Last week, it was announced that Jack Wilshere was to be charged by the FA for misconduct, relating to him leading Arsenal fans in singing their “What do we think of Tottenham?” chant at the FA Cup Trophy parade, and alleged that the midfielder’s ‘inciting comments’ were ‘improper and/or brought the game into disrepute’.
In another words, Jack Wilshere was being charged, because he led Arsenal fans in a chant, suggesting that Tottenham were s**t.
A chant that is sung most weeks by, on average, 60,000 Arsenal fans at the Emirates Stadium.
That to me just seems daft. Yes, Wilshere received a warning last year for singing the same song, but the fact remains that he was being charged because he was chanting an Arsenal chant.
I’m not Jack Wilshere’s biggest fan either, far from it. For me, he is yet another English player built up to be the messiah before he had even proved himself, but to fine him for singing an anti-Tottenham song seems way over the top.
This is a player who has played for Arsenal for 14 of his 23 years, and has such a special relationship with the fans who watch him every week. He may not be the most popular player in the Premier League, because of this relationship, but the fact the general reaction was that the charge was over the top speaks volumes.
Yet Wilshere, perhaps, shows what the world of football has become. He has been photographed smoking a few times, and has been told off publically by both his managers at club and national level, but has also been reminded he is a “role model” for young children.
What does that even mean? Does it mean that children will start smoking, not because friends or family smoke, but because of Wilshere? Surely the former has far more influence over the latter?
Of course smoking won’t do an athlete any good at all, but the reaction reached a level that would have just been deemed absurd even twenty years ago. Did Eric Cantona receive anywhere near the media reaction that Wilshere did for his smoking? Unlikely.
It just seems footballers are expected to be complete robots now; you watch press conferences and they give the same stock answers that they are taught to give. It’s the same with Twitter and Facebook accounts; they’re run by their own PR Companies, not their own thoughts.
You can’t go long with one of Wayne Rooney’s old tweets, or Victor Wanyama’s tweets about Paranormal Activity or spaghetti for that matter, being retweeted, but surely fans would rather read those thoughts than one typed up by a man in a suit?
I’m not saying that ‘modern’ football is bad at all, far from it. I enjoy the fact you can turn on the telly and there will be a game on, whether it’s Premier League or European football. For the match-going fan it’s safe, especially for families with young children, even in the older stadiums.
But in an era where football is glossy and pristine, it seems that characters have been lost. The media rejoiced when Jose Mourinho rejoined Chelsea, partially because he’s arguably one of the best managers in the world, but also because of his ability to create headlines, something that had been lost when Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day.
Players themselves however have lost that edge. The public’s love for Paul Gascoigne in the 90s was not just because he was a wonderfully talented footballer, but because he had that cheeky chappy image, that connected with those who adored him. Gazza’s Tears in Italia 90’ showed emotion rarely seen today, and his pranks were real, unlike the urban myth of ‘character’ Mario Balotelli.
Perhaps that is what has been lost most; a connection with the public. The outrage that surrounded Steven Fletcher posing next to a Maserati supercar outside a massive house typified that. Of course Sunderland’s perilous position didn’t lend itself to displays of wealth, but the fact that a striker who had scored precious few goals being able to splash out on a car the fans who support him could only dream of insuring, never mind owning, says it all.
That’s not Fletchers fault, he is playing in a time where that is what happens; if someone offers you £50k a week, would you say no? Unless you could earn more elsewhere, it’s unlikely. But the fact Fletcher doesn’t seem to have the same connection with the fans as footballers even twenty years ago shouldn’t be met with anger, but with sadness; their lives are dictated by PR and people telling them they can’t do this or that, not their own thoughts.
That’s why the Wilshere case is sad. This is a footballer that does have that connection, and wanted to show that he is still ‘one of them’, even with a real gap in earnings that grows ever wider with every year. But he was punished for it. For a chant that could be offensive. In his own words… how s**t.