Many of you young ‘uns reading this column will probably not remember the simpler times in football.
When I first started watching football, “diving” was the apocalyptic force threatening to destroy the beautiful game, and David Beckham wearing a sarong was the most sordid story of the decade.
But now, we live in a rather darker age of evil agents, petulant millionaire players, indiscriminate billionaire club owners, court injunctions, vice girls, racism claims, and idiotic fans who make vile chants and even worse postings on social media.
It would’ve been nice to end the year on a positive note, but with Manchester City on top of the Premier League, there really isn’t much to celebrate in football, is there? It’s like Santa didn’t know which Manchester club I was referring to (if you’re reading this, Mr Claus, Manchester United are the nice ones and Manchester City are the naughty ones… Please refer to your individuals list and look up “Mario Balotelli”).
So instead, this festive season, now that all hope for the game is gone with Sepp Blatter still reigning over football like Kris Jenner over the Kardashians, let’s take a look back at how truly depressing 2011 has been for football.
And what better place to start counting down the problems in football this year than the latest biggie – racism.
Now before you Liverpool fans start following the wonderful example of your players and set up a stall around the city selling replica Luis “Not-A-Racist” Suarez warm-up kits, do consider the “facts”, as one of your beloved former managers would have you do.
Suarez has more or less admitted to calling Patrice Evra “negrito”, and pleading ignorance shouldn’t be enough to let him off the hook.
He and his new BFF Gus Poyet say that negrito isn’t a racially insulting term back home in Uruguay. Suarez has played for five years in Europe. Don’t tell me he doesn’t know that black people don’t appreciate being referred to as a “little black man”, in whatever language or socio-geographic context.
Also, Wayne Rooney was given a two-match ban for his spontaneous swearing at a TV camera in the heat of excitement of a goal celebration. Why shouldn’t Suarez be punished for surreptitiously using an obviously incendiary term towards a fellow professional in a quiet aside?
I’ve heard fans decry the charges against Suarez and John Terry on the basis that they are not racists. Liverpool’s extraordinarily strong-worded defense of Suarez included a quote from Evra saying he did not believe Suarez was racist.
But that’s beside the point. You don’t have to be inherently racist in order to say something racist, in very much the same way you don’t have to be a serial killer to be red-carded for violent conduct; and when you say something racist against a fellow professional on the football pitch, you should get a ban. Eight games is a bit heavy-handed, but the principle behind it is sound.
Why? Because fans out there these days are that stupid. Which brings me to my next point – idiotic fans.
Let’s not even go into the Chelsea fans chanting “you know exactly what you are” at Anton Ferdinand (the player Terry allegedly called a ****ing black ****), or the death threats he’s received over the whole issue.
All you need to prove just how senselessly tribal the support in football has become in 2011, is read a message former Liverpool player Stan Collymore received on Twitter last week.
The tweet, from a certain @JonJuwanson, read: “@StanCollymore do us a favour Stan and go hang yourself like Gary Speed did please. Ok Negrito”
(Ironically, Collymore had been trying to highlight the level of racist abuse Evra was receiving after the FA’s verdict on Suarez.)
For starters, this pea-brained imbecile’s mention of the word “negrito” alone justifies the Football Association’s action against Suarez. Football has really taken to social media in 2011, with fans and players alike getting more engaged, especially on Twitter where everything has the potential to be amplified by a gazillion times.
But with great power comes great stupidity. The FA were right to make an example of Suarez to send out a message to fans that using such language, with malicious intent or otherwise, is wholly unacceptable.
Even the British police have said that such hateful language on Twitter should be reported and dealt with as a “hate crime”, so why shouldn’t the FA take action too when it happens on the football pitch?
But what made me truly sick to the stomach is how football fans are willing to stoop that low, to become that blinded by hatred to even dare mention Speed’s death in such a manner, all in support of a football club. Hooliganism is back in football – it’s just not manifested in stadiums any more.
What makes it even more sad is that Collymore had been documenting his own battle against depression on Twitter.
For the younger football fans who read this space, footballers back in Collymore’s time weren’t all rich enough to buy flash cars and then fill them up with raw fish for a laugh (like City’s players did to Balotelli earlier this year), or tweet pictures of their expensive hair transplants and then ask “Why not?” (Rooney, also this year).
Many of them had to actually worry about life after football. I remember watching a short feature on a player from the early days of the Premier League who now operates heavy machinery in a construction firm. Can you imagine Fernando Torres with a hard-hat on top of his perfect blond highlights after he retires? He’ll probably spend the rest of his days sipping fancy cocktails on a beach made out of cosmic sand imported from the moon.
Inadvertently, Torres has become associated with that other evil rearing its head in football this year – money. The fact that he’s only scored three league goals for Chelsea for the whole of 2011 has only served to exacerbate the problem.
Torres is the poster boy for the current Chelsea regime’s excesses, as much as Carlos Tevez is for Manchester City’s.
Here are players who deserted clubs and fans who adored them, for teams who just so happened to offer them more money.
Both have since then decided to take pot-shots at their former clubs, trying to justify their greed and treachery with talk of unfulfilled promises, feeling unappreciated, etc. Gimme a break. At least Ashley Cole had the balls to say he was leaving for the money.
And at least Torres looks like he’s trying, and it looks like it actually bothers him that he’s not scoring. Tevez on the other hand, in one of the most enduring images of the year, will be remembered for sulking on the bench and refusing to go on as a substitute in the Champions League. He’s now AWOL in Argentina, playing golf and singing karaoke while pocketing £250,000 (RM1.25mil) a week.
While Tevez and Torres represent coddled millionaire footballers of their respective oil-funded clubs, there is one player, previously untouchable, that summed up the excesses of an entire generation of British footballers this year.
Throughout 2010, we heard tales of indiscretion featuring England players from bad boy Wayne Rooney to Dad-of-the-Year John Terry. But it was nothing compared to the shocking revelations surrounding Ryan Giggs’ private life that came to light at the end of last season.
We thought we had seen it all with the Terry-Wayne Bridge non-handshake, but football had other ideas.
An attempted court “super injunction” to cover up his affair with former Miss Wales Imogen Thomas, and another long-term affair with his own sister-in-law helped Giggsy top all the wanton antics of his fellow British players in 2011.
So who knows what the end of this season in English football will bring? We’ve already had an eventful end to 2011, to say the least. Personally, I’m hoping for simpler times again.