If I asked you to describe the character of a typical Premier League footballer, outside of your own club, you’d probably give me the likes of; “overpaid, money-grabbing, disloyal, cheating, lazy…” and then perhaps your choice of expletive. You may well be right, but I’d be willing to put money on that description being well off the mark.
Let’s say I asked you know to describe their character outside the world of football. Some of you may stick to your previous answer, but those of you who give it some thought might decide that actually, these players are just trying to make the best possible living for their families and happen to have found a talent in a sport in which they are demonised by the media and fans of opposing clubs (see description above). Maybe I’m being too kind, but hold that thought.
As we enter into a European Championship year, the question on every English football fans lips is whether the Three Lions can deliver in France and restore some pride to the increasingly tarnished reputation of English international football.
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A flawless - albeit undemanding - qualifying campaign, coupled with the ladies’ success in Canada last year has re-established some belief that Roy Hodgson and his ‘young’ England side can put to bed, what is now, 50 years of hurt.
Despite this, the pessimism among England fans, win or lose, in recent times has been sizeable.
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England’s qualifying group was certainly not the easiest. Switzerland took eventual finalists, Argentina, to extra time in Brazil; so finishing nine points ahead of them with two comfortable victories is definitely worth celebrating.
Yet, England fans will get behind their keyboards and take their dissatisfaction to social media about edging past Slovenia or only putting six past San Marino. It’s a problem that has become deeply rooted in our nation’s culture and will only hinder our chances at major tournaments; the fans simply aren’t getting behind the players like the teams of Italia ’90 or the Euro ’96 side.
There may well be a simple solution to the problem that might just give us the defining edge come June: that solution is insights into the lives of the players.
We witnessed in September how Gary Lineker’s excellent documentary on the life of Wayne Rooney won him the support of the nation. It allowed us to delve into the day-to-day life of a footballer and Wayne turned out to be more relatable than many would have imagined.
Unfortunately, the media's portrayal of footballers is, generally, not a positive one. We hear of tantrums over already over-inflated wages and what we see on the pitch, in terms of diving and general stroppiness, does nothing to help the decaying stereotype of a footballer.
It’s easy to see how the likes of Wayne Rooney can become victim to abuse on the field and on media platforms like Twitter.
Giving players an opportunity to give their side of the story, in cases such as Rooney’s 2006 red card incident, allows fans to empathise with players and give them a degree of popularity that allows fans to give their unadulterated support, as they would give to their domestic club.
I’m not just talking about documentaries here, even something as simple as a comedy Youtube video in the England camp or even a remake of the famous “Three lions” song of 20 years ago, ideally featuring Hodgson as lead singer. Perhaps I’m over-thinking this, but you get the idea. It’s insights like this that normalise the players and allow the fans to get fully behind them.
The squad heading to France this summer won’t be the best on paper but if they go into it knowing that the general English public is 100% behind them it could make a crucial difference.
Insights are the only way we can stop the likes of Gary Cahill being described as “overpaid, money-grabbing…” etc. and mould the current England side into the heroes of past England sides. 50 years is long enough.
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