Something great happened to me this week, my latest book We Ate All The Pies: How Football Swallowed Britain Whole was listed for the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year 2010 prize; the most prestigious sports book award in the UK.
Naturally, I’m super chuffed by this as are my publishers and literary agent as it confers some status on the book. It’s a recommendation of quality from a third party who has no vested interest in the book doing well or not.
Briefly, it allows you to believe that you are actually The Next Big Thing before your older, wiser head says otherwise and puts your feet back on the ground.
However, if it had happened when I was 18, it really would have gone to my head and I’d have gone on a decade long bender to celebrate. And that’s when I got to thinking about how our footballers must feel when, aged 17 or 18 they break into the first team and take the applause and occasional adulation of 1000s of fans. You’d only be human to have your head swell a bit.
We’re often very critical of the ego-fuelled, self absorbed antics of the modern high profile footballer, often rightly so. But we rarely stop to think just how warped out of shape your sense of self and ego must get when you receive the praise and love of 30,000 people a week from an early age. You would need to be a very stable character and have the level-headed support of friends and family not to go off the rails and start behaving like you are King Cock.
In that respect it’s probably unfair for fans to expect a high profile, successful footballer to be ‘one of us’ because he isn’t one of us, he is in a exceptionally weird situation where he is loved and loathed by members of the public. He earns a living while being sworn at and he can bring joy to thousands of people just by what he does on a pitch.
None of us really know or can even imagine what that’s like, so perhaps we should refrain from being too judgmental the next time some newspaper runs a lurid tale of a footballer behaving badly. After all, we’d probably do exactly the same thing.