I used to have discussions with the Beatles about being role models. There was, and is, a section of society which says that if you are rich and famous, doing a job that millions of others would like to do, then you have a duty to set a good example. This varies from generation to generation. Having long hair, swearing, being rude to elders, chewing gum, eating in the street - those were seen as hanging offences not long ago.
Taking drugs, wrecking hotel bedrooms, sleeping around - that was considered awfully bad until, well, quite recently. It really pissed the Beatles off when they were reprimanded and criticised by various politicians and churchmen of the time for not behaving as they wanted them to behave. They didn't set themselves up as models of behaviour, so they said. They didn't ask anyone to copy them, they moaned. They just sang and played the guitar. Gawd, it seems centuries ago that such an archaic conversation ever took place.
But blow me, it's happened again. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has come out with a load of claptrap that I thought I would never hear again, this side of Mary Whitehouse. It's all about this Premiership footballer, still unnamed, who's been lapping it off with two women. A newspaper wanted to reveal all, but was stopped by a High Court judge who said that the footballer was entitled to his privacy. The newspaper went to the Court of Appeal - and Lord Woolf agreed that the names could be made public.
They haven't been, so far, as the footballer has appealed even higher, to the House of Lords, and they won't give their verdict for another week. In coming to his decision, Lord Woolf was quoted as saying, among other things, that "footballers are role models for young people and undesirable behaviour on their part can set an unfortunate example".
I'm not here to argue about rights of privacy. I don't actually care whether the footballer is exposed or not. What a lie. I do. I'll read every word. Why should his dressing room have all the fun? His fans pay his wages. They deserve every sordid detail. And the rival fans are going to love it. They'll chant his name like mad next time he tries to score, ha ha.
It's that one remark I object to. Politicians, or people who stand for election, asking the public for approval, have got to set good examples, or at least not get caught setting a bad example. Clerics and moralisers, who tell the rest of us off, they, too, have to behave. But as Amanda Platell observed in the New Statesman last week, footballers are not moral beacons. (Amanda, sweetie, can you keep off footer by the way, or at least tell us which player you fancy. Thank you.)
On the whole, the worse examples footballers are, the more we like them. Half of Gazza's attraction, even now, is his stupid behaviour. George Best is still a hero, remembered as much for his excesses as for his successes. Bad boys don't even get ticked off by their management, if they're good enough. Arsene Wenger never admonishes his players for red cards. Fergie stood by Cantona when we all saw him kicking the shit out of someone.
I bet that when this unnamed footballer is outed, the rival fans will instantly be chanting his name - not in hatred, despising him as the wrong sort of role model, but in awe and admiration. Semi-ironically, needless to say, hoping to put him off his stroke, ha ha. He'll smile sheepishly in return. Can't wait for the close-ups. Oh, I do hope the Lords allow publication.
I met a law lord at Cobblers Cove in Barbados in January, had dinner with him and his wife. My holiday chum. Seemed a sensible bloke, for a law lord. There are 12, apparently, but they sit in groups of five. I wonder if he'll get picked or just be a sub on the bench.
Lord Woolf was right in one sense. Footballers are role models to the young - because they fantasise about emulating the roles they play. Having all these dopey girls queuing up for you. Driving £150,000 Ferraris far too fast. Smashing up hotel bars. Not having to pay for anything, getting money for doing bugger all, never having to say sorry. As long as you are still in the team, doing the business.
I bet most of today's footballers had such fantasies in their heads when they were young. Yes, they dreamt about stepping out at Wembley, but just as often they were stepping out with a lap-dancer, driving her too fast, or sleeping with a blonde Ferrari.
Famous footballers should not be expected to behave any better than the rest of us. They are not modelling roles, just rolling a ball. Their behaviour off the pitch is irrelevant, unless it affects their performance on the park.
Except in one way. It's an interesting sign of the times, not the moral times, but the commercial times, in which our millionaire footballers now live.
Suppose that a footballer has a million-a-year deal with a cornflakes firm that uses him and his lovely family in its wholesome advertising, showing him having a lovely breakfast, eating his lovely cornflakes with his lovely children. And the next day, in the Sunday papers, some lap-dancing blonde nursery teacher describes his sexual inadequacies in brilliant, sorry, disgusting detail. End of contract.
Your role as a model person will be over for purely commercial reasons. Nothing at all to do with being ticked off by the Mary Whitehouses or Lord Woolfs of this world.