Footballers sink to a new low: property dealing

Robbie Fowler owns at least six houses in Limeside Road, Oldham, and nine in Burder Street. The animal!
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The Independent Online

What are we to make of the story, reported at length in at least one Sunday newspaper, that several Premiership footballers are building up vast property portfolios? The Manchester City striker Robbie Fowler, formerly of Leeds United and Liverpool, is reportedly one of Britain's biggest "amateur" landlords, with more than 80 properties ranging from terraced houses in Oldham to luxury flats in Airdrie. Furthermore, "insiders say post-match dressing room conversations - traditionally dominated by cars, women and nights out - now also often revolve around the merits of different property locations, mortgage rates and housing developments."

I love the use of the word "insider", which suggests a furtive rendezvous in a multistorey carpark late at night. "You didn't get this from me, right," says the shadowy Deep Throat-figure to the journalist, "but after the Man City v Bolton Wanderers match today there were two players in the shower talking about the cost of conveyancing."

It is time to give highly paid footballers a break. In recent weeks they have had roughly the same press as Vikings, who at least had an excuse for all that rape and pillage. They had to keep warm somehow.

But footballers have no excuse for the raping and pillaging, which reportedly they are doing for all they are worth. And that, in some cases, is upwards of £70,000 per week. Besides, when they haven't been allegedly gang-raping convent girls, they've been all but defecating on the cross of St George, threatening not to play for England out of misplaced loyalty to a stupid colleague who forgot to pee into a bottle. And if all that were not enough, it now emerges that they have been rapaciously accumulating huge swaths of housing. Robbie Fowler apparently owns at least six houses in Limeside Road, Oldham, and nine in Burder Street. The animal!

"Many players have got involved in buying up property to let out because of the strong recent performance of the housing market," said Des Bremner, managing director of the Professional Footballers' Association's financial advice team. It is not, on the face of it, an interesting or enlightening comment. It's pretty dull as well. But Bremner had been challenged to explain this phenomenon of footballers buying houses, and gave it his best shot.

What he should have said is that top footballers are becoming engulfed by a rising tide of snobbery, condescension and envy. There was a question not asked, but strongly implied, in the Sunday newspaper story about the rise of footballers as property tycoons, which was: by what right has Fowler, who "grew up in Toxteth, then one of the poorest areas of Liverpool", become a landlord on such a huge scale?

Inevitably, there was also a reference to one of his biggest on-pitch misdemeanours. In a match between Liverpool and Everton a few years ago, Fowler responded to taunts from the Everton fans over reports he was a user of hard drugs, celebrating a goal by running to the nearest white line where he simulated the snorting of cocaine.

Even as an Everton fan, I found his subsequent vilification absurdly pious. And I hope that he will respond in appropriate fashion to these latest reports about his lifestyle, by miming somebody exchanging contracts on a property deal.

Meanwhile, let's present a case for the defence of young men paid laughably huge salaries, whose working week is generally limited to five mornings, one afternoon, and perhaps the odd evening. More often than not, they are castigated for being so highly paid, as if the rest of us would say an honourable no to 70 grand a week. And when they are not getting stick for the wages, they are being abused for the way they spend their leisure time. Even Michael Owen, Fowler's erstwhile colleague and English football's blue-eyed boy, found himself in the dock of public opinion over reports that he had gambled over £2m.

So we should celebrate, not sneer, when they spend their easily-earned dosh on something as relatively wholesome as property. We should also ask ourselves whether it is fair to expect men in their 20s or early 30s, earning nigh on £5m a year, men in some cases of limited intelligence, to be paragons of virtue? Of course not. Am I condoning racial or sexual assaults by footballers? Of course not. But we are wrong to judge them from the high moral ground - the one ground in England, incidentally, which is always full to capacity.

Besides, I don't think top footballers are overpaid. What is overpayment, anyway? If I get £1,000 for writing a newspaper article which takes me less than a morning (and in the dim, delirious mists of time, it did happen), then that is my payment, not my overpayment. Footballers' pay is commensurate with their abilities and with their employers' ability to find the money. End of story. Except, alas, that it's not the end of the story.