James Lawton: Cole's fury only the latest sorry sign of an ugliness that has defaced beautiful game

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The Independent Football

Sol Campbell thinks that verbal abuse of players by fans is a "human rights situation", a position naturally echoed by the chief executive of his trade union, Gordon Taylor. He believes players need protection. They do. From, more than anyone, themselves.

This isn't to say that the fans are wielding much of a moral edge when they persecute the likes of Campbell and his former Arsenal team-mate Ashley Cole for the sins of the past. Indeed, they merely confirm the fact that when you look across the entire spectrum of the national game you need to borrow the binoculars of some old U-boat commander to have the remotest chance of spotting someone who meets the old definition of a football lover.

Sadly, you have to be of a certain generation to remember quite what that hoary old phrase encompassed.

Let us briefly make an identikit of the lost breed of football lover. Generally speaking, he worked hard all week, often having only time to take off his factory clothes on Saturday lunchtime before striding off to a game with his son or a nephew, and if he complained about the odd dubious tackle, occasionally murmured a phrase like "he's always been a nasty bugger", when someone like Jimmy Scoular or Wilf Copping or Dave Mackay attempted to split his personal favourite in two, he didn't make a vendetta of it. It was a matter of regret rather than unending bile. He didn't go to a game to be outraged. He didn't see it as a vehicle for hate.

Indeed, he went to marvel at the skills and the beauty of his game. If you told him that the supporters of a marvellously entertaining Arsenal team would one day expend much of their energy at jeering an old player rather than celebrating young ones of dazzling skill he would have been bemused. Heaven forbid, that he should have seen this year's Christmas football image, of Cole delivering a V-sign to the fans of the club who nurtured him as a boy and delivered him to the point where he was outraged at being offered no more than 55,000 a week.

The old football lover of my experience would have shaken his head and discontinued our visits to Goodison Park, to see visitors like Stanley Matthews and Len Shackleton, or occasionally to some Third Division ground where a great old player Frank Broome of Aston Villa and England comes to mind was running out the last of his talent for Crewe Alexandra. The football lover went to celebrate football not his own identity and prejudice, and when Manchester United beat Arsenal at Highbury in what some said was the best match ever seen at the ground a few days before the Munich disaster no one rushed off to the Tube or the buses. They stood and cheered both teams. They cheered football.

No, there is not a lot of point in going back through the mists of time. Its only purpose is to underline the perversions of today's football, its mangled spirit, its failure to look beyond the trenches of the most appalling partiality.

Why would you spend an afternoon berating Cole? We know what he is. He announced it in an autobiography bereft of any understanding of what is important in football or in life. In his pique he offered himself to Arsenal's bitter rivals Chelsea. Campbell went from Tottenham to Arsenal, and if this was indeed an act of disloyalty rather than the legitimate pursuit of better terms for his labour he compounded the problem in the minds of Tottenham fans by the most risible double-talk about football ambition.

One theory on the widespread distaste for the Christmas celebration of Manchester United is that it is a simple case of envy for young men who can nonchalantly throw 4,000 into the hat for the office bash.

Is it really as simple as that? Almost certainly not. It is that the United players' party was shot through with classlessness. It was a vulgar statement not of wealth but a charmless exclusivity. There is no recorded instance of a Frank Sinatra concert being interrupted because of the size of his fee because he was seen as a man who had his market and delivered seamless performance.

Footballers are paid the going rate of their hugely lucrative business. It is their good luck to do something which is in such fervent, if often disordered demand. But of course there are responsibilities and one of them is to respond to the fact that with their privileges there are also obligations. One of them is to be aware of those people who still have sensitivities even while continuing to contribute to football's income.

What the picture of Cole's V-sign says more than anything is that there is a breakdown in trust between the game and its public that has never been more profound. When Campbell talks of human rights, he invites the deepest of scorn. But then there is the matter of human relations, of seeing, perhaps, in football not an endless battleground but a source of both excitement and joy.

The late Sir Matt Busby was called the Father of Football because he probably understood this better than anyone before or since his glorious years at Manchester United.

Busby had a withering phrase for young players who displeased him at least before the advent of his glory and his trial, George Best, whose wayward celebrity still marks one of the most profound historical divides in the way football has been seen and valued. Busby's reaction to misbehaviour, a lack of style, was, "That's not Manchester United."

For all his astonishing success, Sir Alex Ferguson long ago was strained to make such a judgement.

This is because he is confronted by another game, another set of values. They leap out of the picture of Ashley Cole and his gesture of contempt. They impregnate every corner of football.

Sure, it can be a beautiful game, but how much ugliness does it have to absorb before it remembers what it once was or, as a living force, curls up and dies in the heart, that is, of anyone who can still assert that he loves the game that long ago conquered the world.

A beaten general must never hide but show will to fight on another day

There are probably compelling reasons why England's cricket captain, Michael Vaughan, sent out his vice-captain and rival Paul Collingwood into the jaws of recrimination after the team's most humiliating day since it surrendered so abjectly in Adelaide a year or so ago.

No question that he had had a personal nightmare, surrendered his wicket in a way which suggested nothing so much as physical and mental exhaustion.

However, Vaughan should really have faced a questioning world. He has proved himself a superior captain and cricketer in the past and in the first days after the unforgettable Ashes triumph of 2005 he made a speech which might have served as a model of leadership.

He said that his greatest desire was for his triumphant team to stay honest, to remember that greatness can never be measured in just one brief summer. The trick is to keep your head, and build one success upon another.

That's what the Australians have done for so long and what England have systematically failed to do since the nation responded with such delight to the regaining of the Ashes.

In Galle, England gave up a Test series in the most abject manner. Their cricket was shoddy and defeatist. Vaughan should have acknowledged this publicly and he should have cried his anger, at his players and maybe himself. It is what beaten generals tend to do, at least if they have the will to fight on to another day, another battle.

FA should look to the angels of Rio

So the plan for a national football centre is alive again, just. So why the great weight of indifference?

It is because a national football centre has become an issue way beyond its intrinsic importance. The English game will take life again not with a shining building but a conviction that our kids need to be liberated from schoolboy coaches more concerned with producing strong competitors and performances that enhance their reputations than making the game thrilling and enjoyable.

There has been much debate about training centres in France, Italy and Germany, but none of them compare with one that doesn't even boast goal-posts. It is Copacabana beach in Rio. Once a group of old pros from the English First Division, including the fine Welsh international Terry Hennessey, joined a pick-up game there. They were thrashed. By kids who laughed like urchins and played like angels.