Jeremy Fletcher's Blog

Giving up Football

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The road was not to Damascus but between York and Beverley. Somewhere near Pocklington I decided to stop watching football on the TV, and stop reading about it in the papers.

Not that I have been a fanatic – I support Bradford City after all. But I got in the papers a while ago when I wrote a spoof prayer for England and Ruth Gledhill put it on the front page of The Times, and journalists being what they are it gets trotted out every now and again. I’ve not seen a live game in a few years, but football has always been there, and Saturday or Sunday evenings have seen me watch MOTD more or less every week.

And I’m stopping.

Because…because Wayne Rooney is about to be paid Nine Point Three Six Million Pounds per year. Rising to Ten Point Four Million Pounds per year at the end of his next five years.

Silly point out of the way first: why quote footballers as pounds per week when everyone else is per year? Tell it like it is. Per year: Ten Million Pounds. That would pay for the Diocese of York. Just about.

And it hit me, on the A1079, that much as I enjoy seeing a beautiful move or a thrilling shot from twenty-five yards bulge the net (etc etc etc) I just can’t watch a game where someone gets paid that amount of money. There has to be something very wrong with us to think that football is worth that much. Its thrilling, and fun, and a bit of human life is there, and it gives you something to talk about down the pub and in sermons, and communities have their spirits lifted on occasions (I was in Hartlepool when they got promotion and there was a spring in the step for everyone for a while). But that is not worth one out of form player (with a gift) to be paid £9.36 million per year.

The Bible talks about labourers being worth their hire. I guess what saddens me most is that Rooney has only done what’s expected, and got the going rate. That’s why it’s football which has depressed me, not just Man U. Society needs entertainment, artistry, a lifting of the spirits, and professional sport can do that. But not at this cost. What are the values of a society  which believes that Wayne Rooney is worth £10m per year?

I’m sure that the BBC will not notice that I’m not watching. Nor will the Daily Telegraph know that I turn now to page 10 of the so called Sports section.  And I’m sure that there are other sports which have similar out-of-control stories to tell. But Rooney’s new contract is my particular straw. When Bill Shankly said that football was more important than life or death he knew he was being ironic. There is nothing ironic in the financing of 21st century football. And I don’t want to watch it any more.

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