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!