The root of all football's evils

Another week, another scandal: Rotten apples suggest problems at the game's core as the riches on offer are a dangerous lure

AT ANFIELD last week, after a stirring FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Tottenham, a lone figure stood in the dark by the Bill Shankly gates gazing at the Hillsborough memorial, the names of the dead illuminated by an eternal flame. He had just placed a Spurs scarf on top of the carpet of freshly laid flowers.

This moving moment - coming after the Kop had applauded their scourge Jrgen Klins- mann off the pitch - came to mind last week as football endured again its regular dalliance with the gutter. It reminded you that for every football hooligan, there are thousands with decency in their souls.

For every player, too, sentenced to three months in prison for common assault, there are tens giving their time to coach youngsters; for every one arrested in connection with a bribery inquiry there are many more, even if still not enough, visiting children's hospitals with not a camera in sight. And for every manager investigated for taking a bung, there is another driving across country to speak without payment for a worthy cause.

It is for these people and the fans who rightly admire them that the game must purge itself and learn the painful lessons of this mother of all seasons. The assertion that it is not riddled with corruption looks flimsier by the week and its governors' duty rests in redoubling efforts to root it out and acting emphatically. Rotten apples do spoil barrels.

"Money and cheats have trampled on the game and they are still trampling on it," one player wrote recently. "Where there is money there are also cheats and they both go together. I would so like it to be understood how many footballers do not play football just to make money . . . What I have seen in football circles in 10 years of professional soccer entitles me to feel that our dream has flown away. But we must survive."

The player was Eric Cantona, who, along with Paul Ince, faces a court charged with assault next Thursday. His wholesome sentiments illustrate how one may be entitled to condemn a man's act but how dangerous it is to condemn a man. One reason Cantona came to England was the attraction of what he saw as "the respect which they all have for the ethics of the game". Another was to escape the murkiness of French football.

Cantona's central theme was money, and new wealth has provided the English game - and its players - with this identity crisis. At the first hint of being cut adrift from the Premiership gravy train, managers are sacked. Relegation is no longer seen as a chance to rebuild and emerge stronger. Now that the new stadiums are almost paid for, inflation in the transfer market has reached alarming levels. Yet training facilities and those around clubs open to the community fall behind standards on the continent.

Players, too, with average salaries in the Premiership of around £3,000 a week, find more elaborate ways than those of their predecessors to amuse themselves in the many free hours they are given to recuperate. The Professional Footballers' Association, which has recommended they spend at least five hours a week on community work, has set up a financial management company to advise players, but the education must expand.

To cite footballers as role models is, anyway, dubious. Some, by personality, are capable of being so, most not. And for all his admirable qualities as Dr Barnardo's boy made good and presenter of Gladiators, John Fashanu, a player of sometimes frightening physical excess, will not do. These are young men often unable to encounter the public without receiving extremes of praise or abuse. Frequently they are divorced from the realities and mundanities of everyday life. The same is true of the game, often operating with its own code of conduct. But in that it reflects other areas, like politics, or like the City.

In football's case, the need is for its administration to be restructured. The Premier League are writing their own rule book, seeking more autonomy from the FA, who are "holding the tail of the tiger", as the PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, puts it. The FA, meanwhile, cling to their role as guardians of the game, not just the professional peak - "An administration that was formed in the last century attempting to govern the modern game," Taylor adds.

The Premier League, FA and PFA have been discussing the future of coaching, at Loughborough University. It does seem possible, therefore, that they could form a body capable of running the professional game. Add representatives from the club owners, the League Managers' Association and the Endsleigh League and there should be a six-headed cabinet with teeth. That is something the Premier League have lacked in their bungs inquiry, which is in danger of fizzling out for lack of evidence now that the Inland Revenue have, it is believed, received payment due from anxious miscreant managers. "I do feel there is a need for a body that is pro-active rather than just reactive," Taylor says.

Football has always had its seamy side, though the problems are more serious now with the money sloshing around and the burgeoning media pack more vigilant. That much was shown last week in the presence of cameras - no doubt alerted by the police - at the arrests of Bruce Grobbelaar, Hans Segers and Fashanu.

Now comes the opportunity to banish the doubts. Was that player dropped for failing a hush-hush drugs test rather than because of a groin strain? Why did that goalkeeper let the ball through his hands? Why is this manager living a champagne life at a lemonade club?

Should the chance not be taken, then the independent inquiry that the MP Kate Hoey has called for must surely be implemented. After all, the greater good of Lord Justice Taylor's Report that followed the individual tragedies of those 95 deaths at Hillsborough that our decent fan was pondering, had to emerge from outside a complacent game. To heck, then, with authorities who say it is not needed.

Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' by John Constable
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Recruitment Genius: C# / XAML Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness