As Britain slowly clambers out of its Olympic hangover there is a realization that sport can be something different from the pomp that has distracted us for so long. Gone are the notions of God-like genius and the need for red carpet treatment. A backlash is being hinted at and the English Premier League is bracing itself.
That is, of course, if soccer was prescient enough to realize how tiresome its excesses have become, in the last few months. The greater public has been exposed to the radiant glow of success as Great Britain experienced a gold glut at the Olympics. They have also been shown sport after sport –each with delicate new nuances and interesting back stories –while the stars of these sports, even the best in their field, have displayed a humility and generosity that has coddled the onlookers.
Perhaps it is unfair that so soon after this Olympic love-in the footballers were put in the proverbial stocks and pelted with rotten fruit. However, they are Britain’s wealthiest entertainers and, despite the protests of many high profile football writers, the public –who have been so spoiled before trudging back to Premier League ticket offices –reserve the right to judge.
It seems the issue is still one of conception. It had been assumed that footballers were special. During the BBC’s Olympic coverage, in fact, there was a moment where presenter John Inverdale spotted Frank Lampard sitting in the Olympic Stadium beside Lord Sebastian Coe. He pointed this out and talked about the oncoming soccer season, whilst in the same frame sat the royal family of Sweden, one row in front of Lampard.
Now, if we shove the overall political debate about attributing social worth to monarchs, it seems rather skewed that a British footballer is more notable than a foreign dignitary.
However, this is how sports fans in the UK are conditioned. Or at least, they were.
With every look of shock and every interview devoid of hubris the viewers swelled with appreciation for other sports. The calls for more coverage rang out, perhaps fuelled by the intoxication of success and a lack of understanding of television budgets and scheduling.
With the fanfare hushed and the Olympics sashaying off towards Brazil, though, the focus falls back on the footballers. The pampered men who have commanded riches for so long must be made to appreciate that opinions of them, if only for a bleak month, are not high.
Speaking at an England press conference yesterday Frank Lampard decided to talk up about this. “When you hear the athletes speak after winning or losing, they’re very humble people,” he said. “We can all take that on board. I’m not picking on individuals at all. It’s a group thing. But there is a lot of appreciation for people who have worked four years solidly. Certainly I appreciate a rower who gets up at 5am every morning for four years for one event.
“Football is about winning. I teach my kids to want to win, but you have to respect the fact you can’t win all the time.”
Football has been winning in this country for a long time. Maybe it will not be long before we are all distracted by the shininess and contrived glamour of the EPL once again. However, until that point it must be made abundantly clear that while Financial Fair Play is a flawed club issue: the flawed issues of morality, greed and exclusivity need to be addressed on a personal level, if footballers want respect.
There is a book due out next week called ‘I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting The Lid On The Beautiful Game.’ In it a Premier League footballer reveals some of the debauchery and moral bankruptcy of the game. He tells tales of excessive spending on nightclubs and women and the privileges that are enjoyed while the outside world is shut off.
It should be an interesting read, but it is also archived proof of the feeling currently swirling around the country. The shame is that this zeitgeist will be forgotten all too soon.