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I am getting tired of the phrase Great Sporting Summer (GSS) or any variant thereof. The GSS will come to an end with the Ryder Cup in a couple of weeks’ time (though golf doesn’t really seem to have an off season anymore) and it will be a bit of a relief, though I fear the phrase will live on perhaps as “GSS 2012”.

Don’t get me wrong, it really has been a GSS and you don’t need me to list the highlights all over again, but the phrase is wearing me thin as it is obviously so loaded… Because what comes after the GSS? Well of course it is the Fucking Horrible Winter and that means football, football and more football (there will be some rugby union too but obviously that can be safely ignored).

The national football team clearly understood what was required and quickly resumed its role as the pantomime villains of English sport. Their failure to beat Ukraine was a craven and disgusting insult to the heroes of the GSS and epitomised every single thing that is wrong with this country.

They may not have excelled in the way Mo Farah or Andy Murray did, but why such levels of hatred? I have previously touched on why I think English people have a hard time supporting the national team (Unloved England Have An Identity Crisis) and I stand by this. Football has always seemed to be semi permanently in the dock but after the GSS there seem to be a lot more people who are greatly enjoying putting the boot into the national sport, not just the national team.

Lets have a very quick trawl through the usual arguments used to attack football,

  • Money – too much of it. Ignoring the realities (and the rights and wrongs) of any labour market I would ask why the enormous remuneration of tennis players,  golfers and F1 drivers does not cause the same amount of resentment or debate?
  • Over Exposure – cobblers. Turn off your noise making devices and read a book, I got through the Jubilee this way. Moreover the Olympics could not have been more thoroughly covered, not many complaints about that though.
  • Under Performance – it is tolerated elsewhere. I didn’t hear anyone slate our lottery funded Olympic Swimming Team or demand that the Performance Director be sacked. No, they ‘tried their best’ and it is ‘very difficult to win’.
  • Commercialisation – seriously? Did you ever see that advert of Sir Chris Hoy flogging breakfast cereal? Famous sports people will get commercial opportunities, full stop. If you went to the Olympic Park you would know the corporate stranglehold that existed there. The Arthur Ashe court was dotted with sponsors names, etc etc etc.
  • Cheating – the Olympics or the Tour de France can hardly show a clean pair of hands here. It is an aspect of human nature it will exist to a certain level wherever there is an opportunity.

There seems to be a thirst to portray football in the worst possible light at all times. Take the case of Courtney Meppen-Walter. This young man has recently been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. A horrible tragedy to be sure, but worthy of being a lead item on 5Live news and a slew of newspaper headlines? Well in this case yes because Meppen-Walter happens to be a footballer at ManchesterCity.

Now I follow football avidly and I had no idea who Courtney Meppen-Walter was. Additionally I would wager that 99% of serious football fans and 100% of the general public had no idea who he was either. There is no way that his name alone would have created a news story, but the mere fact that he is a footballer was enough to generate headlines. Given his complete obscurity, his profession is totally irrelevant. But would he have made the news if he were a young rower or rugby player, or for that matter a plumber or a junior doctor?

(I have just done a Google search on this story and the online headlines for the Daily Mail, BBC News, The Independent and The Telegraph all start with the words ‘Manchester City’ confirming how this story has been portrayed)

As I have iterated above most of the arguments used to condemn football are straw men so what is this all really about? Some envy at the sheer popularity of the sport? Certainly there is a class element at play here.

Perhaps Middle England would easily tolerate the Money, Over Exposure, Under Performance, Commercialisation and Cheating if the ‘right’ people were involved and not the uncouth, uneducated plebs that populate football?

by Nilesh Bhagat

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