Footballers’ vast salaries make it harder for their misdemeanours to be overlooked, says Andrew Boulton
‘The Second Coming’ courtesy of David Beckham aside, the media reputation of football is perpetually downbeat. The sports press revels in stories of bad behaviour, greed and self interest – which is handy given the regularity of such incidents.
What tends to magnify this negative perception is when professional football is viewed alongside the UK’s other leading sports. The Six Nations Rugby Union tournament currently in progress perfectly illustrates this point.
Historically this particular code of rugby is the stick with which football has been beaten. Rugby players are portrayed in stark contrast to their footballing counterparts – educated, thoughtful, thoroughly dedicated and harder than a bag of bricks and snooker balls dipped in wet cement.
Footballers are (somewhat unfairly) depicted as preening and sulky, committed only to their bank balances and more than likely to be stretchered off the pitch following a brushing of shins, let alone being brutally smashed in the spine by a 20-stone man-gorilla.
Admittedly, the higher media profile enjoyed by football, particularly the Premier League, inevitably amplifies any unfavourable incidents. But is the role of football as perennial bad example justified? Look at any article regarding an incident of bad behaviour or simple churlishness from a footballer (broadsheet, tabloid and internet sources) and the incident in question will undoubtedly be contextualised by how much that player earns.
Very rarely will a media discussion on footballer’s wages not include the words ‘astronomical’ or ‘obscene’. This isn’t to say in any way that the money earned by footballers isn’t obscenely astronomical (see what I did there?) but it is this indignation (maybe even resentment) that colours a lot of football media coverage.
So when an event like the Six Nations thrusts another sport into the spotlight, the media exercise of ‘compare and contrast’ begins in earnest. The good behaviour and attitudes in football are negated by the wealth behind the game, whereas the bad behaviour in sports like rugby and cricket are given lesser attention due to their relative poverty.
Interestingly, as the likes of rugby players and cricketers have become more highly remunerated, the poor behaviour of their stars has been highlighted. The over-exuberant shenanigans of the England rugby team in the 2011 World Cup were not untypical, but were treated with a degree of outrage rarely directed towards rugby.
Admittedly, any indiscretions performed on international duty invariably heighten the media’s ire. But still, had it been the England football team hurling midgets and generally disgracing themselves the coverage would have been less ‘a bit cross’ and more ‘apoplectic with fury’.
Football has to work hard to create a favourable media impression, particularly in comparison to other sports. But given the amount of community and charity work most clubs and players engage in, one has to wonder whether anything will ever be enough? Still, at least they’ve got their astronomically obscene wages to keep them happy.