• Faded Glories

    Entire forests of newsprint, and terabytes of online opinion, have been devoted to the 'evils' of Premiership footballers' salaries.

    We've read how Rio Ferdinand should be addressing the famine in southern Africa, instead of test-driving the latest Bentley, and how Michael Owen now owns North Wales and most of Cheshire. Ashley Cole himself, told us in print, about the time he threw his mobile phone, at the sheer anguish of hearing the news that Arsenal were offering him an insulting 80,000, weekly.

    Right now, the representatives of Luca Modric are busying themselves, in trying to extricate their client from his 70,000 per week contract at Tottenham, to allow him to double that at Chelsea. Poor Carlos Tevez finds himself marooned in a city with only two restaurants, on a salary that would allow him to open a new one every week, should he have the desire or imagination to do so.

    These salary levels are clearly to the detriment of the game, insofar as they are crippling clubs' finances and driving up ticket prices. There is one more manner though, in which fans of all clubs, across the leagues are losing out.

    This summer, the outrageously gifted, though disgracefully reckless, Paul Scholes retired from the game, having served his club with distinction for the best part of two decades. Along with his team-mate Edwin van der Sar, he went out 'at the top' - playing for one of the world's elite clubs, in a season that took them to a domestic title and the final of the Champions League. Paul Scholes is only 36 years old, and whilst he clearly felt his legs could no longer carry him at the highest level, he could surely still run the game, a division or two lower.

    Famously, Scholes is an Oldham Athletic supporter, and his fellow Latics fans have long fantasised about the possibility of the 'best midfielder of his generation' ( Zinedine Zidane) enjoying an Indian Summer with his boyhood idols. The player even spoke of it, years ago, presumably before the reality hit, that in the absence of any kind of financial imperative to slog round league one for a season or two, the desire to do so wasn't actually there.

    In another era - before Division One was division three, and long before Sundays were trademarked as Super - those fantasies might have come to pass, and Scholes might indeed have been starting this coming season as an Oldham player, taking his bow at Boundary Park, before enjoying back to back trips to the footballing outposts of Yeovil and Scunthorpe.

    A once-great footballer, reaching the end of his top-flight career in 2011 has plenty of options. If he wishes, he can simply sit back and count his money. Those who find it too much off a wrench to lose contact with the game completely, travel the well trodden career path from professional footballer, to professional ex-footballer - put their name to a column in the Star, talk banalities with Talk Sport and yell "Unbelievable Jeff" down the phone line, from Edgeley Park on a match-day.

    In that other era - before footballers interested gossip columnists, and when there were a total of a dozen sports broadcasting jobs available - the same footballer knew that once he hung up his boots, he could either open the obligatory pub or sports shop, drive a taxi, or 'coach' random children for the summer season at Butlins in Minehead.

    With only such mundane inevitabilities awaiting them, the star player of yesteryear clung to his playing career for as long as his tired legs would carry him - dropping down the divisions, in search of an ever dwindling pay packet. As he descended to each subsequent level, the last lingering lustre of that stardom, raised a glimmer of excitement in his new club's fans, at least in the short term.

    It was in such circumstances that Brighton fans greeted the arrival of 38 year old ex-international Frank Worthington, in 1984, with a sense of great anticipation. Although the club were only in their second season out of the top division, a new, starker reality was already very much evident, so the arrival of such a household name was big news locally.

    Frank - glamourous.

    To my 13 year old eyes, Worthington appeared to stroll casually around the Goldstone pitch, showing the occasional flash of brilliance, but contributing little of note. The records state that he actually scored a respectable seven goals in thirty one appearances that season, which surprised me somewhat.

    My recollection is of a succession of 'clever' flicks, into spaces noticeably absent of fellow Albion players. Those who knew better, explained to me that this was because Frank was "too good" or "two steps ahead of the rest", although truth be told, it did seem to my nascent football brain, that kicking the ball to nobody, wasn't really very 'good' at all. The Albion have had plenty of players since, who have done much the same, without the same generous suggestion ever being afforded them.

    At the end of that season, Worthington moved onwards (and downwards) as was the way, sprinkling his remaining stardust at Tranmere, Preston and Stockport, then a further ten non-league and amateur clubs, before finally hanging up his boots at the age of 44. At the majority of those clubs he achieved little, but his presence added something to the history of every one of them. Fans love to see a star name, however far his glory has faded.

    Sadly, thanks to the riches available to top players now, the likes of Frank no longer exist. Wayne Rooney won't play for Burnley, Bury, and Accrington before finishing his playing days at Fleetwood Town. You will never buy your new trainers in Frank Lampard's shop, and if you send your kids to the soccer school at Butlins in Minehead, they won't be put through their paces by former internationals.

    Sky's millions make for richer footballers, but make the lower league fan's world, a poorer place.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gilliver's Travels's Avatar
      Gilliver's Travels -
      Excellent stuff indeed, with that last sentence giving much pause for thought. How things have changed...

      Although a recent sighting of Liam Bridcutt shopping in Asda was somehow reassuring. Course, once he gets to Chelsea all that will have to stop.
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