently, when lower division wages were comparable with the rest of us. Even at that level, such a comparison is no longer valid. What a horrible, money-grubbing, getting paid £2.2 million a year even after announcing his retirement twelve months ago, man Gordon Taylor is.