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Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The sound of summer 2012 has been the constant clank of medals being put around the necks of British sports people and the rip-roaring success of London’s Olympics has led to plenty of chin stroking over the past couple of weeks about what lessons professional footballers in this country could learn from those who had the national anthem played in their honour in the capital.
The suggestion that Premier League players ought to be more like Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis or Sir Chris Hoy is an understandable one. It was impossible not to be moved by the amount of humility, good grace and old-fashioned sportsmanship on show at London 2012, but ‘Olympians are better people than Premier League footballers’ is a flawed argument.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to jump to the defence of John Terry, Joey Barton or Wayne Rooney – I know a losing battle when I see one – but tarring all football players with the same tabloid brush isn’t fair.
Who is the better role model? Olympian Dwain Chambers who represented Great Britain this summer, but only after winning a legal battle to overturn the Britsh Olympic Association’s policy of not picking anybody who has served a drugs ban. Or Grant Holt, a Cumbrian tyre fitter who has established himself as a Premier League striker through years of hard work and sheer determination.
By all means applaud our gold medallists every time you see them for the next four years and more; they all thoroughly deserve it. But it is worth considering that without similar levels of dedication to their chosen sport, our top footballers would not be able to meet the demands of performing in that intense spotlight 38 times a year.
They are handsomely paid for their troubles but, in a way, that is our fault. TV companies would not pay those astronomical fees to show games if no one wanted to watch them. Even after the buzz of London 2012, TV rights for domestic hockey, judo and sailing will be loose change compared to those eye-watering Premier League deals.
Perhaps the real reason that football doesn’t have that Olympic feel-good factor about it lays beyond the pitch. The penny dropped for me at Carrow Road on Saturday. Two of the biggest cheers of the afternoon came when the following results were put up in bright lights on the scoreboard: ASTON VILLA 1-3 EVERTON and BLACKPOOL 6-0 IPSWICH TOWN.
The respective failings of Paul Lambert, once totally adored by all at Carrow Road, and our ever-present rivals from down the A140 caused much joy and chuckling as people filed out of the ground. Football is tribal and that means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.
It’s a fair assumption that, by and large, most people who go to football matches were also interested in the Olympics, but they will have watched those sports in entirely different ways. The men’s 5,000m was Mo Farah’s second golden moment and those lucky enough to be in the stadium that night managed to celebrate it without composing an abusive song poking fun at silver medallist Dejen Gebremeskel or Thomas Longosiwa, who came third in that final. Had the crowd been wearing their replica football shirts or club scarves, Gebremeskel and Longosiwa would probably have been greeted with chants of “who are ya?” as they climbed on the podium.
So, yes, we would all like to see Match of the Day’s short cliché-ridden post-match interviews from which not very much is ever learnt replaced by the sort of emotion, honesty and humility shown after the big finals on the track and the Velodrome. But if there is one main reason why football is not like the Olympics it is because we do not really want it to be.
• ‘I WANT YOU ALL TO SAY CHEESE – ALL 500 OF YOU, PLEASE’
Most people have got cameras on their mobile phones, and that has led to one of my current pet hates – the trend of living a life through a tiny screen.
Just because you have easy access to a camera doesn’t mean you always have to use it. Virtually every crowd shot at a sporting event or concert now features someone, who will have paid plenty of cash for a ticket, filming it on their phone. I wonder how often they will replay that grainy image of Gary Barlow performing in years to come? Isn’t it better to watch it properly while you’re actually there?
While we’ve all become digital David Baileys we do not seem to have got much better at being on the other side of the lens. Most people still hate having their picture taken. How often have you carefully snapped one of your relatives before being ordered to delete it within seconds of your handiwork appearing on the little screen?
So it was with some trepidation that I took the mic at Carrow Road last week for Norwich City’s Biggest Ever Squad Photo. Tradition dictates a shot which comes out at the start of each season of all the boys lined up like a school year group in front of the City Stand. These are always worth looking at again in about March and picking out those smiling faces who at the time the picture was taken didn’t know it would be among the last times they would wear club’s shirt.
As well as the usual photo, the Canaries decided to invite supporters who had purchased the new kit to be in the stand with the players. A nice idea – and about 500 fans turned up.
My job was to point them to where they were allowed to sit, alert the organisers to any Portman Road-esque gaps in the crowd and tell everyone to say cheese at the appropriate moment.
I haven’t seen the final picture yet. It’s probably a good job the photographer kept the results to himself on the day.
With that number of fans and the entire Norwich City playing squad and coaching staff all in it we would probably still have been there days later and delayed the kick-off of the QPR game. Imagine the amount of “You’re not keeping that one, delete it now!” or “but the man next to me has got his eyes closed” potential.