A mans game?

I wrote this for issue 77 of PopularSTAND magazine at the beginning of the 2015/16.  Time has moved on since, much like some of the names included in the article, but the sentiment remains:

One morning in early October last year I found myself on the familiar journey to the Keepmoat, though with the Rovers away, my visit was to watch an under 11 team to which my daughter belongs. It was a crisp Saturday morning, as usual we were running late and found the parking spaces near to the sports pitches typically full, forcing us to head further round the stadium for a space in which to abandon the car. We jumped out and as the doors slammed behind us began to hurriedly make our way back towards the pitches. My eye was drawn to the row of parked cars which ran snuggly alongside the edge of the ground. It appeared on first glance as though 50 Cent must have been putting on a concert, as the tarmac was lined with black 4x4s and sports cars, each equipped with the uniformed alloy wheels and blacked out windows, one such vehicle could be heard gently thumping away some ‘music’ whilst it rhythmically rocked it’s occupant.
IMG_2445I was still pondering quite what was happening when a face emerged, making its way towards us. I recognised him, but couldn’t think where from – work? School? Another Dad late for the mornings football? I couldn’t be sure and despite my fierce squinting I couldn’t place him.
“Is that one of the Rovers players Dad?” asked my daughter, her sharper, younger eyes identifying that the badge on his tracksuit top matched her own. I again looked at the bloke, now scurrying towards the entrance, almost nervously and awkwardly avoiding eye contact. “Yes, that’s Dean Furman” I replied, the pieces dropping into place. The players were gathering to travel to their away game.

No sooner had the words left my lips then other members of ‘Fiddy’s’ entourage made their way towards reception, all uniformly clad in both club leisure wear and a vast array of jewellery, watches and wash bags. I looked at my daughter’s face, as Kyle Bennett and Reece Wabara jovially waltzed by with perfectly styled barnets and intricate facial hair, to see her fixing something of a suspicious gaze towards Rovers’ finest.

I was a little more concrete in my outlook. Having spent a large sum of money already in watching our diamond clad charges deliver a number of gutless performances already that season I was totting up in my head the cost of the motors the trio had left behind. While edging past 6 figures the final straw appeared at the end of the queue of pimped out rides. Harry Forrester, the source of the stifled music, threw open the driver’s door on his personalised number plated BMW and emerged with full complement of bling, sporting a ridiculously large baseball hat which he was forced to gently ease out of the car before carefully using his immaculately manicured trainers to place his feet firmly on the ground, somewhere that I fear from looking at them, most of the players struggle to keep theirs.

My 10 year old summed it up perfectly when asking, faced screwed into a mix of confusion and contempt “Why are they all like that? They’re ridiculous”

The sense of injustice had built up inside me throughout the preceding half dozen or so footsteps, but given the time, my proceeding rant couldn’t be directed towards those most deserving of it, instead my little girl was forced to nod quietly, as I recounted exactly what those players had done to ‘earn’ the money which paid for them to look so ridiculously stereotypical over the last six games. Six games, of which they had lost four and only scored in two. I felt vein popping anger at the ease and nonchalance at which none of it seemed to matter to them. It got me so angry because it mattered so much to me.

I’ll never come to terms with it and I’ll never be able to identify with players who are so far removed from the rest of us. I find it almost impossible to get behind someone who’s first concern appears to be the quality of their hair product or procuring the latest Nike’s.

When Paul Dickov announced at the end of last season that he needed ‘a squad of men’ it conjured a large sigh of relief. I recalled some names of the past, the likes of which would fit the bill, names like Alan Warboys, Jack Ashurst, John Schofield – proper men who not only would run through brick walls for the side but you could also imagine just washed with a bar of soap, spent under a fiver on a haircut and looked suspiciously at a fella with an earring.

I remember seeing Tim Ryan during his pomp in the local Sainsbury’s of a Saturday night, getting stocked up with fags before a night out, or turning up to play 5 a side at the Dome only to find that Ian Duerden was lining up for the opposition. I recall stumbling from the Karisma nightclub late one evening in the late 90’s to find Colin Sutherland slumped in a bus stop outside. Slurring some inaudible words with eyes as glazed as an iced bun, he was and still remains to this day, the drunkest I have ever seen a man.

However, he and his kin were like the rest of us, we moved in similar circles, we did similar things and we battled the same demons, whilst we were happy to see them on something of a pedestal, we could relate to them and we were all in it together. It’s a feeling which is fast fading for me, I can’t relate to the modern footballer in any way. Yeah, I’ve been to Nando’s, but to be honest I didn’t much care for it. I’ve tried sifting through their Twitter feeds but am left numbed by pictures of body kits and boots, shout outs and endorsement and even one ‘urgent’ plea for a decorator- obviously not urgent enough for an underachieving League One forward to dirty his own hands and open a tin of emulsion.

These days a third tier footballer earns life changing money and whilst it is not their fault, it has hastened their detachment from the rest of us. Paul Dickov’s recruitment policy gave me renewed hope, someone to relate to, to get behind. Someone who would feel the pain felt on the terraces and bare the scars just like the fans. A squad of men? That’d be great, to be honest, I’d settle for a few normal blokes.

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