These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gems Amongst The Greedy

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Walton and Hersham 26th November 2005

So an overpaid Roy Keane has been booted out of Manchester United because he couldn’t keep his mouth shout about other seriously overpaid players who weren’t pulling their weight. I’ll say this about Keane, in a football world managed by PR agents at least he’s honest. In the 12 and half years he had at United, he would have seen how football superstardom can go seriously to your head with plonkers like Rio Ferdinand able to demand a massive pay rise despite being suspended on full pay for eight months. But Ferdinand obviously can’t survive on his wages, and is always on the look out to find more ways to market himself. You can now pay £4.50 to download a message on your mobile phone with him telling someone they’ve been dumped!

But its not just me, I recently stumbled across one football website, where some of the vitriolic against Premiership players made me look like a shrinking violet.

“They're children in men's bodies. Solipsistic (I don’t know what that means either), selfish, greedy, lacking emotional maturity; the worst traits that many of us had as children are still present in these stunted boys. The journey into adulthood is marked by the realisation that you're not the centre of the universe and now I'm pathetically grateful for any gift I'm lucky enough to receive because I understand the thought that goes into it. Is it really any surprise that these horrendously spoilt men, who earn in the region of £100,000 per week and in some cases more, really couldn’t care a less when they lose what they perceive is a meaningless game. Do they really understand what it means to the fans who pay so much to follow them around the world? I doubt it.”

Another added “I know a friend of mine once met a Premier League footballer who was a few sheets to the wind in a bar; when asked what he thought to his team's fans he replied something unprintable. I think that's got a lot of truth to it. Having too much money too soon prevents you from growing up properly; having everybody telling you how great you are prevents you from growing up properly; being almost entirely devoted to one small aspect of human experience prevents you from growing up properly.”

But amongst the greed and avarice I’ve come across a couple of stories that warm the heart

Take Damiano Tommasi who plays for Roma. While some of his team-mates earn millions (Francesco Totti, for example pockets around £8 million a year) he has requested a salary of just over a grand a month. After being out of the game for months with a knee injury, the 31-year-old player said he simply wanted to return to playing football at the highest level and economic considerations were low on his list of priorities. A modest salary was enough for his needs, he said, and he was still earning more than many ordinary Italians. His gesture has led to him becoming a hero in football-mad Italy, and even the Vatican has given him the thumbs up.

Tommasi - a former altar boy and practising Catholic, has always been a favourite of the Vatican - but the public endorsement of the player is unusual. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper said: “Damiano has always thought that a famous footballer has a responsibility as an example to young people and he has always modelled his behaviour with this in mind.”

Speaking recently before a group of young people, Tommasi said: “Kids see us as idols and we have to give a good example. I do a job that I love and I get a lot of money for doing it. This is a joy but also a big responsibility.”

Football clubs have also been known to show their soft side, but it is not often that a top European club hands its shirt and its cash to an army of balaclava-wearing guerrillas fighting for autonomy in a large chunk of their country. Last year Inter Milan donated a few thousand, an ambulance and the captain's No 4 black and blue team shirt to one of the strongholds of the Zapatista revolutionary army in a gesture of solidarity. The Zapatista army - who began their armed campaign for indigenous rights in 1994 – are concentrated in a few strongholds dotted around Chiapas in Southern Mexico where they are fighting for autonomy, putting it into practice without waiting for government permission.

Argentinean star and team captain Javier Zanetti, talked his club into donating its changing room fines to help one village rebuild after it was attacked by government military forces. In a note to the village, posted along with the first instalment of cash, Zanetti wrote "We believe in a better world, in an unglobalised world, enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people. This is why we want to support you in this struggle to maintain your roots and fight for your ideals." The donations have helped the villagers to rebuild houses and water pipelines, and the club has offered to supply football gear and balls for budding Zapatista footballers.

With so much cash in football there will always be people on the make, but if you look a little closely there are also those that realise just how lucky they are to be playing ‘the beautiful game’ at the highest level.