So, the inevitable has happened, albeit earlier than expected. England’s footballers have been knocked out of the 2014 World Cup before they’ve even played their third group game, their earliest exit since 1958. And, as sure as night follows day, the hand wringing, recriminations and angst filled soul-searching has taken over the English media to the extent that you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole tournament came to a close upon the final whistle at Costa Rica’s shock win over Italy.
The reaction has been as measured and rational as a member of Britain First outside a mosque. Or a member of Britain First in any other situation either. Some of the phrases used would suggest that something serious was at stake, such as lives or jobs or homes, rather than a competition for young men kicking a ball around.
“They have let us down”
“They are overpaid prima donnas who don’t care”
“More years of hurt”
This is typical of the ridiculous overreaction to anything surrounding “the beautiful game”. Defeats are a “tragedy”, winners are “heroes”, players are held up as “brave”, “geniuses” and “role models”.
We need to get a grip. I’m a football fan. I love the game and I am guilty of this type of language or responsible myself. But we really need to take a good look at ourselves over this.
How has anybody “let us down”? England’s exit will not adversely affect the lives of anybody. Not even those who were part of squad, who will go back to their clubs and prepare for the new season as normal. Nothing of any real note was riding on the World Cup, life will carry on as normal. Nobody has been “let down” as the players had no responsibility towards any of us in the first place.
Now, the accusation often comes in that footballers let people down because they are role models for children. I find this very interesting. Why would we want men who are mainly in their early to mid 20s, who are in their position because of how good they are at a game rather than how good they are as human beings, to be role models for our children? Is this what they signed up for, or is their only real focus to be a good footballer? If your child has footballers as their role models then it may not be a bad idea to encourage them to look up to other people for their character rather than their skill with a ball.
Of course footballers are massively overpaid. That’s hardly their fault, though. Let me ask you, if a competitor of the firm you work for offered you £100k per week to do your job, would you turn it down? Would you say “No, that’s obscene. I couldn’t possibly accept that.”? Of course not. Nobody would.
Similarly, nobody would, as a result of those wages, suddenly stop trying at their job. Look at the faces of the players at the end of the Uruguay defeat, they were devastated. They didn’t wear the expressions of men who didn’t care. They cared deeply, because it’s their job. It’s utterly ridiculous to suggest that they didn’t care.
There also tends to be a lot of criticism of footballers when it comes to the issue of pressure. I have seen many posts online where footballers are compared to members of the armed forces when the issue of pressure (and, for that matter, pay) is mentioned. The reasoning is that footballers don’t know what pressure is because they don’t face the prospect of death when they go out to play. Well, no they don’t. Neither do the vast majority of people. However, most people don’t face the prospect of every move they make at work being scrutinised at length in front of millions on national tv. Most people don’t have every mistake at work analysed in national newspapers. Most people don’t have hundreds of people tearing their performance apart on radio phone ins or getting abuse by thousands on social media for it. I think that if we did face all of those things at work then we’d feel under immense pressure, no matter how much money we earned.
Footballers are human beings. They are flawed, make mistakes, feel the full range of emotions, have good days and bad days, have the same worries and insecurities as everyone else. We need to recognise this and act accordingly towards them.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26 NLT)
This is what we all need to do. We are all flawed. You, me and every member of England’s World Cup squad. Looking down on people, getting angry at them, displaying jealousy towards them, heaping pressure on them is not right. So they play football for a living and get paid millions for it. So what? It has no effect on me or you that they do this, so just leave them to do it. Good luck to them, but they are not where all my hope lies. If they win I’ll be happy, if they lose I’ll be disappointed. That’s it, nothing more.