Not All’s Fair In Love (Of Football) And War

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you that it is much, much more important than that.” So spoke the late Bill Shankly, former manager of Liverpool FC. But in light of the current trend of comparing footballers to soldiers, it’s a statement that seems increasingly ironic. This trend is comprised of people writing, or indeed copy-and-pasting, poor and self-righteous generalisations that all footballers are shameless, extravagant gutter fodder with more money in the bank than the entire army gets paid in a year. Whilst I can’t argue that footballers perform a more important task than the forces, it is clear to me that it is grossly unfair to misrepresent both ‘the beautiful game’ and footballers themselves, while comparing them to a ‘heroic’ lifestyle with which it has nothing in common.
 Despite being a strong pacifist, I accept that soldiers sacrifice the safety and security of an office job to protect their own and other countries, and wake up each morning knowing that it may be their last. I don’t dispute that – Premier League players at least – are likely to live in relative luxury and unlikely to even consider that they will die on the pitch. But this is my issue: you don’t see the media giving Usain Bolt or Kevin Pietersen a hard time because they’re not on the front line. You don’t see Elton John being picketed for being richer or less of a hero than Jane the nurse or Jim the doctor. Why? Because there is simply no basis for comparison. Our idolisation of the army for their courageous martyrdom means we forget about the homegrown, ordinary heroes; doctors and nurses who routinely save lives as frequently as the forces do by killing off potential threats to security. The unsung scientists who make life-saving drugs. Humanitarian aid workers who deliver supplies to poverty-stricken countries where, although many people die nevertheless, they surely save many people. Even politicians who pass laws to make the country a safer place; bad press has been rife about the ‘nanny state’, but it is important to note that had Germany had the same laws as the UK in place, then perhaps the Love Parade crush would not have occurred and 21 lives would have been saved. These people are as much heroes in their own way as the soldiers are, even though they may not risk their lives. People forget that terror is not the only enemy.
 And yet, whilst these people deserve our utmost respect, it is fundamentally important that those who rely on a natural talent are not devalued. Those who write, sing, dance, carve, and, yes, play football may not save lives in the same way as those listed above, but they bring a distraction for the ordinary person to lose themselves in. That’s entertainment. Just because a boy who is skilled with his feet chooses to be a footballer because he shows talent does not make him a moron* or a coward, and he should not be treated as such by the same people who probably listen to artists whose members have lived wild lifestyles of excess; the same people are hardly going to write snooty Facebook statuses reprimanding Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger for not serving in any wars. (*Frank Lampard, despite having an Essex accent which would suggest stupidity, has an A* GCSE in Latin. That is not to be sneered at.) People value entertainment in general with more respect than perhaps it is worth, so why are footballers the only target of this haughty wave of vitriol?
 If it is the money, I find it difficult to justify the prices of the world’s top footballers. Yet for a start, I believe Formula One is a richer sport, despite requiring less skill (I may be grossly misjudging here, but it is worth noting that while debate rages over whether an F1 driver wins a race because of his car or his driving ability, the same is rarely asked of a footballer and the ball used). Racing drivers are also typical stalwarts of the celebrity party circuit, yet the online moaners ignore them. Secondly, saying that footballers should be paid less than soldiers is ridiculous on a fiscal level.  The state funds soldiers, not footballers, and if more taxes were required to increase the army’s pay – or if public services were cut back further for the same purpose – the moaners would be shouting about injustice from the rooftops. Yet more hypocrisy. There are also far more servicemen and women to pay than there are footballers who have top Premier League salaries, and as for lower down the league system – well, I doubt a League 2 footballer for Torquay United is on a salary anywhere near that of Wayne Rooney’s. Besides, a soldier – if he survives – can theoretically serve for thirty to forty years, whereas a footballer’s career is over within fifteen due to their diminishing speed and skill. So a footballer must accumulate his life’s earnings as quickly as possible before he is “past it”, as only a few are able to be pundits for TV or radio, or columnists for local newspapers. In an ideal world, life-saving would be rewarded with a pay packet greater than that of an entertainer, but as with pure Communism, the fair option is unfeasible in the practical world.
 And, although the media unwaveringly represents the champagne-and-cars glitz and glamour side of football, it glosses over footballers who use their financial standing for the greater good. I was surprised to learn that Didier Drogba, one of the top strikers in the world and the Premiership’s top scorer last season, spends much of his earnings on benefiting children in his native Ivory Coast, one of the poorest countries in the world, ravaged by poverty.  An article by The Independent (read it here) tells of Craig Bellamy, portrayed by the press as something of a lout, donating £650,000 of his own to form a youth league structure in the war-torn and fragile African country Sierra Leone in 2008. Ironically, it mentions in the article that the British army intervened in this civil war; the army helped end the war, and now a footballer is helping to make a future for some of the country’s children. The two may not have worked together – unlike the Football War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, one of the few instances of an intrinsic link between football and war – but it remains intriguing nonetheless that there is a tenuous link. Not all footballers may be philanthropists (the article mentions several others, including Niall Quinn and Robert Green, whose World Cup blunder can surely not undermine his altruism), but there is a whole underworld of goodness in football which goes unnoticed.
 In conclusion? Soldiers perform a more vital task than footballers. Yes, they probably do deserve more respect than footballers. But why should the online focus always be on these two pitted against each other? You may as well compare Beethoven and Blur for their musical qualities. There is barely any comparison, and where there are injustices, they are either unfeasible to put right or used to make the world a better place in third world countries. If you still persist on moaning about these things, go and sign up for the army right now. If you’re not going to do that, then STOP MOANING. You have no right to be self-righteous. Thank you, and goodnight.

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