Larry Ryan: Footballers caught on back foot by cynics

Larry Ryan: Footballers caught on back foot by cynics

This week’s viral sensation was Caio, a kid playing football barefoot on a Sao Paulo street who pulled off an audacious flick.

The lad has seemingly since been invited to train with Santos. And maybe, just maybe, we have got in on the ground floor of a fairytale.

And we’ll be able to remember this moment, in 10 years’ time, when Caio has moved on to the Premier League, and we are vilifying him for all the failures of capitalism.

It was also a week when we remembered David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, a central figure in ancient Arsenal glories.

Ian Wright is incapable of keeping a lid on his emotions when his childhood friend is the subject.

It has always been remarkable to Wrighty that somebody from his manor should show him what could be achieved, despite everything.

And Wrighty took up the theme this week in an interview with Arseblog to mark the 19th anniversary of Rocastle’s death.

“Nothing happened for people from here,” Wrighty said, recalling the days when he ducked and weaved between poverty and crime. When he took inspiration from a kid four years younger than him who was making it at Arsenal.

When he got in on the ground floor of a fairytale.

Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ season two dropped Wednesday. Season one got us in on the ground floor of Josh Maja’s story. A kid of immigrant parents who grew up in the same part of London as Wrighty and Rocky. Who bounced around youth teams before making an impact in the north east of England.

Black Cats director Charlie Methven is the notional star of season two, setting his stall out in the first episode by declaring his intent to end Sunderland’s ‘pisstake party’ and slash costs.

Born for reality telly, Methven sees himself as a ‘big vision’ kinda guy. Who will “imagine things, and feel things, and express those in strategies”.

So, as chairman Stewart Donald gets on with offloading the club’s high earners, Methven begins work on making a fortress of The Stadium of Light by injecting an Ibiza vibe to the pre-match music.

Having been schooled at Eton, like Boris Johnson and many of his cronies, Methven has no difficulty imagining good things happening to people like himself.

They talk a good game, the brash duo, but at some point the realisation seems to dawn that talent will also be required if their big visions are to be realised.

As Donald acknowledges ruefully: “You can do everything else but you can’t play the game. You’ve no control. ”

Maja gets them out of jail in the first episode, with the first of many goals.

But they are only paying him a grand a week, so in the January window, he leaves for Bordeaux, reportedly adding another €60,000 to his wage slip.

Now we hear he’d love to come back to the Premier League and play for Arsenal like his childhood heroes. Meanwhile, Sunderland’s wait for a fairytale goes on.

It has been a deeply cynical week that has somehow cast Premier League footballers as public enemies.

Some of that cynicism has come from within football. Sunderland were among the first clubs to ‘furlough’ non-playing staff, and ask the UK government to pay their wages.

Naturally, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley wouldn’t be found wanting on the cynicism front and had his hand out quickly. While Tottenham, owned by Joe Lewis, who is reportedly worth around £4.5bn, also revealed plans to relieve themselves of responsibility to 550 workers.

But by far the most cynical contribution came from British health secretary Matt Hancock, who urged Premier League footballers to “take a pay cut and play their part” during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a precious few seconds out of the firing line for a government beginning to see its decisions measured in deaths.

And footballers seemed to have been briefly caught on the back foot. Perhaps some were checking which offshore territories they should post the cheques to, so their club’s cleaners could be paid.

But of course they were going to put their hands in their pockets, the kids who have overcome all the odds to climb to their fairytales at the top of the world’s only genuine meritocracy, based on nothing other than talent.

They will pay up, as they so often do, with their foundations that reach out to the people for whom nothing good happens, thanks to the policies of governments around the world.

The Manchester United players were first up, pledging 30% of their wages to the NHS that Hancock and his cronies have left underfunded.

And it was soon clear that their rivals would follow suit, and that they had planned to long before the cynics got involved.

Of course, most of the fans who flock to the Stadium of Light every week would love a grand a week.

They might be Sunderland ‘til they die, but their life expectancy is now lower than anywhere else in the UK, according to a report published last year. The decisions that brought a decade of austerity could always be measured in death. It just used to take longer.

Charlie Methven seemed to regard his new flock with a sort of fascinated curiosity. “They’re poor and they’re the people who voted for Brexit.”

A record crowd of 46,000 show up, as the Mackems dream scaled-down dreams of promotion from League One.

Local taxi driver Peter Farrer — the true star of the Netflix series — is among them, as always: “Half of these people haven’t got nothing. Half of them haven’t got a pot to piss in. But they’re here. ”

There is another cynical exercise early in the show, when the brash duo hatch a plan to fix the washed-out stadium seats that have turned pink, a neat symbol of faded glory.

They mightn’t have secured Josh Maja’s goals on the cheap, but they do even better with this plan. In a city with massive unemployment, fans flock again to change the seats, to work for free.

Drawing yet again on the goodwill of the people for whom nothing good happens. A few players get involved and it’s sold as a community effort, reviving ‘the soul of the club’. But Farrer has been around too long to be fooled. “It’s a good publicity stunt, no doubt about it. And people fall for it, man. Clutching at straws.”

But where would Britain be now without the goodness of people? Many from Sunderland have answered the call among nearly half a million already signed up to the NHS ‘volunteer army’, helping to bail out the government’s decisions.

Sunderland is known as Brexit City, with 61% voting ‘Leave’, though it might ultimately cost them the Nissan plant, the city’s main employer. Farrer has been around too long to be fooled by that either and has no time for Brexit.

Charlie Methven has since left the club to focus on his work as a political adviser, though he reportedly still owns 6% of Sunderland.

He was a member of the group Economists for Brexit and is on record as saying: “By exiting this sclerotic, old-fashioned protectionist block, the UK… can fulfill its economic potential.”

Always imagining big things.

One client provides a glowing testimony of his firm’s work to Spear’s, the wealth management magazine.

“Totally transformed the way I think about and address my wealthy client base. They weren’t cheap, but were great value for us. ”

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