Offside, 21 November
The noble Anglo-Saxon tradition of taunting fat footballers is dying out.
‘Who ate all the pies? Who ate all the pies? You fat bastard, you fat bastard. You ate all the pies.’
This classic terrace song is as British as roast beef, cancelled trains, and losing the Ashes.
But sadly the noble Anglo-Saxon tradition of taunting fat footballers is dying out. Why? Because football’s fat boys are being systematically hounded out of the professional game thanks to Arsene, Gerard, Claudio et al with their fancy foreign fitness regimes and controlled diets. Football is very much a slim man’s game these days.
One by one the lard-arse footballers are hanging up their boots. Paul Gascoigne, whose career has been bedevilled by so-called ‘refuelling problems’ (ie, stuffing his face and drinking like a fish), is currently training with non-league Morpeth Town in a desperate bid to regain his fitness. Since being discarded by Everton last season, Gascoigne had a short spell at Burnley, but the roly-poly Geordie couldn’t cope with the hurly-burly of the First Division.
Gazza has subsequently been linked with DC United (USA), Exeter City, Queen of the South and Auckland Stars (New Zealand), but nobody, it seems, wants a twinkle-toed porker any more.
Another high-profile casualty of the war against flab is Neil Ruddock. When he was at Crystal Palace, Ruddock had a clause in his contract stipulating that his weight should not exceed fifteen-and-a-half stone. The hefty hard man invariably lost the battle of the bulge and was released by Palace.
Now Ruddock has been transfer-listed by his latest club, Swindon Town, reportedly for being too fat. Ruddock had piled on the pounds during an injury lay-off and had been ordered to lose weight by his manager. ‘I worked hard and lost a stone’, said the 34-year-old salad-dodger, ‘so it was a shock to read in the local newspaper that I was on the list’. In reality it was probably Ruddock’s fat wage packet, comprising 20 percent of Swindon’s wage bill, that sealed his fate.
This week Jamie Pollock, another portly ex-Palace man, who had been training with Grimsby to restore his fitness, announced his retirement. ‘There are no problems with my fitness’, insisted Pollock. ‘I’ve just given football 12 or 13 eventful years of my life in the top two divisions and I feel that the time is right for a change.’
At the age of 28, Pollock should have been at his physical peak. His problem was that, by his own admission, he was too lazy to maintain his fitness. ‘The trouble with me is that I’m a fat bastard’, he once told journalist Phil Ball during a spell at Spanish club Osasuna. ‘I’ve come here to get fit. I need discipline…. Here we can’t be seen in the bars, like. We’ll get fined.’ (1) Spain, as Jamie saw it, was just one big fat farm.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the advances in diet, fitness and technique that have dragged the English game out of the dark ages. The high tempo and technical quality of Premiership football can make for a breathtaking spectacle, but progress has come at a high price.
No more overweight centre-halves, wheezing and puffing, for fans to throw insults at (and occasionally chocolate bars). No more barrel-chested hard men, like Neil Ruddock, Dave Mackay or Billy Bremner, to jeer at. No more chubby playmakers like Paul Gascoigne, Matthew Le Tissier, or Jan Molby, whose fleet-footed skills more than compensated for their excess blubber, to marvel at.
Fat footballers, lest we forget, have made an immense contribution to the game. Probably the greatest rotund player to grace a football field was Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas. ‘Look at that little fat chap. We’ll murder this lot’, one England international famously remarked before the game against Hungary at Wembley in 1953. Puskas, the fat little chap in question, made fools of the English defence and inspired Hungary to an historic 6-3 victory.
How ironic that Puskas, whose tricks were considered revolutionary at the time, would be considered too fat for the modern game. I suppose we could launch a campaign to protect the endangered soccer chubster. But, then again, nobody forced the fat bastards to eat so many pies.
(1) When Saturday Comes No 117, November 1996
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