A short while ago saw the passing away of an English footballer. His name is Tom Finney and he had played for Preston North End and England. He was a renowned forward, a prolific goal scorer, with a reputation of one of the greatest players of his era – it is said that he would have been great in any time, and he has been lauded as being the best player ever born.
Finney’s praises have been sung far and wide, both before and after his death. Thousands of words have been written about him, and hours of television & radio dedicated to this man in the past two weeks. He was applauded for his loyalty to his Club, his home team – he never went off to pastures new. He was acclaimed as a star and a legend. His skill, his talent and robustness was suitably hailed by all. His rise to football fame, despite being of small stature and growing up in poverty, was admired. Sorrow was expressed that he didn’t win any silverware with his Club, and that he didn’t make much money from his abilities – he started out in professional football on 50p a game and ended on £20 a week (then the maximum footballers’ wage!). He was acknowledged as a crowd pleaser and master of his art. His wartime active service for his Country was recognised as having severely disrupted his playing career. It was noted that he had been taunted at times over his nickname – the Preston Plummer (his trade). Not a bad word though has been said about him, neither in the past or now – how creditable and what a legacy is that in this day and age?
Was there anything else that placed Tom Finney above the rest and most others – putting him in a unique and dying category? Oh yes, he was a sportsman, a real sportsman, a true and genuine sportsman! He was a winger & centre forward footballer, who was subjected to savage punishment on the field of play, but he took this without rebuke or retaliation – his temperament was legionary and he was never sent off, nor for that matter even ever once booked. He was modest, honourable, a gentleman, and utterly respected throughout the game for his sportsmanship, and treasured in society (both in his playing days and thereafter) for his demeanour, behaviour, honesty, and total respectability – a true role model, and no less.
In the modern game of soccer the main goal-scorers are termed ‘strikers’ – perhaps an appropriate and suitable description in many instances; cheating, fouling, hitting, kicking, pushing, spitting,-butting, swearing, pulling, and even biting are the trademark of the modern game. It is a travesty that they are still allowed to call the players sportsmen- intimidation of officials is another bit of ‘playing the game’ now.
A sportsman is a person who behaves in a sporting fashion (that is to say in a fair and generous manner) – you won’t find any of that in football these days will you?
What the heck has happened then? In a word MONEY. It has destroyed the wonderful game of football, both from the top down and from the bottom up. All undermined by money and greed. There used to be a time, only 50 years ago, when football was the game of the average local man, woman, and kids – neighbourhood clubs were religiously supported in all weathers, win or lose; players stayed with their Clubs and were adored by the loyal fans; team rivalry was endemic but good natured; referees were shouted at by the crowd to ‘get some glasses’, but never vilely abused (as nowadays).
Then money took over and we are left with a dysfunctional sport and spectator society in Britain; football teams owned by the rich and uncaring – run as a whim or a business; passionless teams in which home-born players can’t get a kick; matches attended only by the well-off or corporately funded; clubs supported by people who haven’t even been within fifty miles of the place: fat unfit slob fans wearing club shirts that used to be the pride and joy of any player selected to pull one on; players on obscene amounts of money (£300,000 a week Wayne Rooney) and not paying much tax either; players accused of assaults, sexual attacks, drunkenness (even around match days), aggressive behaviour, motoring offences galore, amongst many other things. No role models these days are there? The examples of the professional game is not lost at the other end either – you can be sure to see the same contemptible attitude in the lower echelons of the game, all the way down to kids football! Money has also undermined the traditional support of the lower or amateur clubs.
So is it only football where sportsmanship has become defunct? Oh no. The money grabbing scenario has hit the World in all sports these days – for example rugby, cricket, cycling, skating, athletics, baseball, swimming, boxing, american football, sailing, golf, horseracing, and even fencing (along with some paralympians!); cheating and drug taking has totally swamped all sports – no such thing as ‘fair play’ these days is there? Money and gambling influences rule the roost nowadays, and there is no prospect of change unfortunately.
[Sportsmen have therefore joined the list of extinct species – but it is difficult to determine an exact date, as there has been a steady decline over decades].
please note the term ‘sportsman’ in this post is used as a generic term to include the female sportsperson as well!