Growing pains

wsc303If Matt Nation could relive his youth again he would like to be as mature as young footballers

As anybody who has ever read about footballers letting off fireworks in their bathroom, visiting nightspots midweek or doing any number of things involving shopping trolleys and trousers round the ankles knows, it is down to their “lack of maturity”. Footballers, who are often “cocooned” in “bubbles”, will simply not grow up because the clubs will not let them.

Popular definitions of maturity are often at best nebulous. For some people, a cheese that does not smell of sewage cannot be mature, however old it is. The age of mature whisky varies between “primary school” and “key to the door”. Mature sex objects with dubious acronyms can apparently be any age at all. Acceptable maturity levels for young men appear to depend on whether they are footballers or not.

Take, for example, my contemporaries’ children, many of whom are in their late teens, none of whom are footballers. Conversations with the parents centre on “gap years”, “orientation phases” and “doing their travelling”, all of which are uttered with the same casualness with which previous generations would refer to National Service or YTS schemes. One young rube was packed off to Vancouver for a prearranged period of “Work & Travel”, with nothing more than a five-figure grandparental inheritance in his pocket. Recently, the boy’s father discovered his son was in New Orleans. This – a grown man being unable to find the right country in North America – was celebrated as “something you do at that age”. Had anybody mentioned the words “immature twat”, they would have been hand-wrung to death on the spot.

When Wayne Rooney was the same age as this mature non-twat, he had been working for five years. “Doing his travelling” meant business trips. He was almost definitely contemplating buying a house somewhere where the roads have one name only and the fences are knee-high. He probably owned a lawn thatcher. He wore a shirt and tie to work. He was effectively a grown-up.

Yet after one moment of professional misjudgement involving Ricardo Carvalho’s goolies, the accusations of immaturity were so loud you would have thought Wayne had only just left the womb. Granted, stamping on somebody in front of a global TV audience is not something a careers officer would advise, but as work-related misdemeanours go, it was not much worse than the equivalent of the office boy doing the rabbit’s ears behind a senior colleague’s head at a departmental do. And as for the rumours about prostitutes, if the age of the gentlemen who frequent the place opposite my flat is anything to go by, Rooney is decades ahead of his time.

I have come across footballers in late-night situations offering ample potential for immaturity, yet none materialised. One spoke at great length, with a sombreness more frightening than any foul he ever committed on a football pitch, about how poorly German chips shape up against those in his native Denmark. Another begged me to take his hot dog after realising he had bought more junk food and fizzy pop than he could hold without making a mess of himself, and then spent ten minutes sheepishly telling me how silly he was. A third listened politely to my ramblings about Franz Beckenbauer’s playing style being the sporting equivalent of Oskar Schindler’s “that’s what I’m good at, not the work… the presentation” philosophy, and even grunted in the right places. Even the player I used to spot regularly, in a cafe populated by man-boys with faux-English forenames and an inability to play keepy-uppy with a hacky-sack, was offensive only in that he would greet women he did not know in a voice that young parents use to persuade their baby to eat its dinner.

These players really ought to do something about it. Careers are short enough as it is, so they may as well be immature while people expect nothing more. I would love to be in my early twenties. I would love women to smile at me. I would love photographers to take black and white photos of my stomach. I would maybe even like quaffing buckets of champagne and then stopping just short of urinating in a hotel foyer – it is no better or worse than necking stubby bottles of cheap beer and relieving myself in a park on the way home. I would not shoot an intern with an air rifle, but there are definitely people higher up the company organisation chart I would gladly prod in the midriff with the butt. Maybe everybody should just not grow up a bit.

From WSC 303 May 2012