Why is it that the media can quickly label a highly skilled and dedicated footballer as having very little intelligence, when in fact the opposite is true?
Footballers generally are full of character, personality, grit and determination mixed with plenty of fun and laughter but the media seem to take great delight in stereotyping some of our heroes making them out to be halfwits.
Admittedly not all footballers would be allowed into Oxford or Cambridge but it does take a certain amount of intelligence to be successful, particularly at the top level.
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So why is this stereotype allowed to dominate the headlines?
The answer I believe lies in the countless football stories generated by the football community itself, including: managers, coaches, team-mates and TV pundits who seem unable to recount their tales without mockery or mirth.
One only needs to listen to Harry Redknapp describing his relationship with Paulo Di Canio to realise that in football everything is funny and there is always a clown involved.
At some point the mockery kicks in and although there is nothing to suggest that the storyteller intends to be disrespectful or insulting it is certainly on the borderline. It’s almost as if a story cannot be funny without reference to the “school dunce” or description of a “halfwit” activity.
There was an interview on Sky Sports recently with a very famous English centre forward who was describing the antics of a team mate (a full back of some note), in particular his attempt at finishing a crossword puzzle.
“It has 3 feet 4 letters begins with a letter Y?”
Apparently the full back had entered “Yeti” as the answer which drew some mirth from the rest of the team. It is this type of story which perpetuates the myth that footballers lack intelligence and while there is little doubt that they are happy to constantly take the mickey out of each other and share the mocking I do not believe that they are given the credit their brainpower deserves.
Having said that there are a glorious amount of hilarious stories particularly those written in autobiographies which appear to re-inforce the belief around footballer’s intelligence. There is also vast TV coverage where team mates are encouraged to mock and share stories and I have attempted to recall some without reference to victim names.
One particularly funny story which came from a newspaper interview involved a Scottish goalkeeper who was selling his car to a teenage midfield starlet. It was an old Ford Escort and as the two players took the car for a test spin the youngster noticed that the windscreen wash appeared to operate without our goalkeeper moving his hands. The reason for this of course was that the windscreen wash was operated by a push pedal situated under the clutch and all that was required was a slight adjustment from the left foot from clutch to washer pedal.
The youngster could not see this manoeuver and the goalie noticed that he was really puzzled by the mechanism for releasing the jet wash.
“How does that windscreen wash work?” he asks inquisitively. The Goalkeeper could not resist.
“It’s a new sensor that my brother has put in the door trim. As soon as I lift my elbow it sends a signal to the washer bottle and it squirts out just enough wash to clear the screen.”
“You’re joking” says the impressionable young man “Show me it again”
Once again the goalie moved his elbow slightly at the same time as he gently moved his left foot from clutch to washer push pedal.
“Wow that is incredible….I will definitely buy it.”
He then asks for a test drive and he can’t wait to switch on the screen wash with his elbow to see this new technology at work. Needless to say it doesn’t work so the Goalie tells him that the sensor is sensitive to certain elbows but he kept the story going by telling him the sensor could be adapted once the sale had taken place. You could not make this up.
This type of story is obviously open to all kinds of exaggeration so that by the time it is told and re-told it probably only half resembles the true tale but it does lend itself to the “all footballers are thick” mentality.
Liverpool legend Jan Molby is a very talented and polished after dinner speaker and tells very funny stories about ex-team mates. One particular tale involved a very famous forward who Molby described as “thick as a whale omelette.” Apparently they were in a pizza parlour and when the pizza arrived the waiter asked the famous forward if he would like the pizza cut into 4 pieces or 8.
According to Molby, our centre forward friend replied:
“Four pieces please I will never be able to eat eight in one sitting.”
Comedy quotes in football
Another football trait which points towards a lack of intelligence is the use of “comedy quotes” which appears to be almost a necessity for successful coaches and managers. It could be argued that Brian Clough was king of these quotes with little diamonds such as:
“I wouldn’t say I am the best Manager in the world but I am certainly in the top one.”
"Beckham? His wife can’t sing and his barber can’t cut hair."
It’s almost as if a pre-requisite for the position of football manager is to be 40% comedian and although this is changing as the game becomes more professional the use of humour is undoubtedly deeply embedded in the dressing room and beyond.
This tends to rub off on the football community itself which then encourages the really funny people in football; the fans. Some of the chants from the terraces are hilarious. My favourite was the famous Liverpool Kop singing to Barcelona striker Ronaldhino: “Cilla wants her teeth back.”
Funny men are intelligent
So the conclusion to be drawn is that the funniest football men are invariably intelligent people. It is also worth noting that comedians tend to be very good actors, and I suspect it's because of the skills of observation. Comedians also have to be quite introspective; with a passionate curiosity for "why we do what we do", and this curiosity about people is strongly correlated with intelligence.
The media may continue to portray footballers as unintelligent but it is an unworthy title and one that is perhaps tinted with a little envy. Life and football is funnier when you are happy, joyous and free.
Do you think the media give footballers a bad name? Are they more intelligent than is made out? Give us YOUR opinion in the comment box below!