Too clever by centre-half

In our celebrity culture, we quiz footballers and pop stars on favourite foods and sexual positions

Hunter Davies
Wednesday 03 February 1999 01:02

ARE FOOTBALLERS stupid? That's been one of the fall-out topics from the Hoddle affair. The answer is that they are no more stupid than pop stars or politicians who get carried away with their own self-importance and pontificate on subjects they know not enough about.

They can seem less clever than your average run-of-the-mill millionaire superstar because they rarely have the Latin. Their schooling hardly existed. From the age of seven, they knew they were going to become professional footballers, so their grasp of grammar, as in Hoddle's case, can often be a bit dodgy. They are brought up in a hothouse atmosphere, with life organised around them to bring out only one aspect of their talents and personality. Little wonder you see few of them being elected as Fellows of All Souls, whatever that might prove. Most of them are equally lopsided in their development, stunted in their personal growth, only one of their talents having been properly cultivated. Cleverness, after all, is a minor gift, especially if it happens to be your only gift.

The culture of football dressing-rooms makes it hard for players to do other than confirm to the laddish, anti-intellectual norm. Gazza's drunken bouts, or John Hartson kicking lumps out of other people - even those on his own side - are acceptable, whereas sitting in a corner of the dressing-room reading a book is not.

I remember, in the Spurs dressing room in the Seventies, how Mike England, Spurs centre-half, was mocked - behind his back, of course; he was a big bloke - for having an unusual home. It was a one-off, architect-designed house instead of the usual off-the-peg mock Tudor estate house which most players, then and now, aspire to. He gave parties there, with butlers serving champagne, and had guests from the non-football world. Very weird, so the rest of the lads thought. Pretentious or what?

In the current Chelsea dressing-room, Graeme Le Saux gets the piss taken for being an Independent newspaper sort of chap. Before him, Pat Nevin was ridiculed for going to art galleries and museums.

They go round the world, these modern footballers, but mostly they sit on the coach or in the hotel bedroom and play cards, ignoring what they might be doing or seeing. Most of them regret it later, but at the time, their managers like them to be blinkered, concentrating only on the next 90 minutes.

There are exceptions - but you have to be exceptional to get away with it. Cantona had some dopey ideas, but because he was brilliant at his job, and also a foreigner, he was not mocked by his fellow players. At least, not to his face.

Hoddle's thoughts have been objectionable, as well as dopey, but this is very rare, though many successful managers have been weird in their own particular ways. Bill Shankly was blinded to the point of being unbalanced by anything in life except football, taking his wife on honeymoon to watch Liverpool - or was it Tranmere? - reserves. Brian Clough had his minor daftnesses, such as wearing carpet slippers to training, and major ones, like treating his players like children; but as long as he, like Shanks, was successful, none of that daftness mattered. He got treated like a god.

It is our fault, in the end. We are just as dopey. In our celebrity culture, we ask pop stars and famous footballers about their favourite holidays, favourite foods, favourite sexual positions, if only as a way of filling up a cheap and easy question-and-answer column of the sort all papers now do. Then we throw in some weightier ones, such as abortion, the euro, reincarnation, fairies, space men, feng shui (whatever that is), and solemnly write it all down, as if a fab singer or fave footballer has any more insight on these subjects than the rest of us. But we love reading the answers. I read every one.

They of course then get carried away, as John Lennon did with his remarks about Jesus. They begin to think their views are interesting, not to say important. Even Mrs Thatcher, for all her O-levels and brilliant success, went potty in the end, spouting nonsense and spite, getting carried away with her own power and self-importance.

Hoddle is, in fact, an exception, with his unusual views and self-delusions. Most players keep their heads down and their opinions to themselves. It's only later that you realise: "Yeah, what an intelligent person; how astute, despite the lack of formal education."

Take Gary Lineker and David Platt, for example. I'd like my younger daughter to come home with either of them. Or similar. As Both of them are rounded, talented personalities. And clever, oh yes. It's a mark of being really clever, to survive having been a footballer.

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