If ever there was an easy target for the public to portray as the pantomime villain, it’s professional footballers. These highly-paid and heavily-pampered stars may be at the pinnacle of their sport but that doesn’t prevent them from receiving the full brunt of the public’s anger when people are looking to play the blame game.
It’s been no different during the coronavirus pandemic. Firstly, health secretary Matt Hancock waded in to lobby that footballers should forfeit some of their wages to help fund the cost of fighting the outbreak. The public quickly latched on to this, demanding pay cuts and questioning why footballers should be taking a salary at all when they’re effectively ‘off work’.
It’s worth mentioning that Premier League footballers contribute more than £1billion in tax to the UK economy every year.
While the row rumbled on across the front and back pages, the players themselves were developing a plan of their own (which had been going on in the background for several weeks) whereby a proportion of their salary would be deferred and money raised to go to NHS charities.
This strategy, led by England captain Jordan Henderson and supported by Watford skipper Troy Deeney and West Ham’s Mark Noble, has contributed to a significant donation on behalf of the sport, yet Premier League footballers are among the first to be pushed back to work by a Government understandably desperate to deliver a much-needed boost to the nation’s morale.
‘Project Restart’ is the name given to the plans to get top-flight football back up and running by mid-June. It hasn’t been met with a great deal of approval by clubs, players or fans alike.
While there is a general consensus that the Premier League season should be completed, the onus should be on safety – and that is where the concerns lie.
As Troy Deeney, who has so far refused to return to training due to concerns over the wellbeing of his five-month-old son who has respiratory problems, pointed out – why should he be expected to play football in a few weeks’ time when he has to wait until mid-July to get a haircut? It’s either safe or it’s not. It cannot be both.
Footballers are human beings too. They are not machines, they are not robots. They are people, with families. With elderly grandparents. With young children. Why should they be forced to expose their loved ones to potential dangers just because they themselves provide entertainment to millions of people every Saturday afternoon?
At Northampton College we are proud to be a part of the Foundation Football Academy programme run by Crystal Palace FC. Our young footballers benefit from top level Premier League coaching and play against other academies from clubs across the country.
Led by former Arsenal and Republic of Ireland star Eddie McGoldrick, our academy is nurturing future footballers but also helping create a new generation of well-rounded individuals.
It’s not just about sport. Our footballers are on a full curriculum programme which includes English and Maths, ensuring they get the qualifications they need to pursue other avenues if their sporting dreams do not materialise.
When you think of a footballer you picture them in their kit, scoring goals, celebrating with teammates, lifting trophies. It’s worth remembering they have lives outside of the beautiful game too.
We’re working to equip our young footballers with the skills they need to make that life as successful as possible, preparing them for the potential riches (and risks) a career in football presents but also for alternative careers if they don’t make it into the big time.
There’s a danger that by demanding an immediate return to the pitch, the footballing authorities have scored a spectacular own goal.