Football is traditionally a working-class sport. While inflated ticket rates have priced many out of stadiums, and billionaire owners have left football purists feeling disenfranchised, it remains the game of the worker. This is not only true for the fans, but also for the players, as football is played predominantly by people from working class backgrounds.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why footballers are so often targeted and demonised by the government and certain parts of the media. Back in April, when lockdown was in its infancy, government minister Matt Hancock was quick to jump on the footballer-bashing bandwagon as he said that they should “take a pay cut and play their part”.
The Health Secretary soon had egg on his face as it was revealed that Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson had been in contact with his fellow Premier League players in order to organise a fund worth millions of pounds for the NHS, long before Mr Hancock made his comments. The Professional Footballers’ Association had also already held discussions which later agreed that Premier League players would take a 30% pay cut.
For years there has been a negative stereotype of footballers as well as football fans, perpetuated by much of the media and also politicians. Players are often painted as greedy and unintelligent men who only care about money and football, and this has seeped through into the minds of many fans who are quick to rant about how much a player earns if they are ever in a run of bad form or are struggling with personal issues.
There is undoubtedly a racial element to this too, as black players will get an even tougher time in the media than their white teammates. This was something that Raheem Sterling brought up back in 2018 and received praise, but also surprise, at how eloquently he spoke on the subject.
This seems to be a common problem. We shouldn’t be surprised when a footballer, moreover a black footballer, expresses an intelligent and well-articulated opinion or does something generous to help others but we are because it’s not what we are told they can, or even should, do.
Marcus Rashford has certainly “played his part” too. Since March he has helped raise over £20 million to provide food for underprivileged children who would usually get free school meals. He’s another player to add to the very long list of those who don’t fit the unjust stereotype.
Another recent example of politicians wading in to criticise the football industry is Conservative MP Julian Knight responding to a Sky News tweet about how much money Premier League clubs are set to lose due to coronavirus, with an irrelevant comparison to charities who are likely to lose more.
It seems odd that it is predominantly right- wing politicians and media outlets who are at the forefront of this anti-football rhetoric when you consider that a core Conservative ideology is that the rich should not be forced by the state to give up their hard-earned money. So why should footballers be the ones told to put their hands in their pockets when there are billionaires in this country avoiding tax?
Ultimately football is, at its roots, a strong assertion of working-class culture and that is often seen by those in power as a threat, so they use footballers as easy scapegoats in situations like the coronavirus outbreak to help mask their own failings. It is time that the media stopped playing into the government’s hands and reviewed the way it portrays footballers and the sport as a whole.