Football Is A Cipher For All Social Ills: Kevin Pietersen Is Lucky He Plays Cricket
WRITING in the Times, Rory Smith looks at Kevin Pietersen and how football isn’t allowed to be a sport but seen as cipher for social ills:
Picture the scene. On the back of a particularly disappointing World Cup, one of the most gifted English footballers of all time is told, in no uncertain terms, that he will no longer be required by his national side, no matter what sort of form he is in. For almost a year, he holds his silence, keeping the game’s omerta under considerable legal duress.
Then, when he finally speaks, he lacerates almost everyone he came into contact with over the course of his decade-long international career. He lays bare a dressing room culture poisoned by gargantuan egos, riven by cliques, where younger, less experienced players are ruthlessly intimidated by senior professionals, but at the same time reveals a host of his own mistakes, his disinterest, his sensitivity, so easily confused with self-absorbed vanity.
He does not quite use that vintage Partridgean phrase – “needless to say, I had the last laugh” – but the whole memoir comes across as a brazen act of self-apologism, designed to skewer the reputation of his enemies and bolster his own self-image. It is a sordid, distasteful business, made worse when it emerges that factions within the Football Association were keeping a dossier of his behaviour, applauding his goals at the same time as sharpening a knife to plunge into his back when the moment comes.
And then imagine the tone with which each tawdry detail would be revealed and swallowed. Imagine the think-pieces in the newspapers about football’s rotten soul and the diatribes about these unimaginably wealthy young men who seem to encapsulate everything that is wrong and classless and twisted about modern society.
Imagine the disdain. Imagine the phone-ins detailing how football has lost its common touch, how detached it has become. Imagine the clucking Surrey dinner parties in which footballers are proscribed as awful, repugnant beings, not the sort of people you would wish to be associated with at all. Imagine the subtext of us and them, of old money and new, of Persimmon estate and council estate.
Kevin Pietersen has a book out. You might have noticed. What you will not have noticed is the phenomenon described above. You will not have noticed the issues he has raised being used to tar the image of all cricketers. You will not have noticed the creep into using the Pietersen case as a cipher for something more. You will not have noticed the subtext that these are rich, spoiled young men, and that they would handle their money and fame an awful lot better if only they were a little better educated.
This is because cricket – and rugby, and the Olympic disciplines – are not held to the same standards as football.
He’s spot on.