Football, a game I once loved, is out of control

Other sports are not squeaky clearn, but the governing bodies have tried to act

Share
Related Topics

This sporting year, from a British viewpoint, has been as good as any I can remember. Just as we were looking back and congratulating our Olympians and Paralympians, plus an outstanding tennis player and golfer, for their prowess, along come our rugby players (who beat the All Blacks at Twickenham) and cricketers (who won a Test series in India) to claim their share of the glory.

Chelsea may have won the European Cup, and shown some staunchly British virtues in doing so, but football has no rightful place on the national pantheon of sporting excellence. Indeed, the success of true sports people such as Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams and Bradley Wiggins has highlighted the contrasting shortcomings of a sport that I once loved.

Football would have been a poisonous presence on the rostrum, such has been its abominable misbehavour. Ugly as it has become, Gary Lineker still briefly referred to it as "the beautiful game". Was his tongue in his cheek? Maybe it was still beautiful when he and his contemporaries laced up their boots, but it has become scarred.

I am old enough to remember when enjoying the game's romance was not inimical to success. The team I mainly watched, West Ham, provided the backbone of the side that won the World Cup. Where is that spirit now? Professionalisation, and the attitudes that go with it, didn't have to ruin football, but it did. Recent incidents remind us just how toxic and tawdry it is, despoiled by racism, thuggery and arrogance.

So many players have become rich, and infamous, with no respect for the game's laws, and an attitude off the pitch that, suggests they consider themselves immune to the laws of the land. Okay, we may have travelled far from the mass hooliganism of the Seventies and Eighties, but the malady lingers.

Now we have vile taunts about Munich, Hillsborough and the Holocaust almost every weekend, with a return to pitch invasion by nutters and scenes like that in Manchester this month when Rio Ferdinand left the pitch with his eyebrow streaming blood after he was hit by a coin thrown from the crowd. Who says there's a recession when Neanderthals happily throw away money?

Sadly, football attracts society's dregs. Those who applaud the misdemeanours of players and fellow fans. And those misdemeanours are largely received with a shrug, a slap on the wrist and mealy-mouthed denounciation by the game's so-called guardians.

The Premier League has been seduced by Murdoch money and celebrity culture, sacrificing both pride and principle and turning a blind eye to ills within a game for which it, and the Football Association, share a duty of care. Both seem happy to doff caps to Roman Abramovich, as football spins out of their control – so long as the financial bottom line is healthy.

Football has become a game that fosters the worst excesses of humankind.

Other sports are not squeaky clean: cricket has a crime sheet full of betting scandals and rigged matches; there was the fake blood capsule in rugby; a plethora of pulled horses in racing; and, as for cycling, it has the principal dope pedaller Lance Armstrong. Endemic doping continues to besmirch athletics too.

But at least the governing bodies have tried to do something even if, in cycling's case, the blind eye had to be prised open. Football remains stubbornly myopic. The fact that it remains the only game where fans must be segregated tells us something, but those in charge say it's all about passion. Rubbish. It is unadulterated tribalism which too often spills over into violence and verbal abuse.

Now I fear football has become so "up itself", so consumed by greed and global marketing, that it smugly harbours the incorrigible, the persistent cheats, and ignores things that would not be tolerated in any other sport. Meanwhile, it fails to see the dismay among those who, like me, once cherished the game.

What we have witnessed since this grossly disfigured season began indicates that football has learnt nothing from the Olympics, although it vowed that it would.

Why is there this apparent reluctance to inject the sort of decency, dignity and real sportsmanship that epitomised London 2012? Is it because those in charge lack the will, or the bottle?

Sports minister Hugh Robertson was absolutely right to say football was the worst governed of all sports. His patience is wearing thin, Government intervention may be the only way. What the game needs, but is unlikely to get, is an independent NFL-style Commissioner (Lord Coe would be my choice), who knows that the one way to stop the rot is to restore referees' authority, deduct points in double figures, start closing grounds for several games and ban consistent offenders, both players and managers, for months. Drastic? Of course, but football is in need of major surgery, not the odd bit of casually applied sticking plaster accompanied by placebos and platitudes.

If anything requires a Leveson-style inquiry with new regulations backed by law it's football. Please, somebody blow the whistle.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Skilled Engineer - Electrical / Mechanical / Maintenance

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A multi-skilled engineer with a...

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Service Engineer - Television & HI-FI

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Engineers for field & bench ser...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer - Award Winning Agency

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global provider of call ce...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Punks show off the Doctor Marten boots as they gather in Blackpool for the annual Rebellion Punk Rock Festival  

Recalling my act of punk rebellion at school shows how different attitudes are today

Rosie Millard
A hormone released when someone is under stress or pressure has been found in breast milk  

Shaming women for being unable to breastfeed is wrong, and it needs to stop

Siobhan Freegard
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada