In his 1968 book The Football Man, Arthur Hopcraft got to the root of why ordinary folk – people like you and me – love football so much. He said it was the one great public art by which people "cannot be fooled", as they might be with a book or a play or a piece of music.
It was not meant to be patronising, he just meant that we find ourselves on more certain ground with football. Boiled down for the current day, Hopcraft's theory says if you struggle with Don DeLillo's novels or you don't "get" jazz – don't worry, because when it comes to football we all know instinctively the truth of what is taking place before our eyes. There is, as Hopcraft wrote, no deceiving a football crowd.
It means that footballers – especially those who play at the highest level – are among the most accountable people in the country, held responsible by the crowds that watch them and the millions more on television. As they earn enormous salaries, those too are thrown back in their faces as if, like Ashley Cole at Wembley last Saturday, someone who is paid in millions is not entitled to make a mistake. Except now the crisis gripping British banks has demonstrated a curious truth: footballers are not the only millionaires capable of making a hash of things.
It has long been a personal view that there is an anger from certain quarters directed at wealthy young footballers because of an unspoken prejudice that they are not from the right sort of social backgrounds to have such wealth. Or so crass in their choice of home or car that, by extension, they have no right to earn the wages they do – as if there should be rules on what you can spend your money on. And, yes, those salaries are impossible to justify to a nurse or a state school teacher but they are the market rate. Yet until recently, no one seemed to say the same about the men who earned comparable amounts for running our financial institutions and ticked all the right boxes in terms of school, university and golf club. This latter category also had one major advantage when it came to their own accountability: no one outside their world had a clue who they were. No one, until two months ago when the banks' share prices plummeted quicker than Tottenham's league form.
Now we all know that, for example, a man called Sir Fred Goodwin has presided over a collapse in the fortunes of the Royal Bank of Scotland despite his Paisley Grammar School roots, his exquisite taste in Ferrari cars and his golf weekends with Jack Nicklaus. What's the equivalent in football? Perhaps it would be taking Rangers down to the Irn-Bru Third Division or worse. The man on the street would have something to say about that wouldn't he?
It means that for two days of his life, Sir Fred's startled-looking face was in as many newspapers as Wayne Rooney's new haircut. Sir Fred has never been booed at Wembley but this so-called titan of business will at least be able to say that for a few days he was subject to the same exacting public scrutiny as the most famous footballers in England. The difference is that the likes of Rooney and Cole have had it every week of a career that began when they were teenagers.
In America, where their failed banking chiefs have faced Congressional hearings there has been, as on a football pitch, nowhere to hide. Witness Richard Fuld, the chairman of the failed bank Lehman Brothers, who admitted earning £172.6m over eight years in return for overseeing the collapse of his company. That works out annually as four times Rooney's salary. "I feel horrible about what has happened," he said. Even Steve McClaren came up with better excuses than that.
Now we know that our footballers are not the only ones capable of having a bad day at the office despite their enormous salaries, it is time to acknowledge one obvious truth. Paying someone a lot of money reflects how highly you value them but it does not give you a guarantee of success – especially not in sport. It is easy to spot a footballer screwing up on the pitch, easier too to convince yourself that he is undeserving of his money. Those men in suits you do not recognise have just miscalculated to the extent that no one can get a mortgage. I know which ones I feel more horrible about.
Ringmaster too quick to turn on the circus
I really want to believe Rio Ferdinand when he says that the England team have grown up and ditched the "circus". Then I recall David Beckham jumping out of a moving car in Moss Side a few months before the 2006 World Cup finals because he thought he was being kidnapped. It was actually one of Rio's television wind-ups. If you think Rio is the innocent party in that infamous circus then, as the man himself would no doubt say, "you've been merked".
Happier with Kay than KGB
Spotted in the Dinamo Minsk club museum: a shrine to "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Belarusian who set up the Cheka for Lenin. He was responsible for the Red Terror and tens of thousands of deaths. As celebrity football fans go, most clubs would probably rather have, say, Vernon Kay.Reuse content