Offside, 11 March
How to write an article about football's moral decline.
‘What do you think happened in La Manga?’ someone asked me this week. What kind of question is that? How should I know? I wasn’t there. I don’t know anyone who witnessed the events. There has been no trial. Nobody has been convicted. All we have to go on are a few titbits of gossip and hearsay published in the newspapers. How can anyone judge the Leicester City players who face charges of sexual assault without any knowledge of the facts?
But rushing to judgement about footballers’ sins is something at which British journalists have become extremely adept in recent years. And sure enough, before you could say ‘presumption of innocence’ a procession of pious hacks have hastened to condemn English football for producing a generation of overpaid, out of control, rapists-in-waiting.
There is a tried and trusted formula to penning these articles. So if you’re an aspiring journalist yourself, here are some handy hints. Every standard-issue moral tirade will require the same basic ingredients. Firstly, there’s always a jumper-for-goalposts requiem for The Way Things Used To Be. You know the sort of thing. Before they started trousering fat cat salaries, cruising around in Porsches, and wearing diamond earrings, footballers were decent, God-fearing, salt-of-the-Earth types. ‘You want football to be the way it was: a little rough around the edges, certainly, but not a playground for monsters, bullies and morons with not enough hours in the day to spend their wages’, writes Kevin Mitchell in the Observer (1). Ron Manager himself couldn’t have put it better.
After the Age of Innocence came The Fall, usually dated to the 1990s when Murdoch’s millions enriched and corrupted English football (although some fundamentalists blame the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961). Just rearrange the words decency, cocoon, young, wealth, and footballers, and you should be able to present a suitably bleak picture of the consequent moral decay.
So for example, John Rawling in the Guardian decries the ‘loutish and sometimes illegal behaviour of a significant minority who, cocooned in an unreal world, seemingly believe their wealth and fame places them beyond accepted boundaries of decency’ (2). Similarly, Roy Collins in the Telegraph complains that footballers inhabit ‘a different planet, in which young men rich beyond Lottery winnings live in a cocoon that they believe absolves them not just from any normal convention of decency but the rule of law’ (3).
You might also want to have a pop at testosterone-and-alcohol-fuelled team-bonding exercises. You don’t need to be a card-carrying feminist these days to complain that team bonding is the start of a slippery slope that leads to gang rape. ‘It is the gang-bang mentality, where impressionable young players are urged to abandon their inhibitions and morals: get stuck in or you’ll look wimpish’, writes Kevin Mitchell. ‘And it translates easily from the pitch, where such loyalty is forged, to the bar and, now, the bedroom, where it is horribly distorted.’
‘The whole concept of team building needs to be reassessed’, argues Kevin McCarra in the Guardian. ‘Leicester probably justified the jaunt to La Manga as a bonding exercise to help the squad clamber away from relegation. When the manager of another club saw his players head for the Grosvenor House hotel he, too, may have smiled benignly at the camaraderie.’ (4) Perhaps managers should follow the late Done Revie’s approach to R and R and arrange games of carpet bowls instead.
And no self-respecting jeremiad is complete without a ‘something must be done’ bit at the end. The Telegraph’s Henry Winter thinks that the players’ union should ‘reprimand and re-educate the playboys of the Premiership world’ (5). John Rawling thinks that the football authorities must take action. ‘[W]hen was the last time a club was fined or docked points for failing to control its players, when their anti-social behaviour off the pitch was clearly detrimental to English football’s image?’, asks Rawling.
Sunday Mirror columnist Carole Malone goes further. ‘Any player caught in a sexually compromising situation with a woman and other players – sacked and banned for two years.’ (6) And before anyone (like me) starts bleating about natural justice, you should point out, as Malone does, that we are dealing here with ‘violent, aggressive, drunken misogynistic, socially inept morons who shouldn’t be out on their own, let alone be representing a Premiership club’.
So there you have it: my easy-to-assemble guide to producing a moral diatribe. It’s as simple as boiling an egg and you don’t even need to use your brain. Nor do you need to worry about the facts. Who gives a monkey’s about facts anyway? Any idiot can write one – and plenty of idiots already have.
(1) No honour among the thieves of football’s credibility, Observer, 7 March 2004
(2) If clubs keep tolerating present levels of depravity, the FA must act, Guardian 8 March 2004
(3) Shamed players reflect sad society, Daily Telegraph, March 2003
(4) Dangers of life in the game’s closed society, Guardian, 6 March 2004
(5) Players’ union must act if football is to get out of jail, Daily Telegraph, 6 March 2004
(6) ‘Soccer yobs pay penalty’, Sunday Mirror, 7 March 2004
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