Publicity drive

The behaviour of footballers on the pitch hits the headlines

From rioting at Upton Park to Chelsea’s dubious youth recruitment tactics to Eduardo’s lack of balance, the first few weeks of 2009-10 have produced ample opportunity for moral outrage. Some gloomy observers have chosen to view this as an unprecedented and apocalyptic period for football. Meanwhile, a general sense of opprobrium has been building around a single club: Manchester City.

Emmanuel Adebayor’s volatile performance in his side’s defeat of Arsenal on September 12 caused the Mirror to gasp at a “malevolent craziness of stamping and taunting that hijacked a glorious late summer afternoon”. The striker’s dangerous stamp, described by victim Robin van Persie as “mindless and malicious”, was seen by many, particularly the Sun, as an act that “shamed football”. Oddly though it was the later excess of “Baddy ‘Bayor”– the “most blatantly provocative goal celebration imaginable” – that was deemed the most nefarious of the striker’s crimes.

The Mirror’s Oliver Holt claimed that English football was “reaching a low point of sorts” as Adebayor raced towards the Arsenal fans. In the aftermath there was much heartfelt, and rather overdue, concern about a rift that’s building up between players and supporters.

When Adebayor’s equally combustible team-mate Craig Bellamy pushed a pitch trespasser in the face the following weekend, there was some uncertainty over who was in the wrong. The news pages of the Mirror congratulated Bellamy for showing the “form of a true striker as he thumps a lout”. Meanwhile, the back-page headline proclaimed Shame old faces, referring to both the unpopular Bellamy and El-Hadji Diouf, entangled in a row with a ball-boy at Goodison Park.

It is difficult to feel any sympathy towards the recipient of Bellamy’s aggression. Solo invaders have become more commonplace in the user-defined YouTube-era of mass media and there is a self-promoting compulsion at work among those who run on to a football pitch. Ultimately it is a hugely futile gesture. A banning order seems a large price to pay for a few seconds of fame and a bookmarked internet clip of yourself to show your friends.

Headlines such as A rave new world reflected the feeling that Man City are getting settled in at the top end of the Premier League. The sheer amount of fuss, even if it’s mostly negative, that the club has generated recently is clear proof of just how far the “project” has progressed. They are now at least now part of the Premier League’s elite group off the field if not quite yet on it. The voluble chief executive Garry Cook must be very proud – let’s hope that he can keep it to himself. Ed Upright

From WSC 273 November 2009