The Footballer’s Life: more than just glory, fame and fortune

So, a twenty-two year old goalkeeper has been charged with blackmail against a Premier League footballer. The story is that currently club less Goalkeeper Ashley Timms, is accused of demanding £15,000 from an unnamed player.

He appeared at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on Saturday charged with making an unwarranted demand for money with menaces between March and April 2008. Mr Timms was granted bail and the case was sent to Manchester Crown Court for a preliminary hearing on 18 April. Magistrates made an order banning the publication of the Premier League player at the centre of the allegation. Of that we should be grateful.

Mr Timms, from Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, was once the goalkeeper for Manchester City’s under-19 team.

Obviously it would be wrong and unlawful to speculate on this particular matter, but it did get me wondering just what a Premier League Footballer could have done to have warranted being blackmailed. I thought they were all drug taking, alcoholic, bi-sexual, womanising wife beaters anyway? Allegedly.

The second point is why would someone only demand £15,000? Back in 2006 the average wage of a Premiership footballer was £676,000 per year. That would mean someone blackmailing me for about £500. Doesn’t seem worth it really.

There is hardly a week goes by without some of the more sensationalist tabloid Sunday newspapers regaling us all with lurid tales of disgusting behaviour by our Premier League heroes. I have absolutely no doubt that 99% of it is absolute rubbish and the other 1% is ridiculously exaggerated. In fact, I don’t know anyone who believes this stuff, but I know a lot of people who read it!

I don’t know how much the Sunday newspapers pay to the topless, lap-dancing, glamour model, wannabe famous TV presenter ladies that sell their ‘blow by blow’, if you’ll excuse the phrase, accounts to them, but I wouldn’t have thought £15,000 wasn’t out of the question.

Obviously I am not going to discuss this individual case and it may have very serious overtones and will be a terrible time for all involved. I don’t wish to make light of that particular situation, but I do think the story raises the issue of just how vulnerable some young football stars are.

Don’t get me wrong. These top footballers live an incredibly lucky life. They have fame and fortune, work short hours and live in the type of luxury that the rest of us can only dream or be jealous about.

However, the flip side of that fame and fortune brings with it a number of problems that most of us never have to worry about.

We have all heard stories of footballers houses being burgled, cars being damaged, lives being threatened, lives of their immediate family being threatened and obscene songs being chanted about their sexual preferences and their wives and girlfriends.

Most of us couldn’t cope with half of those issues. It doesn’t matter how much money you have got, if you are a human being you will still be affected by all of this. How many of us would avoid climbing into the crowd and tearing the face off of some idiot who was shouting at us that he had performed anal sex on our wives? The behaviour of the football fan is disgusting and the reaction of the players, generally, is unbelievably good.

We have these ridiculous scenarios whereby players and managers are taunted, sworn at and abused for ninety minutes and if they respond at all, a number of people complain to the FA and the Police that they were offended by the two fingered gesture or the request to ‘go forth and multiply’.

If you take the example of David Beckham what has he actually done to deserve the treatment he receives? I know that he and his wife court publicity so they are partly responsible for it themselves, but surely it all goes too far.

He is ridiculed for being thick. He has conducted hundreds of press conferences as England Captain, been interviewed on the television thousands of times and lived and worked in three different countries. Is there anybody who wouldn’t make the occasional mistake?

His wife is debated and ridiculed in the newspapers and magazines every week. The one time he may have acted like around 80% of the male population of the world and started flirting with another woman, she ran straight to the newspapers and he was criticised like he was some sort of animal.

Despite all of this, he still comes over as a genuine and pleasant bloke. I know I would be a hermit who trusted no one and I would have my entire family locked away with twenty-four security.

Players get hate mail when they leave one club in order to join another. They are maybe stepping up in class and being paid twice the salary. This makes them a money grabbing Judas. How many people reading this article wouldn’t change the firm they worked for if they were offered double the salary?

Footballers are young men. They behave like all young men across the world. On the whole, they behave better than many because they are constantly watched.

Next time you read about a drunken, drug fuelled orgy being attended by Premiership football players, before you shake your head and comment that these people don’t deserve all the fame and money they’ve got, just ask yourself these five things:

1. Is it actually true?
2. Have they actually done anything wrong?
3. Have they done anything that most young men wouldn’t do in the circumstances?
4. How would you like to live your life wondering who was going to make up stuff about you in the papers, blackmail you, or trick you into getting in trouble?
5. How would you like your sex life, sexuality or lifestyle discussed across thousands of Kitchen tables across the world on a Sunday morning?

Professional footballers are not Angels. There are well behaved ones and badly behaved ones. In fact, I would guess that the percentage of each is probably about the same as any other profession. It is surprising that as such flawed individuals ourselves we seem to expect these men to behave in an inhumanly good way just because they earn a lot of money.

For giving a huge amount of pleasure and entertainment to millions of people in what can be a pretty bleak world, I actually don’t think many footballers are overpaid. I’d love to have their talent and their money, but I couldn’t cope with everything else that goes with it. I don’t think many of us could.

Graham Fisher writes at Views of a fan. Article originally written for Soccer News.

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