Football: Shocking reports of caring, sharing millionaires

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THIS HOUSE believes that footballers are money-grabbing egotists with no scruples. With players walking out on contracts and holding their managers to ransom, the case against the accused looks strong. Their lavish lifestyles, the endless endorsements and the celebrity hangers-on make it all too easy to write off the modern tabloid footballer as a doyen of bad taste. If your knowledge of the average Premiership player comes from the front and back pages of the Sun you will assume they are shallow types in it only for themselves. Or, depending on your morals, you might think them the luckiest men alive .

Tabloid journalists don't devote nearly as many column inches to footballers' charitable affairs as they do to their extra-marital ones - it's not good business, after all. Most clubs send players out into the community, to visit sick children in hospitals or help launch charitable projects in schools. Even if it's just a matter of playing in a golf day or attending a dinner, you would be hard-pressed to find a footballer who is not lending his image, name or time to help others.

Take Andy Cole, for instance. When he flew out to Ireland after the Omagh bombing it was off his own back. It wasn't something Manchester United had organised. Cynics among us might ask what good a mere footballer, albeit an England striker, could do amid all that tragedy and devastation. From my own experience in similar scenarios, the answer is "a massive amount". For the injured children he is a distraction from aching limbs and hospital tedium, and his presence alone would lift the spirits of tired doctors and nurses.

I use Cole as an example only because I was involved in one of his big charity passions last Saturday night. A few hours after putting two goals past Leicester City he was fronting a dinner for 600 people at a hotel in Manchester in aid of the Venture Kodak Andy Cole Children's Charity, which raises money for children in Zimbabwe. These children are not just poor and hungry; they are orphans of the Aids epidemic which has gripped most of Africa and has had particularly devastating consequences in Zimbabwe.

I imagine that when Cole was approached by the organisation he thought it sounded like a worthwhile cause. When they actually took him to Zimbabwe a few months later, his commitment intensified. He also went there in his own time, of which there is little these days in the life of a professional footballer.

You can't underestimate the power of having a name like Andy Cole associated with your cause, and pounds 75,000 was raised on Saturday. Eighteen members of Manchester United's first-team squad turned up, as well as other players from around the country. Even United's treble trophy haul was there - and it's not every Tom Dick or Andy who can get those three along.

Cole is not the most outspoken of people and he certainly wouldn't trumpet his own achievements, so I'm doing it for him here. "Andy has a big heart" was a phrase I heard a few times on Saturday night.

His United team-mates tried to outbid each other at the auction for items I'm sure they didn't really covet. Nicky Butt had little need for the match ball from the Leicester game, for example, while Jesper Blomqvist could have bought 10 Madonna CDs at HMV for a lot less than he coughed up on Saturday. But these guys were supporting their mate, and millions of needy kids, not bargain-hunting. I know it's easy to be generous with your money when you're a millionaire but giving up your time is a different matter.

Without wanting to sound like Jerry Springer summing up at the end of his show, I am sure that this revelation might have shocked a few people. In a way it's unfair to single out Cole because there are hundreds more players utilising their fame to help others. However, should he make the cut for Kevin Keegan's final XI on Saturday, I'm afraid it's unlikely to be a case of charity beginning at home - at least for the Scots.