No matter how much of a fan you are, it’s pretty hard to get some much-needed space from football. With so few football-free days, 24 hour sporting broadcasts and the (ugggh) transfer gossip, you can’t get away from it. Football is omnipresent.
The problem with this is that the general standard of football journalism is terrible. A whole generation has been conditioned to respond only to sensationalist nonsense, meaning anything with logic, thought or understanding isn’t even discarded – it’s simply not read.
The “build them up to knock them down” approach is easily one of the most grating, where no potential talent gets to progress without the sharpened spears of the national media pointed directly in to their backs.
Frustrating too is the “gossip”. Never has a word better encapsulated the action in question. The media act as the tw*t-ish kid in school who isn’t cool enough to hang out with the popular students, so spread enough gossip until people actually start to listen to them.
Even the once excellent Football365 has lost some of its lustre, bowing under the weight of its own agenda. Oh, and trying to draw in those clicks. Have to get those clicks.
It’s all of this that makes The Inside Left such a refreshing read.
“Proudly bringing you none of the latest news, gossip and scores” triumphantly proclaims the banner, celebrating the old adage that you write about what you would want to read.
What brought me to the site was the excellent article by former striker Sam Parkin (I won’t use the word “journeyman”, having seen his views on this on Twitter). In the article, he explains his experience of deciding to retire. In a culture obsessed with top flight football and overpaid celebrities, the decisions taken at the lower end of the spectrum have incredible consequences for those involved, and reading about Parkin’s struggles with the lack of structure in his post-career life made for fascinating reading.
Equally interesting was the excerpt from Dave Farrell’s book, Taxi for Farrell. In it, Farrell explains the decision he took after a long playing and coaching career to move back in to the real world. It’s a part of the game that is woefully under-reported. Farrell explains the difficulties of being fired, of the financial consequences of this at the lower leagues, and the impact of moving your family around the country.
The thing is, this isn’t just interesting reading. In many way this is required reading. For every example of Wayne Rooney being paid £300,000 a week, or Jose Mourinho’s potential severance pay being £10 million, there are hundreds of examples of where life for a footballer isn’t as lucrative or plain sailing. For a society as obsessed with the football narrative as we are, we’re missing a whole portion of it. And that portion is the most important, and possibly most fascinating.
All of the difficulties in being a lower league player/coach would be unanimously accepted as challenging in any other field. If a friend of yours was required to move to a new part of the country every 2 years, to put their kids in to new schools, you’d think it would that was tough. If they were permanently on the verge of getting fired (Farrell’s claustrophobia analogy was surprisingly powerful), if their job was so stressful they have to keep a notepad by the side of the bed, if they had their whole identity stripped away and were forced to restart their career in their mid-30’s, you’d take them out for a drink and offer a shoulder to cry on.
This is really no different than your average lower league footballer or coach. A career in football can be a short one, but it can be one that completely impacts the rest of your life. How do you go from being a 22 year old earning £50,000 a year, to being retired with no prospects at 35? How do you go from playing in front of thousands of cheering, adoring fans every week to, well, nothing? Those extreme highs and lows must be extraordinarily difficult to manage, and I’m surprised we don’t hear more about the mental impact that has on retired players.
I suspect the reason we don’t hear more is there is something of a taboo on the subject. The more we glorify the excesses of the elite, the more we demean the experiences of those who struggle. How could a footballer possibly admit to being depressed? The inevitable backlash of “do you know how lucky you are?” and “I’d give anything to have had your life” would make this feeling seem inauthentic, almost as though you aren’t entitled to have those feelings if you’ve had that life. That’s not ever the case. Ever.
The only way this will change is by shining more of a light on this situation. There are plenty of articulate, level-headed guys out there who have stories to tell, we just need to hear them.
Now, I don’t want to make it seem as though The Inside Left is only a forum for retired lower-league footballers, because it’s really not (I also appreciated the trip down Memory Lane for the Top 5 left sided midfielders for England in the 1990’s. Steve Guppy doesn’t get enough press these days). But it’s the side of the game that focuses on “what next” that has really touched on a nerve for me, and I suspect, it will for you too. As football fans, we kind of owe it those in the game to make this more of a talking point.
The Inside Left Rating: Wow, that got unexpectedly deep. But still, the website is cool.
PS – Also a great read is David Farrell’s blog, Football from the Inside. Well worth checking out.