The Premier League footballer hatred vortex

The contrasting responses to Olympians and footballers

The achievements of Team GB at the Olympics have led to a wave of criticism of footballers. They've been lambasted for being overpaid, arrogant underachievers. But why do some people hate footballers so much?

Ex-England striker Michael Owen knew there was trouble ahead when the Olympics started.

In a post on his blog he wrote: "I turned to my wife, Louise, while sat in our lounge at home watching the Olympics, and said, 'just you watch footballers get hammered once this is over'. And here we are two weeks on with the bandwagon in full flow."

As the medals and plaudits flowed in, there was also a slew of comments and columns comparing the hard work and humility of Team GB's medal-winners with the brash arrogance of footballers.

The Independent's James Lawton wrote a column under the headline: "Let's hope our offensive, overpaid footballers have been watching the Games."

It was typical of a number of outpourings in the newspapers.

Start Quote

Swindon Town manager Paulo Di Canio

You get fantastically talented players, but the desire goes down when they get a big car, a gold and diamond watch”

End Quote Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio

Footballers have acknowledged a change in mood. Joey Barton wrote about what football could learn from the Games, suggesting players should start with humility.

Some of the QPR midfielder's commenters agreed with his points, but one acidly noted: "You are the epitome of all that is wrong with football."

Barton has an extraordinary CV.

In 2004, he stubbed out a lit cigar in the eye of a youth team player. In 2006, he dropped his shorts in front of opposition fans during a match. In 2008, he was jailed for six months for an assault in which one man was punched 20 times and a teenage boy was left with broken teeth. Barton received a suspended sentence for punching a team-mate on the training ground.

He has since attempted a transformation, admitting to having an alcohol problem and becoming a noted tweeter. He is currently serving a 12-match ban for violent conduct on the pitch.

It's not just violence. The tabloid scrutiny of the private lives of footballers has led to a parade of stories of casual infidelity.

Many of those who dislike footballers also do not enjoy the sport, but there are plenty of die-hard fans who simultaneously resent the conduct of some of the players.

There is a sense of ownership among football fans.

When a fan invests so heavily in a team - paying for season tickets and travel to away games, devoting weekends and raising their children as supporters - a show of dedication is expected in return.

But as Owen added, that is not always well placed.

"I do appreciate that we as footballers should, at all times, be aware that we are being watched by millions of people on a regular basis but many people are simply not capable of being role models. Surely that is not their fault."

Footballer and a gentleman

John Charles

Footballer John Charles (1931-2004) was widely regarded as a model player - both in technique and attitude.

Described as a "colossal player and a modest gentleman", he was never sent off or even booked during his career.

Born in Swansea, Charles played for Leeds and Italian clubs Roma and Juventus, where he earned the title Il Gigante Buono (gentle giant).

Charles was known for his versatility, playing centre-half, centre-forward, full-back and midfield where required.

Many are not sympathetic.

"Footballers should be embarrassed and ashamed, absolutely," says football journalist Hunter Davies. "It's not a fair comparison but we are all just so fed up with the amount of money they are paid. It's gross.

"Their behaviour on the whole is so bad, so arrogant, they keep saying that should be respected, that they deserve respect. But they are rubbish, they [the England team] haven't won anything."

The Olympics had its share of issues - drug cheats, the badminton disqualifications, and athletes sent home for racism. Cricket had its match fixing scandal, and rugby suffered the shame of the fake blood scandal.

But there are few professions that evoke such loathing as football.

"They get paid extraordinary sums of money and it's the ones that lose touch with reality who are an embarrassment to the sport," says former Scotland international turned pundit Pat Nevin.

There are numerous anecdotes of footballers' decadent spending habits.

In the Guardian the Secret Footballer recounts the time he spent $130,000 during a "champagne war" with a group of other footballers in Las Vegas. The point of a champagne war being to send over a bottle of champagne to the enemy - in this case a nearby table - who is then meant to reciprocate, and on it goes until the bill gets too big for one side to pay.

Ashley Cole famously revealed in his autobiography that he almost crashed his car when his agent called and told him that Arsenal were offering him only £55,000 a week. Cole's affrontedness earned him the nickname Cashley, as well as occasional booing at the beginning of England matches. The very same fans later voted him England player of the year in a poll on the FA website.

Start Quote

Jamie Baulch

You feel you could approach the Olympians and that's not the same with footballers - it's the image of football that's wrong, rather than the players themselves”

End Quote Silver medalist sprinter Jamie Baulch

"Look at Tevez last year, at John Terry and Suarez, awful. But I would be a liar if I said that the vast majority of footballers weren't great athletes and good, hard working people," adds Nevin.

Carlos Tevez was accused of refusing to play for Manchester City because he was trying to engineer a transfer, a claim he denied. Liverpool's Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Patrice Evra.

"Footballers have become superstars, and the attitude of the nation to celebrity has become extreme," says Nevin.

"I was really impressed with how all the Olympic athletes handled themselves with the media, but I wonder how they would behave if they had been subjected to four years of media scrutiny and a harsh press."

For every Barton, there is a Niall Quinn, who donated his testimonial match revenue to charity. For every star with a dubious personal life, there is a plethora of unremarkable happily married ones.

Even controversial footballers like Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor are also noted funders and organisers of charity initiatives.

An oft-heard gripe is that there are no gentlemen playing football anymore.

In the 19th Century the biggest football teams were Oxford and Cambridge, or the Corinthians, a team who famously would not take a penalty because it would be ungentlemanly.

But demand for the game was too high for it ever to continue to be dominated by amateurs. People couldn't play three matches a week if they also had a day job. The game became professional, and when the maximum wage was eventually abolished players started to earn considerable wages.

Love 'em, hate 'em

Rival fans carry a sign that reads "Ashley is a girl's name"

Ashley Cole's autobiography revealed his anger at a pay offer of only £55,000 a week. Football fans responded with boos, a new nickname - "Cashley Cole" - and by voting him England player of the year.

Last year El Hadji Diouf taunted a rival as he lay on the pitch with a broken leg, prompting then QPR manager Neil Warnock to call the Senegal forward a "sewer rat". This week, he signed Diouf for Leeds.

With the influx of television money in the 1990s there was another leap in wages. Now many Premier League players earn more in a week than the average fan earns in a year.

Underlying much of the criticism is the sense that footballers are undeserving recipients of their vast wealth. That is exacerbated by the notion that standards of behaviour have declined.

"People are always nostalgic about the past, that's how we are, it doesn't mean it was any better, there are still gentlemen in the game," says Steve Claridge, another player turned pundit.

"People make opinions about footballers based on nothing, on things that they read that usually aren't true, but they stick."

There have of course been more recent examples of gentlemanly behaviour.

In 2001 Paolo Di Canio was awarded the Fifa Fair Play award after he opted to catch the ball rather than shoot at an open goal when Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was injured on the ground.

And the outpouring of emotion for Fabrice Muamba after he suffered a heart attack on the pitch proved players and fans capable of great kindness and respect.

But when the Premier League season begins on Saturday, there will be many fans torn between love of the game and loathing of some of the players.

Footballers v Olympians: Elsewhere on the web

"If Britain's sporting consciousness has increased with the heroics of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy and the rest of that true 'golden generation', then so, too, has the spotlight and the scrutiny on football and footballers - on the way they perform and how they behave on and off the pitch," says Oliver Kay of The Times.

Start Quote

Roy Hodgson

Our athletes did perform so well, not only in terms of their athletic performance but in terms of their behaviour - so a benchmark has been set”

End Quote England manager Roy Hodgson

"It is a sore point among a few of the older players, who feel that the tribalism of the modern game, plus the money they earn and the media attention they attract, make it all too easy to demonise them. But for the new generation of English footballers that is emerging, there is a recognition of a need to project a softer image than that associated with John Terry, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney."

And in Manchester next month, players and Premier League officials will gather to discuss what they can learn from London 2012.

This is no sudden epiphany, says Matt Lawton in the Daily Mail. "Officials at the Premier League and the Football Association have long been aware there is a perception of the multi-millionaire footballer in this country as someone who can be arrogant and aloof.

"The money does create an obvious divide. It cost £26m over four years to deliver the 12 medals that were secured by those brilliant British cyclists in London; £6m less than Chelsea have just spent on Eden Hazard. That said, it is Chelsea's money, not UK Sport's."

Then there is the pressure of a life lived in the spotlight.

"Nobody at the Olympics is under the kind of scrutiny that has become part of everyday life for footballers, on and off the field. It has made some footballers afraid to play for England at Wembley and others afraid to engage with the media and the public."

Football manager and former player Ian Holloway, writing in the Daily Mirror, says the cash that has flowed into the Premier League has corrupted the beautiful game.

"These [Olympic] athletes have no ­problem when they look at themselves in the mirror every morning. They play sport in its ­purest form - for the glory of the game.

"I know for a fact that when our footballers were kids they played the game because they loved it for what it was. They dreamed of scoring goals at Wembley, winning trophies and becoming a hero for thousands. Then, somewhere along the line, the stars in their eyes were replaced by pound signs."

Here are selection of your comments

Footballers without doubt deserve the image they have. I am no longer interested in watching 22 blokes limp round the pitch feigning injury, cheating, diving and trying to con the ref in order to 'win'. It's wrong and embarrassing. The Olympics was a world apart and fully shamed footballers to showing the pathetic depths they have sank to. The sad thing is they don't even realise just how wrong they are as the clubs who pay their wages encourage it. What a sad pitiful state the national game is in.

Dave, Birmingham

Football players as any human being deserve a respect. Some they may not behave like professionals as expected but that alone does not qualify all of them to be seen not as the public figures! Let us not forget that the same people were talking about here are the one who at some point play a big role on uniting our communities, just imagine a country without a professional Soccer League, a continent without Champions League or continental tournament or World Cup. Thank God I'm not on that planet.

Maboy Bophani , South Africa

The issue with football is that the officials take to the pitch with 22 cheats. I have to laugh when a players goes down injured, holding his face and then checking if there is any blood on his hand then the replay shows he was not even touched in the face.

C Walker, Malvern Worcestershire

Compared to other sports with highly paid stars (NBA, NFL and rugby to a lesser extent) premiership football shows the absolute worst of the competitive spirit - principally in the way referees are treated, every decision greeted with swearing, rushing to intimidate officials and failure to accept decisions respectfully. Also diving and hiding fouls, which are simply cheating. Let them show they are capable of controlling themselves and behaving like human beings rather than hooligans and they can keep the money. On pitch violence and cynicism have huge spill over into public attitudes. Let's reward discipline and hard work with huge salaries, and punish those who drag the game and its supporters into the gutter.

Paul Savage, Panama

No discussion really needed! Footballers are simply over paid, under-worked and spoilt brats and 90% cheat whenever they believe they can get away with it. The media have much to blame for this situation.

Jim, Northampton

What professional footballers should always remember and what they always ignore, is that 99.9999999999999999999% of the people in the world who play the game, play it for fun and the love of the game, not for the money.

Chris Welch, Poulton-Le-Fylde, England

I have stopped watching football for reasons based on what I have seen for myself. When Chelsea spend more on players than the GDP of a small country then something is very wrong. The quality of football is better than it has ever been in many respects, but the game is rotten. It has nothing to do with the game I used to know and love.

Paul Sheppard, Barnsley

....spitting, swearing, falling over on purpose aka cheating, arguing with the ref (when they know his decision is final) and being paid appalling sums of money then appearing in the press as anti-social idiots.... all documented.....based on nothing?

Tom Aylwin, Brighton East Sussex

I have been a football supporter for 48 years (since I was eight) I am totally unhappy at the behaviour of the players (and the ridiculous amounts of money they earn) both on and off the field. Their sheer arrogance and the constant need to cheat ontinuously leaves me cold. My team has recently been in the premiership (Hull City) and I have no wish to go there again. I would much rather watch the young players been brought along in the championship.

Robert Peak, Beverley East Yorkshire

Top flight footballers are very skilful athletes. It's just a shame that many of them are not sportsman. Why are they allowed to chat back to the referee? Why are they allowed to swear and spit at each other? Why are they allowed to roll around on the ground play acting and pretending to be injured? Why are linesman ignored or seemingly reluctant to rule or advise the referee if that referee has missed something? In my opinion the governing bodies in football are to blame. They refuse to fine players and clubs with relevant and meaningful fines and bans. They fail to do anything credible to enforce good sportsmanship or change the rules to make it a better sport! The players behave badly and the fans follow! If football was more like rugby in terms of discipline then the game, the sport and the fans would be better for it!

Damien Sambrook, Southampton, England

All the points above are valid, but there is no mention of the behaviour of fans at football matches. There was no chanting of racist or abusive language at the Olympics, no booing of anthems or flags, or any noticeable dissent. Shouldn't the wider issue be about overall behaviour of all stakeholders within the football community?

Terry, Singapore

It should also be noted that footballers do not deliver - they're still paid colossal amounts of money for whatever performance they turn out, brilliant or appalling - I pity the fan who pays £50 plus for a ticket to watch a dire performance, a sending off and their team lose with all the implications, especially at the end of a season.

Alison Mason, London

Arguments to support the behaviour of footballers don't hold much water, though some may be more salient than others. Usain Bolt is in much respect just as big a 'celebrity' as the footballers, commanding fees more than his athletic compatriots, but he too still manages to show the air and grace of a what sport professionals should be like. The money really has corrupted the game of football hence why we don't win on the international stadium. Like fat cats literally, the footballers become lazy and slothenly on the pitch when they are called up to play for 'Queen and Country'.

Ginny, London

Of course not all footballers are good role models - but realistically, if you were to select a group of 11 random men in the 18-35 age bracket, how many of them would be good role models? The likes of John Terry and Ashley Cole don't give the game a good name, but far less scrutinised are all the players who are honest, decent, family-orientated men. Just look at the likes of Paul Scholes and Michael Owen. The bigger problem here is the media following footballers every minute of their lives.

Tom, West Midlands

Perhaps, amongst all this, some focus could be placed on the difference between the attitudes/behaviour of fans. Those at the Olympics have been a heart warming inspiration, cheering efforts regardless of win or lose. Fans behaviour at football matches is horrendous, with no respect for officials, opposition or in some cases their own players/managers. Is it a case of familiarity breeds contempt - because we see premiership footballers in action week in week out, do we lose sight of the hard work and dedication required to reach such an extraordinary level of performance?

Paul, Bournemouth, UK

What I've never understood is footballers' constant need to spit. I have never seen athletes, gymnasts, swimmers or cyclists, all of whom expend more energy than footballers, spit.

Trevor Trotman, Wolverhampton

Whilst the money footballers receive is obscene, that is not my main problem with them. It is the lack of respect they have for the officials and rules of the game. There is absolutely no need for the language aimed at the referee when he makes a decision especially when 99% of the time the player complaining knows that decision is right. Almost every footballer will put their hand up "our ball" for every single throw in even when they felt the ball touch them last. Just be honest and walk away. Accept that the officials decision is final and let it go and get on with the game. Your life will be a lot less stressful as a result.

David Dawson, Ellesmere Port, England

Who cares if they are overpaid - let's not forget the mountains of tax these players pay. As for arrogance, half the excitement with any football match is the build-up, and this build up requires some trash-talking and arrogance. Let's all calm down after the Olympics buzz and realise that the Olympics is a display of all the sports we can only bare to watch for two weeks every four years.

Lewis, London

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