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23 October 2019

Premiership players are spoiled rotten. Until they retire and real life comes calling

From 35 onwards, for most of our stars, then and now, their purpose, position and pleasures in life are over once they retire.

By Hunter Davies

Are Premiership footballers spoiled brats? That is what many fans think, when they hear of arrogant teenage stars who have still not made the first team crashing top of the range cars and burning £50 notes for a laugh. Even more resented are top players like Mesut Özil – on £350,000 week, sitting on the bench contributing nothing to the Arsenal cause.

But they are not all brats, especially not the foreign players, for they have had to overcome cultural and social boundaries, and survive prejudice and disappointment. But dear God, all Prem players, home-grown or otherwise, are certainly spoiled.

In Peter Crouch’s excellent new biography I, Robot: How to Be a Footballer 2, he has a section on the ordinary, day-to-day life of a footballer.

I always knew they were coddled and indulged, for I saw it at first-hand in the Seventies, travelling with Spurs. Clubs never want their players to be distracted, but in those days they still travelled on ordinary planes and trains, queued up at passport control, mingled with ordinary people. At the training ground, fans could come up and chat. Now they are totally removed from the real world.

Crouchy describes how on a three-day foreign trip they leave their own house with nothing but a washbag – no socks, no trousers, no spare underpants, not even a passport, as that has long been handed in to the club. For three days away, while training, in the hotel, going to the ground, they will only wear whatever is laid out for them. Before the game, they are even given the same slimline black Y-fronts.

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They will travel to the airport in a luxury coach with tinted windows and black leather seats, enter through a private terminal, board a private plane.

There is so much money at the top in football, so much at stake, that clubs have hundreds of staff to cater for the players’ luxuries and whims. Little wonder they are spoiled. They always were, since the 1880s when professionalism began. After a good game, stars found gold sovereigns in their boots. Today, the treats and comforts are at Hollywood levels. In a sense it is not their fault. They are considered precious, so they have to be protected.

But does it rebound, while their bodies are honed to perfection, does it make players mentally and emotionally less self-reliant, less able to make decisions for themselves? Top-notch teams, like the present Liverpool, have been so chosen and trained that they have enough determined, self-motivated players who can survive things going wrong, or the team playing poorly, as against Man Utd last weekend.

But watching a pathetic Spurs collapse, or England struggling against modest opposition, it is clear many don’t know how to cope. They are waiting to be told, for others to do it for them, wipe their noses, pull up their socks.

It is easy to envy their life from the outside. I did as a little boy, like billions of others, but if I had achieved my ambition to be a professional player, what would I be doing today? For a start, I’d doubtless be dead, probably 20 years ago, like many of my heroes from the 1966 England World Cup team.

Bobby Moore, dead at 51, achieved nothing once he retired, failed to get a decent job, and in the end felt abandoned by football.

From 35 onwards, for most of our stars, then and now, their purpose, position and pleasures in life are over once they retire, although these days they should have loads of money unless they have gambled or drunk it away. Marriages collapse, they suffer hellish arthritis, dementia and brain damage. Very few turn into Gary Lineker, carving out a brilliant new career. So don’t feel jealous of the modern player, with all his money and fame. Being spoiled does have its drawbacks.

Personally, I feel so sorry for the Man City players. Have you seen their new away kit? Officially their third kit. Imagine being forced to wear baby yellow shirts and pink shorts. Ugh, I have to avert my eyes. Even my granddaughters feel pity, giggling at the sight of these poor little multi-millionaires being forced to look so silly… 

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This article appears in the 23 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The broken state