Why aren't there more footballing graduates?

It's very hard to predict things in football. Or in life. Or in death, come to that. Columbus died ignored and in poverty. Then he became a world-class hero. Someone even proposed him as a saint. Next he became a world-class bastard. All in 500 years. Baden-Powell, in the 50 years or so since his death, has fallen from his pedestal to become a decidedly dodgy character. Five years ago Dion Dublin was reckoned pretty useless. Now look at him. Flavour of the weekend. No, I didn't say which weekend. It could all change. So we'll move on.

One of the football things I tried to predict was the effect of satellite TV money. Premiership players would become millionaires. Most people predicted that. Star players would turn into prima donnas, more important than their managers, able to demand and dictate anything they wanted. Not everyone saw that coming. Agents would have a great time. Everyone said that.

While I welcomed regular live matches on telly, giving me something to do of a wet winter's night, I predicted that having so many live matches would have an adverse effect on attendances. It was obvious. They were bound to go down.

I always find myself torn, when it's Spurs or Arsenal on Monday night, as I already have a ticket, paid for in advance. All I have to do is get myself there. Then I think, hmm, but it's live on telly. What should I do? It will mean I can't have my usual glass of wine with supper, OK, half a bottle of wine, all right bottle of wine, I hate people who count, not if I'm driving there. And if I drive, I have to allow an extra two hours for the round trip, two hours out of my life which I could save by not going. Watching at home, you do get all the angles, all the action replays. But come on, I'm a football fan. I like it real. Up to the very last minute, I keep telling myself I'm going. But for the last three midweek matches, I've found myself not going.

So predicting from my own personal behaviour would be wrong. The fact is that crowds have not gone down since live football came in. They have increased. Strange, really. I still don't understand it. Perhaps it's to do with almost all Premiership seats being season tickets now. People have paid in advance and don't want to waste their money. Apart from me. But then I do have a high-earning wife.

Or perhaps it's because the football really is much better. Thus more and more people want to watch it. It would appear that it can't be harmed by overkill on the telly. So far.

And it has to be said that the improved football is partly due to the new money, bringing in foreign players. British clubs can now afford to attract and pay the best in the world.

Most of us, down the pub, over lunch, would agree with all that. But with advances, innovations and new developments there are side effects you never think about.

I suppose it was obvious that most players would spend their new money on faster and flashier cars, faster and flashier women, while a handful would succumb to drink and drugs. What I didn't imagine was what some players might do, those of a more sensitive nature. They might, for example, wake up one morning and think, I don't have to take all this. I feel permanently knackered. I'm fed up with the pressures. I don't need all this, not when I've got two million stashed away. In ye olden days, this was impossible. Even if it had ever entered their sensitive little heads, they couldn't have afforded - voluntarily - to give it all up.

But this is precisely what Cantona did last year. Still at his height, he chucked it all in. Amazing. This season we have seen Brian Laudrup deciding he's had enough of Chelsea and being messed around, preferring an easier if less remunerative life in Denmark. Peter Schmeichel has told Man Utd he's leaving at the end of the season. Fed up with too many matches and having only 12 days' holiday a year.

Three examples, each I'm sure with slightly different rationales and personal reasons, but in each case none of them has been forced out. They chose. Because money has given them the freedom to choose. It's a side effect of having millionaire footballers I didn't foresee, and I bet managers didn't foresee. Players are rich enough to jack it in when they feel they've had enough.

Now for something that hasn't happened. In this age of the mega-bucks footballer, where are the middle-class players, or those with university degrees? I would have expected a goodly number by now. After all, football is about the best-paid job for a young man. Yes, it's insecure, but then so is going into a bank, into the City, becoming a lawyer or accountant, as you can be made redundant at any time.

Twenty years ago, we had Heighway and Hall in the Liverpool team, both of them graduates. And a scattering of graduates elsewhere in England and Scotland. Then there was that public schoolboy who played for Arsenal, whose name escapes me. I can't think of any graduates in the Premiership at the moment, or any from a middle-class background. Yet the crowds are filled with the middle classes. Every weekend on Hampstead Heath I see hordes of little middle-class kids, aged about ten, doing football training. What happens to them? Too soft, or what?

Tony, get on to Euan and Nicholas. Tell them it's where the future lies. It's where the money is. Football is global, cross-class, cross-culture. And still expanding. Cherie, you know the bar is far too competitive these days. Encourage your lads into a profession which has respect. They can travel, have doors opened for them, pick up languages, not to mention fast cars and flash girls. You know it makes cents . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, How the left hijacked the family