So much for ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’; Christmas is the busiest time of year for professional footballers.
As well as having so many games to contend with (unless they’ve managed to book time off with a cunningly-timed red card), the poor things have a Christmas party to organise and keep out of the papers (unless the manager’s cancelled it because of recent performances) and of course there’s the obligatory visit to a local hospital.
Some of these visits are more worthwhile than others – this one in Liverpool last year wasn’t universally welcomed, by the look of it – but on the whole it’s good that the kids get a chance to meet their idols. Or at least people they’ve vaguely heard of, bearing gifts.
As it happens, I’ve been giving the whole idol/role model question a bit of thought lately because of some of the behaviour at our son’s Saturday morning football sessions. I’ve always been rather sceptical of the notion that kids copy what they see in televised games, but now I’m beginning to wonder.
It’s a small sample group, but let’s consider two boys in particular.
Boy A is forever falling over during practice matches without being touched, holding his leg and crying out in mock agony.
Boy B, playing in defence last week, told the referee that the award of a goal kick should in fact be a corner because the ball had deflected off his leg. (‘Never admit that!’ shouted one of the other dads present.)
Now, why should the boys’ attitudes be so different? It could be down to their individual natures. It could be down to parenting. It could be down to the shirts they were wearing (Boy A was wearing a Chelsea strip, albeit without ‘Drogba’ or ‘Ramires’ on the back, while Boy B – guess who – was in yellow and green).
But I think the main reason was identified by Boy A’s dad. ‘He’s got that off the telly,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘He thinks it’s part of the game.’
(Fortunately, he’s still unaware of other misdemeanours carried out by Chelsea players, so as yet he hasn’t brought an air rifle to training or parked his scooter in a disabled bay.)
Boy B, on the other hand – or Harry, as we call him at home – rarely watches football on TV and is therefore unaware of all the diving and play-acting that goes on. He still believes that the game has to be played with complete honesty and gets upset whenever he sees an unjust decision.
Proud as I am of his high moral standards, I’m wary of how he’ll react when he realises that many of the players on his precious Match Attax cards follow rather different codes.
It’s not just the cynical cheating that concerns me; it’s the evasion and sophistry used by certain players when discussing their actions.
Here’s serial turf-biter Ashley Young talking about his reputation in the Guardian recently:
“The referees are giving decisions and that is where I think it lies… I think it’s one to ask the referees – they’re the ones who are giving free-kicks and penalties… For me, the referees have made decisions and that’s it.”
A fine example of taking responsibility for your actions.
It’s not even as though I can tell Harry that no Norwich players ever go to ground easily. (And yes, in using the mealy-mouthed phrase ‘go to ground easily’, I realise that I’m guilty of a lack of candour myself.)
Henrik Mortensen made an appearance in front of the Barclay End at half-time last Sunday; it seemed odd to see him remain upright whilst in the penalty area.
And try Googling the names of our two biggest crowd favourites from the last ten years together with the word ‘diver’. Or rather, don’t – the results don’t make for pleasant reading. (I discovered after following one link that Crystal Palace fans view Darren Huckerby in the same way that we regard Andy Johnson.)
I guess the way to keep Harry honest is to impress on him that once you’re linked with fakery, the stink never entirely dissipates.
Is Rivaldo remembered for being a skilful player or for this bit of thespian work?
Similarly, Jurgen Klinsmann trips easily off the tongue (with no one near him).
Dishonesty can even tarnish the achievements of the whole team. Maybe it’s just me, but whenever Arsenal’s team of ‘Invincibles’ from 2003/04 is mentioned, I always think of Robert Pires’ blatant dive to win a penalty and a point against Portsmouth that season. (Arsene Wenger later admitted it was a dive – some eight years later.)
It’s a lesson that doesn’t just apply to football or even to sport in general. The man who faked his own death in a supposed canoeing accident in 2002 was back in the papers again this week. And will the fake sign language interpreter at the Mandela memorial service ever be able to live it down?
(I have my suspicions about one of the signers on the BBC News channel, by the way. When covering the anniversary of the JFK assassination recently, he appeared to be acting out the Gunfight at the OK Corral.)
For now, though, perhaps I should just be pleased that we’ve managed to instil in Harry the values of truthfulness and honesty by making it clear that lying and deception is always wrong. Well done us.
Anyway, I’d better go – it’s the last posting day for Christmas and he still hasn’t mailed his letter to Santa…
MyFootballWriter.com was very proud to learn that Kevin’s column has been nominated in the EDF Energy East of England Media Awards 2013. Very well deserved Kev and hopefully you won’t need to perfect the ‘gracious runner-up face’ for the awards ceremony.