SOCIAL MISFITS

I’d sit mesmerised, watching the TV screen as the ball was launched from one end to the other. Back and forth; the quality of play wasn’t great, but just to be involved in it (albeit at living room level) was a whole new ball game. Manoeuvring your goalie – a very loose term for the animated rectangular, one-inch bar making its way up and down each side of the screen – to protect your end, whilst trying to fire it past the hapless nondescript at the opposite side of the telly.

FIFA 16 this wasn’t, but to me, Pong, was as close as I could get to playing football on the semi-colour, Ferguson 16-inch in the main room.

In truth, it was very little like football, and much, much more like table tennis (hence the name I suppose) but regardless, I had Peter Latchford at one end and Peter McCloy at the other, desperately trying to ensure that Latchford wasn’t having one of his off days, and if the score got just a little too one-sided, and the Girvan Lighthouse was having a stormer, there was always the reset button to take it back to nil-nil.

Funny that, but I never did manage to lose any of THOSE early derbies.

Sensible

From there we moved on to the ZX Spectrum and Galaxians and my first taste of Football Manager. Graphics were a thing of the future as matchstick men moved around the portable TV with all the stealth of a Subbuteo player on crack. And finally, magnificently, the Atari. The console that spawned the immortal Sensible Soccer and my brother and I’s first taste of sibling rivalry. Tiny players, careering around a 2d pitch with the finesse of a ballerina and a shot like Mons Meg. It became an art to position your midfielder, in between the dark and light green lines of the pitch, just inside the line of the post and drill an unstoppable cannonball into the bottom corner.

The difference to then and now though, was that these games never took the place of our football. Playing after school for a couple of hours, up for dinner and then back out ‘til it was dark. Only then was there time for a game of Space Invaders. Occasionally you’d snatch an hour after dinner, cumbersome console in hand, whilst waiting on the rest of the boys to finish theirs. Staggered dinner times as fathers came home from work were always a bain, as it meant the three-a-side couldn’t start until all the rest were finished.
Nowadays it’s as much as you can ask to get them to leave their room and come down FOR dinner.

The world is evolving alright. The digital boom has created a generation who have so much else to do, where everything is at their fingertips and the bedroom has become a social hub. They watch each other on tablet screens, whilst playing against each other on TV screens as they talk to each other on mobile telephone screens. It’s entirely our fault of course, providing everything they need to become an online whizz, whilst bemoaning the fact that they “don’t go out enough.” And then, we wonder why we aren’t producing any footballers anymore.

Would you have gone out as much with all that very obvious entertainment at your beck and call?

It’s a difficult conundrum, and one that will be almost impossible to overcome, balancing the demands of peer pressure with doing what’s best.

I don’t have the answer to that one I’m afraid, but when I first started playing professional football, Social and Media were the names of two different nightclubs, and not the very obvious distraction they are today. Facebook and Twitter were as much a thing of the future as Marty McFly’s DeLorean and the internet was a figment of Bill Gates very virulent imagination. In an age where social acceptance has become very public, players need to recognise and be very wary of their responsibilities.

The world of social media is a perilous one and rarely discriminates between high and low profile

Responsible

Recent cases including those of James McClean, Leigh Griffiths and Fraser Mullen, as well as past, high profile examples like Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Mario Balotelli and John Terry, all serve to highlight the dangers of the internet and social media.

Facebook and Twitter has become everyone’s ‘go to’ guy in times of need, want and boredom, and footballers it appears, are no different. However, why should they be?

I would never judge the rights and wrongs of what Leigh Griffiths said, I have always been of the belief that if footballers do wrong, then they should be dealt with by the appropriate authorities. If those authorities happen to be either the SFA’s disciplinary panels or the highest court in the land, then so be it. Trusting the judiciary system and taking your medicine is a fundamental of the democratic fabric.

Neither should it be for fans from any side of the football demograph to call for further punishment in some petty, ill-informed act of tribal retribution.

So have we come to the point then, when players need to stop using these very public forums? Frankly, yes. If players cannot trust themselves to attend a football match without singing an offensive song, or have a night out without sharing a shisha pipe with the next radical fundamentalist, KNOWING they are most likely to appear on Bebo, then they need to revert back to the attractions of the ten-minute freeview in order to amuse themselves.

As ridiculous as it sounds, clubs must also start taking responsibility and ban their own serial offenders from social media in order to save them from themselves.

Culpable

If FIFA 16 and Sensible Soccer aren’t going to be enough to keep them occupied, maybe filling their time with media education and the odd visit to a local community programme in its place would be a better option. That one or two stray, and make no mistake about it, it is a very low percentage of footballers who have fallen foul, is no surprise, however it is usually nothing more than human nature. Misguided antics are rarely borne of deliberate harm, and as such, an understanding that few are being routinely provocative, should be taken into account.
In my day, social media and fan interaction amounted to no more than having a penpal in Malta and signing the odd autograph outside the ground.

Turning up at the Easter and summer coaching camps and end-of-season Player of the Year dinners was seen as part of your club duties. There is a common held myth among fans that players don’t like doing their club’s form of National Service. In my experience, it is only those at the very top level, earning Sky’s millions, who will turn their gold-plated noses up at such events. They’ll be happy to put an appearance fee in their over inflated pocket at a BT sponsored event, but such is their distance from reality and fan engagement, that, should they ever make it to a presentation night in the Tower Hamlets Working Men’s Club, they’d be back out the door quicker than Jimmy Carr’s accountant at the Taxman of the Year Awards.

Good honest Scottish pro’s are more than happy to appear at club events. People like Chris Millar, James McPake, Ross Draper and Kris Doolan will have no problem taking their place among the Lochee Social Club hierarchy. These guys are earning a ‘normal’ living from the game and know they will have to go and work in the real world at the end of their career.

Recognising the importance of the fans input to the club and showing that you are willing to engage and network, is all part of the next stage. Being seen in a good light, taking time with people and being seen to make the effort, can all help as you prepare for that walk into the wilderness of the working man.

There comes a time when those magnificent, fulfilling and occasionally crushing playing days are over and there is no longer time in the afternoon to work those fingers to the bone, trying to improve your rating on Call of Duty.

Preparation for life in the real world begins long before the time actually comes to call it a day. Having a well earned beer at the weekend is just as fulfilling after a week of training and a good victory, as it is at the end of a 48-hour week of manual labour.

Next time you are out, and you bump into one of your heroes, or maybe even one of your rivals’ star players and you pull out the latest iPhone to get an adoring picture with him, remember that he may NOT be earning the millions that you think he is, and that he is probably more than happy to be there, engaging and listening to your stories of how you’ve supported the club for 30-years and this is the worst team you have ever clapped eyes on.

And hopefully it will make you think twice about posting it the next morning in the hope that you get him into trouble, or, God Forbid, that you get your own 15 minutes of cyber fame. After all, his only crime might just have been that he was enjoying himself.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before the November 1st release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

Online video previews and some funny stories are available to view here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=LhNoUigAoVg

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

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