Players living in a moral vacuum

TITUS BRAMBLE is just the latest in a long list of high profile players caught up in scandals that have shamed his sport, and whether or not the allegations prove to be true, there can be little doubt that modern footballers are now living in a moral vacuum almost unrecognisable to normal society.

Quite when football shook off the everyday swings and balances that govern the rest of our lives is unclear but certainly the formation of the Premier League and the huge wages that arrived with it played a part.

But there are those who argue it goes much further back, to the days when the excesses of George Best and his champagne lifestyle set the tone for El Beatle wannabes who dreamt as much of celebrity and glamour as of success on the football pitch.

These days, of course, the two go hand-in-hand. It is no longer a fascination to see a footballer and Miss World posing together; instead being a Premier League footballer almost guarantees a glamorous wife and a glamorous lifestyle to go with it.

So many of the heroes that have followed in Best’s footsteps have been defined as much by their image off the pitch as by their success on it – and the crazy sums being paid to footballers has twisted the reality into increasingly ugly shapes.

Footballers drink and eat in places the normal man has no access to. And they have found that when you earn £100,000, you can buy absolutely anything – from hedonistic lifestyles to a ‘get out of jail free card’ when reality pops its unwelcome head around the door.

Of course it would be completely unfair to tar all footballers with the same brush. Many, probably the majority, are hard-working professionals who love the game, love the lifestyle and are, at heart, normal people with normal lives.

But it is also impossible to brush off recent controversies as the inexcusable behaviour of a tiny minority because the list is now so long that it points instead to a serious problem at the heart of the game.

The most recent scandal, of course, concerned the behaviour of Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, accused of cheating on his wife by regularly sleeping with a prostitute.

It came just weeks after Peter Crouch – one of the nicest and most genuine people you will find in football – was accused of a similar ‘crime’ during a stag trip to Madrid, even though he is engaged to be married to model Abigail Clancy.

Add in John Terry’s highly-publicised affair with the former fiancée of Wayne Bridge; Ashley Cole’s cheating on wife Cheryl, kiss-and-tell stories about Jermain Defoe or Frank Lampard and dozens of lurid headlines about the off-field life of Cristiano Ronaldo and you begin to build a picture of a lifestyle that is out of control.

Not all of those stories can be put down to a tabloid obsession for poking noses into footballers’ lives – and in fact they are at less serious end of the moral scale in comparison to the tales which really shame football.

Lurid stories about private parties where women are bussed in for players to take their pick give a better indication of how the moral compass of football has been lost.

So does a long list of rape allegations against a series of players at all levels of the game – not all of them leading to convictions – and regular stories of ‘roastings’, sex scandals and sex tapes that do little to alter the public perception of players who are over-paid and out of control.

The situation is complicated by the increasingly difficult and mistrustful relationship between players and the media – who are as alienated from the players they write about as the man in street.

There are exceptions – players like Frank Lampard who take time to speak to reporters, build relationships and speak civilly to those who interview him. But many players are now so cynical about the tabloid press that they walk haughtily past and refuse all contact.

Their argument, of course, is newspapers are now so intrusive in their coverage that they feel hunted and mistreated. But in fact there would be nothing to write about if players just behaved like normal people – fallible but with a moral compass and a desire to do the right thing at the heart of their actions.

That, unfortunately, appears to have been lost. Who knows if Titus Bramble fits into that category or whether he has done anything wrong – it would be completely unfair to judge at this stage – but football needs to act soon if it wants to end the destructive sub-culture that is eating away at its fraternity.


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