How players attitudes to fans have changed over the years – and what’s to come

Player fan relationships, then and now, plus the sea change change after Corona is finally gone by Jon Fox

When I began idolising Arsenal and our players back in the late 1950’s, life was so different and players were living lives not much dissimilar to that of most fans. The average working wage was around £10-£12 pw and my Dad, by owning a small family business, was able to pay his elder son, me, a huge ten bob a week pocket money. It was two bob, aka two shillings, or ten new pence today to watch us and most other clubs, even Spuds cost the same, which you might well have thought was only worth tuppence but they were top dogs in North London back then, and certainly by their ONE AND ONLY (that needed saying!!) ever Double year of 1960-61 we lagged behind.

Players were then earning twenty to fifty pounds at best or so and in, I think 1961, the Fulham Chairman, a well known comedian (really!) called Tommy Trinder, let it be known he had paid Johnny Haynes, then Fulham’s star player and England regular, the princely sum of £100 pw. This caused shock waves throughout the game and a year later in 1962, our then new star player, George Eastham, who was a skinny wizard in midfield, began a court case against his former club Newcastle, who had tried to retain him even though his contract had expired. He won in court and thereafter players were free to move once their contract was finished. Shades of Auba, quite soon now. So blame the “ghastly” George Eastham, a brave and pioneering player whose name will forever be in football history, consequently.

Fans back then were not, by and large, jealous of players wages and most recognised that as entertainers they were entitled to a good wage, but also knew that unlike today, players had to work after retiring and were ordinary people with mainly ordinary lives when away from playing football. By stark contrast, many of today’s players live lives that no ordinary fan could even dream of doing, and thus a certain amount of mostly veiled hostility is present when players individual wages are discussed. Ozil’s large wage is perhaps the best example of this sea change in fans’ attitudes towards players, as it is common for fans of any club to ignore however much a player is earning, until his form drops off and he then gets criticised, often mercilessly, on social media. Decades ago, of course, social media was not even a future concept in peoples minds and so fans knew and accepted “their place”. But players back then did not see themselves as special people and interacted with fans much of the time.

Though only a schoolboy, I remember Billy “Flint” McCullough, our left back, ruffling my hair after he had showed me how to hold a putter when he saw me at Grovelands Park, Southgate, holding the club incorrectly and then showing me how to hold it. Well over half a century later, I remember this clearly – though I could not begin to tell you what I had for dinner just last night, but I digress! Such happenings helped bind fans for life to their club, not that I needed any hair ruffling, and anyway dear old Flint would have a job finding much now!

Another time several years later, I found myself on the Piccadilly Line on route to Arsenal on match day and who should be sat next to me but Ray Kennedy. I asked him if he was to play that day and he replied that he thought he’d be sub. But the point was that he travelled by tube to the game. No swank, or half-a-house priced car, and a commissionaire to clear the way when fans surround it.

I do NOT think that players today are much, if any, different today from back then. Not as people, but their lifestyle and sheer wealth plus those damn head phones they always wear and which I loathe to see, sends the message to fans, “I am the star and all you can do is look at me and smile, while I walk by listening to music, and not interacting with you”! Am I being unfair and am I being an old fogey (which I AM!!) by thinking todays players could act more like normal humans and less like film stars?

I have long lamented the huge wage increases, out of all reality of what even the best players provide to society, which has to me at least taken much of the fairness out of the game. When you add in the mostly, though not all, parasitic agents and their control over the players which so often holds clubs to ransom, you easily see the damage done when a sport, and a wholesome sport at that, became a corporately run business. This mostly happened from 1992 onwards, when the Premier League was born.

Ironically then, the game itself and pure technique and general fitness of players has speeded in one good direction, while the whole BUSINESS of the game has regressed into into the basement and even quicker. We fans are now at the mercy of TV companies, especially Sky and BT Sports, who care nothing about fans and the inconvenience those who attend have to their own lives from changed schedules. Brilliant marketing and well known pundits in the studio make the broadcasts usually very watchable and we pay through the nose for that privilege.

I admit to being old school – I said I am a fogey – but I am also fair-minded, or flatter myself that I am, and I detest the whole unfair treatment of ordinary fans by filthy rich players, by leech agents, rapacious TV companies execs, and the sheer way that it has been widely acepted that this is now the fans lot, and we either like it or lump it.

Now I have always also prided myself on being a free thinker; some will violently disagree and I well understand that, but I see very clearly a major change on the horizon and caused entirely by the aftermath of this tragic virus that is going to throw the hugest of spanners into top footballs future, in my view.

Consider my opinion please that we are most unlikely to witness ANY more Premier League football at all this whole calendar year. Many will shout “nonsense” and that is a legitimate view, until you think through the logical steps of where we are now and then the following step, then the next one and so on, until it becomes fairly easy to see that the chance to play again this year has gone. And what will the financial outcome be? Why, real shortage of money coming into the game of course. That is easy to foresee and also to see many of the consequences. I see huge changes to players wages and for a long time to come; for agents too, and also clubs inability to pay huge wages again. I even predict a law quite possibly coming in to force clubs to cut wages and override contracts signed.

This crisis has hugely changed society, as we are all finding out on a daily basis. To expect the game to go on as before without a huge change to the whole fan/player and even fan/club attitude being unaffected is naive in the extreme. It will hugely affect Kroenke too and the ramifications of that, my fellow Gooners, may be the best news we have for some long time to come.

Stay safe and stay home if you possibly can!

Jon Fox

15 Comments

  1. Jah son says:

    A fair read but far more was expected from a writer and thinker with much talent.
    1. No real solution to player salaries and abuse
    2. No apologies for fans behavior such as your self.
    3. Fans and media house push players away with abuse of not only their person but also family members.
    The article neither defended fans nor slate players but just pointed out the issues we face.
    For me I think players wages should be kept private and fans attention should be on football and charity events such as community building. Why do doctors and pilots and politicians and the list goes on get such big wages for the mistakes they make.
    Some people just look past the fact that players leave their homeland sometimes having to learn a new language different altitude different culture new teammates and the list goes on.

    1. jon fox says:

      Jah son, I do take your important points but there is only so much space and I have a great deal more to write in many Arsenal related matters – though I try to avoid the more mundane team selection debates and who will come or go etc when I write articles – and will now be doing so.

      I am trying to encourage others who REALLY have something of import to tell us , to also submit articles as, IMO, we have been over reliant on a few who write so regularly but have little of human interest to add. Many of which articles are repeated ad infinitum, though merely rephrased.

      I will tackle the mainly very fair points you make and will get to them. I appreciate your comments, as we all need help.

      1. Jah son says:

        I actually saw your headline in a different space than just arsenal which shows that the appeal is there. As you’ve agreed and pointed out their are many pressing issues that needs highlighting but no haste as I also agree with you that the season is over.

  2. Jahben says:

    If this crisis forces Kroenke to sell up then I’ll be one very happy fan. Stay safe fans .

  3. GunnerJack says:

    Very interesting article and nicely written Jon. I agree on some points but not on others of course – we all have our own opinions. Anyway I enjoyed it – well done.

    1. jon fox says:

      Much appreciated GunnerJack and skilfully put too! I will be contributing more often from now on. Why not do do yourself too, as you too have also been “round the block a few times” and must have much life experience to share?

      1. GunnerJack says:

        Like you Jon I don’t want to write about those subjects which appear on here as if on some sort of production line. I much prefer to come up with a new subject or a completely new take on an old subject.
        Your choice of subject was excellent at this point in time, with no actual football to write about and, for instance, made a refreshing change from the constant barrage of ridiculous transfer rumours. According to some, we’re going to have at least 10 centre backs when play resumes!

        1. jon fox says:

          Oh, We are way over 10 CB.s surely ! More like 197 and rising hourly. In all THAT lot, we MAY,just MAY, find one who is not a clown! But non clown CB’s rarely come to Arsenal these days, though I hold out great hopes for Salibi and Mari.

      2. patH says:

        Jon, I totally agree with you about the future of financial aspects of the game. You are right when you point out that clubs will have to seriously reign in their outgoings and in many cases this will not be enough for some to survive. The days of the Million pounds transfer fee has long gone, all new contract will have a serious reduction in wage attached to them.The most probable outcome will be , at least in the short to medium term, clubs will tend to retain their existing players and do only the absolute minimum in terms of buying or selling. For fans to say. buy this player, sell that player is pointless, its not going to happen.

        1. jon fox says:

          pat H, Yes, common sense to you, to me and to many . But why are there always so many fans who just refuse to see what is right in front of their eyes? Serious question too and my eyes are no better than most and worse than some.
          I just feel that sadly, there is a type of human who has not the moral fibre -and I put it as starkly as that – who will NOTsee , no matter how much evidence, things they do not want to see. Dear old Wenger used to say “Ah I did not see it” but all ratinal fans well knew thatwas just managerspeak for someone not wishing to denigrate his own team and most often he was right to say it, even though most KNEW he DID actually se it. But that is quite different from fans who , GENUINELY, will not see, who actually REFUSE to see at all costs, what normal fans can see. As a a child,I had a maiden Aunt who was the most awful bigot, a racist and plain nasty ,uncaring person. As I got into my teens I began sending her views up, in her presence and deliberately so, to TRY to show her the sheer stupiditry and plain ignorance of all bigotry and racism. I became and remain very skilled with the spoken word at so doing and having a great way with words, even more where tone and pitch are amazing allies with the spoken words, I made the most overt of direct insults to her face . But I always avoided saying “YOU are a frightful bigot, Aunt ” and would instead say ” I am sure you will agree that bigots and racists are bad people aren’t they Aunt!” And she would agree, completely unaware that I was actually and deliberately insulting her.
          THAT was the level of moral cowardice, sheer dull wittedness and plain nastiness that prevents truth being perceived,IMO. And it is precisely THAT same level of ignorance that prevents some Goners and SOME fans everywhere from seeing the plain and obvious huge sea change that this virus and its aftemath will have on football. IT IS AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON OUR FACE TO ME AND TO YOU. And thank god, to most folk. But it is going to happen and when it does, those idiots are in for the most huge shock of their lives. Sorry for the verbiage but I WANTED TO FULLY EXPLAIN MY VIEW.

  4. patH says:

    Jon, Just an aside, but apparently Barcelona are asking players in all their sporting teams to take a 70% cut in salary. It appears most players are in agreement. This just reinforces the view that even the richest are going to have to exercise restraint if they are going to survive this pandemic.

    1. jon fox says:

      patH, How very interesting and I had not heard this. But many other teams will follow, either voluntarily or by law, since football cannot survive as it has been til now once so many clubs are in dire need of money to carry on. Some big names will go to the wall otherwise. I am thinking of some famous championship clubs andlower down too.

  5. ken1945 says:

    Jon, a good read that describes life in general from our day to the present regarding values – both in money and respect.

    I also remember standing up for teachers, respecting the law, being in awe of Doctors and meeting our players as an equal.

    I don’t blame any player for this, it has become the way of the world.
    I just feel they are losing that closeness with the fans that we had….a sense of belonging I guess.

    patH, I read that Song and Djourou(?) refused to take a pay cut, probably down to their last million or two!!!

    1. jon fox says:

      KEN, And Pep Guardiola has given a million euros of his personal money to a Spanish hospital. Of course , he can well afford to but many football folk will be keen to do all they can to help. Others sadly will not and will fight to keep every penny. Agents, though not all, will be one of the greediest group.

  6. ClassyGunner says:

    Dear Jon, it was a pleasure reading your very well written article. Than you very much. Would highly appreciate if you could write a few more of these “avoiding the mundane” , as you mentioned in a comment, articles.

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