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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dan's Debate: There Is More Good In Football Than Bad

By Dan Sampayo

“Someone once said to me, ‘to you, football is a matter of life and death!’ and I said ‘listen, it’s more important than that.”

Bill Shankly’s most famous quote, possibly the most famous in football, defines life for a football fan. Any boy or girl who grew up playing football in the park with their dad, or craning their neck above fat men in smoky pubs trying to watch the match will understand. Kids that stayed up late on a Saturday to watch Match of the Day and players like Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and Thierry Henry will instinctively know the passion.

The death of Gary Speed last weekend, however, threw this quote into stark reality. Is football truly a matter of life and death? Of course not.

The passion and love for football that we have could never be more important than the death of a fellow human being. Last weeks tragedy highlights the unity within the football community, and hopefully does some 
help to removing stigmas and misconceptions of modern football fans and players.

Lazy, arrogant and overpaid tend to be the standard insults that players receive. Fickle, violent and thuggish would be the description of a football fan. This, however, is a gross generalisation, made by those who assume an unfair vendetta against football and are too lazy to come up with their own arguments.

It neglects the extensive work that footballers do for charities and youth in their communities. For example, Emmanuel Adebayor, currently plying his trade at Tottenham Hotspur, is often considered the epitome of a lazy, selfish footballer, despite the fact he gives a large sum of his weekly wage to Togolese charities.

Wayne Rooney is another who became a villain in Britain when his contract negotiations with Manchester United stalled. What most people failed to realise was the good work Rooney does behind the scenes. He is an ambassador for SOS children, supports UNICEF and the Willow Foundation, and gave money in aid of the clean up after the London riots.

It would be interesting to see how much time and money we give to worthy causes. Just because their charity work is not as blasé as celebrities shamelessly appearing on Children in Need and Comic Relief in a bid to enhance their credibility, does not mean they should not receive the same respect.

As for the modern football fan, the greatest example I can give is the way Gary Speed’s death was handled in stadiums up and down the country. Fans of teams that had no affiliation with Speed rose to their feet and applauded a beloved player, showing great respect with a minute applause. A similar phenomenon happened when ex Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham player Dean Richards died; the football community united and mourned together.

 Mark Vivian Foe, a Manchester City midfielder playing for Cameroon, suffered a heart attack whilst on the pitch, and later died, and received similar tributes. He was decorated with the ‘Commander of the National Order of Valour’, has a memorial at Maine Road and received tributes from footballers and managers worldwide.

I’m not trying to say that the football world is perfect, but the criticism levelled at players and fans alike can be found in any profession. Football, despite being structured by divisions, is one of the greatest unifying tools we possess. Whether it be bringing fans together on a Saturday or British and German troops and agreeing a kick-about in no man’s land on Christmas Day during the First World War, football is a unifying force.

Is the country more united when some ‘wannabe’ is singing another person’s song in an American accent on the X factor, or when Beckham is scoring a free kick against Greece? When some D-list celebrity has fumbled their way through the rumba or when England have put five past the Germans in their own backyard?
Never is England, or any country for that matter, more united than when they are competing in a major tournament, and that is something that you can’t manufacture.

 Bill Shankly was wrong when he claimed football was more than a matter of life and death, but football, and what it does for communities worldwide, means it does not deserve the criticism it receives on a daily basis, and it remains one of the most powerful entities in the world at bringing people together.

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