Over the last year the private lives of Ashley Cole, John Terry, Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney have prompted much intrigue and indignation in the national press. Criticism of their sexually promiscuous activities has been intense and widespread, their misdemeanours seen as symbolic of the loutish immorality of the England team and its over-indulged players. However, the motives behind such scandal stirring have to be questioned given the fundamental irrelevance of off-field conduct to on-field form.
Demonizing footballers for their licentious leanings has become something of a national pastime over the last few years, as the popularity of the sport and the earning potential of its elite players have reached stratospheric levels. Consequently, the expectation that footballers should embrace their newfound status as role models and aspire to an unrealistically clean-living ideal has only heightened the nation’s disappointment with its fallen idols.
It’s understandable that the shamelessness, arrogance and sense of entitlement expressed by some of our most talented players comes under attack, but the nature of these criticisms is undoubtedly excessive. The sensational coverage devoted to these scandals encourages us to assume an unwarranted attitude of smug self-righteousness, to pore over the failings of others at great length. And as we condemn the players for their indiscretions, bemoaning the fate of those with too much money and time to spend in an honest way, we support the very notion that these events are newsworthy.
In such circumstances, the morality normally so absent from mainstream media is suddenly prided to excess, as the nation adopts a collective veil of prudish contempt. While secretly revelling in the prurient details of their affairs, we clack our tongues and shake our heads at the great indignity of it all. And the very sources which ordinarily trumpet the performances of these home-grown heroes are the ones now responsible for damning their less wholesome displays.
At these times it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective. Just because we invest the GDP of a modest European nation into these players and their handsomely-rewarded careers it doesn’t make their actions anymore respectable, or us anymore suitable to judge and denounce them. Revelations about the distasteful behaviour of famous players will remain an inevitable occurrence for as long as we remain interested, the relevance of the disclosure lost amidst this torrent of sanctimony.
For as long as easy money, sex and temptation exists, the insatiable desire of the football supporting public for scandal and titillation will never go unsatisfied. But who is next to be mocked from the moral high ground? Can Tony Hibbert be trusted? Is Theo Walcott as fresh faced and innocent as he appears? Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?