There are more important things in life than football and it’s good for managers and players to remember this. Gary Rowett and Chris Hughton opposed each other on Saturday but have some things in common. Both seem to be grounded in the world outside football, with family ties and values that help them to avoid extremes of elation or despair dictated by performances on the pitch. I may be naïve but I think Rowett is grounded enough to stick with a job half done and not snatch at a job in the Premier League. So I am inclined to believe Panos’ statement about his commitment to Birmingham City.
Jurgen Klopp is another manager who knows that there is more to life than championship and relegation battles. For him, his security comes from his faith in a God who loves him. That doesn’t mean players don’t have to work. Klopp said, “We have to score our own goals.” (From December issue of Christianity magazine.)
I’m concerned that modern football may be producing footballers who scarcely know that there is a world outside football, let alone know that it’s important. The top clubs now recruit very young children into their academies where they are coached in a controlled environment and have little or no exposure to school football or park football, with angry, shouting men on the sidelines. As Barney Ronay wrote, this has led to a sense of disconnect and essentially two forms of football: the professional game and the rest. In the old days the angry, shouting men in the parks were “at least shouting at kids who still had a minuscule chance of being footballers one day.” Some of today’s players have come from this background. For example, “Jamie Vardy, a footballer who has, very clearly, been shouted at a great deal, hard-wired to run and harry and whirl about like a man being chased by a swarm of bees.”
I went to watch Birmingham City play in Brighton because my team is important to me. I stayed there a couple of nights because other things are important too. I needed a break and I wanted to see the sea. I watched the sun rise over Brighton beach on Saturday morning and the wind blew away the cobwebs in my brain. There were less pleasant sights too: so many homeless men huddled in doorways. I’d read an article about cardboard beds for homeless people that had reminded me how awful it is to sleep on hard, cold ground. I got soaked standing waiting for a train after the game but just felt grateful that I was heading for a real bed in a warm hotel rather than spending the night on the street. The loss didn’t make me despondent either. My team kept fighting to the end and that’s enough for me.