Nothing represents summer like the sight of an impromptu twenty-five-a-side game in the local park; jumpers for goalposts, shirts versus skins, mothers impeding the field of play to give unwanted dinner updates. It’s football in its purest form.
A couple of weeks ago I was saddened to see the local youths, usually seen belting a football to one another, running down the street at a frantic pace, hurdling over parked cars as they passed them. One was holding a flaming torch aloft, another swung a hammer in his hand and the third was carrying a bow and arrow. It’s fair to say that the Olympics truly have inspired a generation. Even a local policeman got into the spirit of things, sprinting after the youths, clutching a relay baton in his hand. It made you proud to be British!
But the Olympics weren’t just about raising petty crime levels, the overwhelming spirit of the games captured us all and ensured that football was temporarily forgotten about. Even those like me, who vowed to stay loyal to the beautiful game, in sickness and in health, committed many forms of Olympic adultery. In fact I was so inspired by the Olympics that I went out and bought a new plasma TV, even though I had to give up my gym membership in order to pay for it. Such is life.
Sadly, whilst the likes of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis were capturing the hearts of the nation, football was being admonished like a petulant child. It sulked on the ‘naughty step’, castigated for previous misdemeanours, lectured on how to be more like its estranged Olympic sibling.
“Football can learn a lot from the Olympics.”
I must have heard that phrase a thousand times in the wake of the games. Unfortunately, as wonderful an idea as it is, the words are so hollow and naïve they could form the chorus of a One Direction song.
We all knew that football had its problems long before the Queen parachuted into the Olympic Stadium and, in reality, as enjoyable as it proved to be, the games taught us little or nothing about how to cure football of its ailments. Football and the Olympics are intrinsically different; making comparisons between them is ultimately pointless.
Take the issue of ‘diving’ as an example. Olympic Bronze medallist Tom Daley’s Double-Arabians were very easy on the eye, but put him on a football pitch and his dives wouldn’t be nearly convincing enough. Where were the screams of agony, the obligatory clutching of limbs and the miraculous recovery upon the brandishing of a yellow card to the culprit?
Unfortunately, the aforementioned cheating and bad sportsmanship that has become an inherent feature of our game will not simply disappear because a few grey-suited men with rose tinted spectacles order footballers to ‘be more like the Olympians!’
We are only a couple of weeks into the new season and already we have had footballers on strike, managers assaulting linesmen, and referees’ authority undermined at every turn. The football disease runs too deep.
It’s not just players and managers who are under scrutiny either. Many anti-football drum beaters are wagging disapproving moral fingers at supporters, specifically those who attend armed with javelins of hostility.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to the soul-warming sportsmanlike environment of the Olympic Stadium. An overwhelming feature of the games was the incredible value of passionate home support. It’s a far cry from the poisonous cauldrons of angst and tribalism that modern football stadiums often turn into on a match day.
Inherent within the game is the edgy rivalry between teams that simply doesn’t exist within the Olympic sports. The football mentality dictates that we remind our fiercest rivals of all their shortcomings; whether it’s that their trophy cabinet is bare, their star player is grossly overweight or that their fans have been known to engage in controversial farmyard activities.
The spicy atmosphere of the stands manifests itself on the pitch. What’s more, most fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even if games became ‘home fan only’ affairs, the football experience would not be one of unbridled positivity, such as we witnessed in London this summer. In football, supporters tend to accept nothing less than perfection. No matter how endearing their effort, we cannot help but curse the hapless striker who so consistently fails to hit a cow’s backside with a banjo. This is not the Olympic way.
The Olympics teach us to rally behind competitors who give their best. In football, there is simply too much at stake. We fans have invested too much, both financially and emotionally, to treat our football teams with the care-free warmth we so readily offered our Olympians. Winning is everything in football.
It’s true that there is too much money in the game. It’s the very poison that taints the game’s image; it’s what makes football so deathly serious, so relentlessly cruel and so difficult for outsiders to understand. In that sense the game of football is a victim of its own success. If it weren’t so compelling, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Footballers, for the most part, work just as hard as competitors from any other sport. They haven’t landed upon fame and glory by chance. Unfortunately, because they have so much money, they have become completely detached from supporters, often from reality.
The sport-loving nation cannot relate to the modern footballer in the way it related to our Olympic heroes. This is true whether the players are humble, honourable, intelligent professional athletes with passion and integrity, or whether they are Joey Barton.
I loved the Olympics. Any human being could draw inspiration from the courage and determination displayed by our Olympians. But to say “Football can learn a lot from the Olympics” is as useful as saying “Football can learn a lot from The Lion King.” They are worlds apart.
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