Icons yes, but not heroes

FOOTBALL isn't a proper job. Those who do it aren't workers, but players, even if many of them are obscenely well paid to do it.

Aidan Semmens

FOOTBALL isn't a proper job. Those who do it aren't workers, but players, even if many of them are obscenely well paid to do it.

Whatever terminology we may sometimes use on the sports pages, footballers aren't heroes, unless by some chance they do something heroic away from football (I can't think of an example right now).

In fact, professional footballers are a bunch of overgrown kids - though that's not entirely their fault. Most of them are plucked from real life at a young age and generally treated by their clubs the way a well-run kindergarten treats its pre-school tots.

A rare example of a footballer with a decent education was Lee Chapman, who late in his career turned out a few times for Ipswich.

Among his sizeable collection of former employers was Nottingham Forest, where he was managed by the late, great Brian Clough.

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Lee later gave me an insight into Clough's methods - methods which brought him extraordinary success with relatively untalented players.

“Young man,” said Clough in his familiar way as he encountered university graduate Chapman leaving the gents at a hotel where the team was staying. “Have you washed your hands?”

Chapman recalled this encounter as an illustration of why he never got on with Clough as many other players did. It may also help explain why Clough failed with the already successful and mature squad he inherited at Leeds United.

However, it gives a snapshot view not just of one great eccentric, but of the way footballers in general are viewed and treated by their clubs.

Footballers may be modern icons, but heaven forbid they should be put forward as role-models.

Imitate Cristiano Ronaldo's twinkle-toed skills if you can; bend it like Beckham if you must, but please let's not have any imitation of whatever they get up to without the ball.

I was going to say “off the field” but then remembered that some of the play-acting and disrespect towards officials that takes place on it sets an appalling example.

I have no doubt that the behaviour of Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole et al leads to problems on the school playing-field and in the park of a Sunday morning.

In fact, imitation of childish behaviour is undoubtedly a major factor in the severe shortage of referees at what is called grassroots level.

Perhaps the terminology should be changed. Instead of “the pitch” and “the field”, perhaps we should refer to “the playground”. The kerfuffle that followed Manchester United's visit to Chelsea at the weekend certainly belonged in a school yard.

The fracas began when United's French full-back Patrice Evra was called - or thought he was called - an immigrant.

This leads me to two thoughts.

Firstly why, and since when, has it been an insult to call someone an immigrant?

Secondly, how many of those who played in that game were not immigrants?

I can answer that one. Of the 28 players involved, nine were British by birth (just three of them Chelsea players). In addition, all four of the non-used substitutes were immigrants - from Italy, Brazil, Poland and Argentina.

If Evra really was called an immigrant, it was clearly both true and irrelevant.

If, on the other hand, he was actually called an idiot - as Chelsea claim, in “defence” of the offending member of their groundstaff - then I can see that it might have been an insult.

I say “might have been” because whatever else he may or may not be, Patrice Evra is quite clearly a footballer.

IF you read this column four weeks ago, you may remember the strange tale of Stromness in Orkney, the town which petitioned to keep its traffic warden.

I am pleased now to be able to bring you a happy ending to the story - well, happy for now anyway.

Between them the Orkney Islands Council and Northern Constabulary have agreed to stump up the cash to keep James Dewar employed keeping the little town's narrow streets clear of dodgy parkers. Well, for this summer at least.

I can't claim the credit for this cheerful outcome, but I may have played a small part.

I am also happy to report that the weekly paper Orkney Today does indeed seem to have had its act sharpened up by its new editor Catherine Turnbull.

Last week's issue led on the traffic-warden story (previously buried on the letters page). The formerly tatty paper looks a lot better too.

I know this because Catherine sent me a copy, having somehow come across my column on the subject (possibly because part of it was read on Radio Orkney).

In her accompanying letter she asks whether Suffolk folk are really interested in affairs on the northern isles. Well, aren't you?