From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 01, 2012

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COLUMN / LONDON CALLING

Too much is too bad

As long as I have been close to football there has been another reason for bad behaviour by young stars. However much training they do, however many hospitals, children's homes, fan clubs and old folks residences they visit, there is too much down time in which the devil can provide play for their idle hands. By Ted Corbett.

AP

Another racial incident which has cost the Liverpool striker Luis Suarez a long suspension blew up again when he failed to shake hands with his victim Patrice Evra of Manchester United.

The birthday party invitation said “Bollywood clothes are a must” and if you took a loose interpretation of that condition that is what you got at our friend's home recently.

To be precise, there were more than enough salwar kameez, kurta pyjamas and turbans from the sub-continent but, hey, what is Bollywood but an amalgam of styles. I wore a nice number in green and pink which seemed fetching enough until three other gentlemen with just the same Amazon address on their lap tops turned up in identical costumes.

Many of the guests came from the Leicester area — like the lady who threw the party before jetting off to see the Northern Lights — where there are more clothes shops from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka than branches of John Lewis and Tesco, so finding something to represent Bollywood was easy.

The next morning — the bhangra and belly dancing stopped by 1 a.m. but let's face it none of the guests were young in body no matter how well intentioned their hearts may have been — we sat around, looking weary, and discussed the great subjects of the day: ie overpaid footballers.

I think it is fair to say that Premier League players, with their £2m a year salaries, their Bentley Continental sports cars at £100,000-plus and their £3m homes, are out of control.

The reason is not difficult to find. If most of these guys did not have an outrageous talent for football they would be at best bricklayers and at worst out of work, or just possibly inside jail. Some of them have seen the inside of prison walls already and more are lucky to have their freedom if the stories I hear of their rock ‘n' roll lifestyle are correct.

At the moment their sin centres around allegations of racism which has led indirectly to the resignation of the England manager Fabio Capello, lengthy apologies from almost every level at Liverpool football club and the sort of debate that we held recently.

The misbehaviour reached its pinnacle months ago when John Terry, the captain of England and Chelsea, had a confrontation with Anton Ferdinand, the Queens Park Rangers centre half, and brother of Rio. TV pictures of that moment are now blurred so that the words cannot be lip-read but the police have charged Terry, a defender whose ability to find trouble masks his ability to inspire teams and keep goal scorers under wraps, with talking a nasty line in racism.

He was due to be tried — highest penalty a £2,000 fine which is the sort of money Terry could give his wife for a new dress and immediately forget it was gone — recently but, thanks to the intervention of his club secretary who protested it would upset Chelsea's training schedule it has been delayed until after the European championships in July.

This moment awoke the Football Association, an organisation not often fully conscious, and they decided it was not right to have a man under this cloud as their team captain.

They voted to demote him and eventually told Capello in Italy where he speaks his own language much better than he does English. Capello was angered that he had not been consulted, flew back to England and after hours of heated argument — it must have been through an interpreter — quit. He was due to leave after the European championships anyway.

Three days later another racial incident which has cost the Liverpool striker Luis Suarez a long suspension blew up again when he failed to shake hands with his victim Patrice Evra of Manchester United. Within 48 hours he had to apologise — just like his manager, the greatly admired Kenny Dalglish — and there is talk he may be forced to leave when the season ends.

In the middle class debating society that followed our party we decided that it is all to be expected if young men with strength in their feet and their brains permanently at rest are handed huge pay packets, idolised by millions and seen almost daily on TV.

As long as I have been close to football there has been another reason for bad behaviour by young stars. However much training they do, however many hospitals, children's homes, fan clubs and old folks residences they visit, there is too much down time in which the devil can provide play for their idle hands.

When you add to that wages that Prime Ministers must envy there is a dangerous mix that often results in an explosion.

I am not about to suggest a remedy. There isn't one save for the hope that education, education and yet more education will reach these rascals who must learn that respect for one's fellows is the only way to conduct a life at the top of the money tree. It has worked among the crowds who used to delight in racist chants, banana tossing and monkey gibes and who, thanks to extra policing, more stewards and constant film coverage, have learnt their lesson.

Thirty years ago I tried to interview England's first black footballer and his manager turned me down. “He's under enough pressure as it is,” he said. “I am keeping him away from the limelight for fear he says something that may give the opposition fans ammunition to hurl at him.”

Now a majority of England footballers are from continental Europe or Africa but they all play with some respect from the fans.

Next task: get the players in line and we may have a game worth watching again.



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