Friday 23 February 2018

Begrudgers put boot into JT

J ohn Terry gets paid £160,000 a week. He is the idol of fans of both Chelsea and England, accustomed to hearing his name chanted approvingly by tens of thousands of supporters. He is one of the best people at his particular job in the world. He has attained these heights at the age of 29.

Most football fans would not begrudge the man his good fortune. The money is huge but it has been earned honourably by Terry's own efforts and not off the backs of others. The Chelsea man did not, for example, become rich by making everyone else at the club take much lower wages than himself. He does not protect his financial status by insisting that hundreds of lower division footballers be sacked so JT's wages can remain 'competitive'.

We can see what John Terry does to earn his corn. He is not some hedge fund manager who has amassed his wealth by the juggling and manipulation of inherently dodgy financial instruments. Yet he does create wealth for other people. As one of the world's best defenders, he has played a key role in bringing Chelsea to the top of European football where financial rewards benefit the club's shareholders.

He is also accountable in a way that some of his fellow millionaires are not. Bankers who brought the world economy to its knees earned huge money even as they were doing so and will no doubt rise again. If John Terry performed for one month as they had performed over the past couple of years, he would be packing his bags and taking the bus to Leyton Orient. The day his powers fail, he will be out of a job. However it goes, his career will be over at 35 and he will never see the likes of this money again.

And when John Terry does fail, he will not bring anyone else down with him. There will be no sub-contractors and suppliers in danger of losing their houses and livelihoods because they played on the same team as him. Equally, no one will rescue him. When he made the mistake which let Louis Saha in for the winner on Wednesday night, he did so in the knowledge that the great Brazilian sweeper Nama would not be there to clear up the mess for him.

Sure £160,000 a week is too much money but it is a pittance compared to what someone like Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich earns. And if you compare the different ways by which the two men made their money, it's hard not to see that playing top-class professional football is about as benign a way of becoming rich as there is.

As I have great faith in the readers of this column, I think most of you would shrug your shoulders at the sum involved in keeping Terry at Chelsea and say something like, "It's mad money but fair play to him if he can get it." I'm sure Abramovich can spare it in any event. Your average football fan also appreciates just how difficult it is to reach the top in the game. He knows that all over the world there are players of sublime talent who want to play for clubs like Chelsea. The level of competition is staggering, the numbers who make it to the top minuscule. There are few ambitions more difficult to achieve than that of becoming a world-class footballer.

But there are other people, and quite a lot of them, who are consumed with envy when they see a footballer making big money and whose reaction to someone like John Terry is, "fuck him, who does he think he is?" And among the most fanatical of these player-haters are the kind of journalists who have spent so much time trying to make John Terry grovel at their feet over the past couple of weeks.

Perhaps it's not surprising that journalists are world-class begrudgers. They have to observe a world inhabited by professional sportsmen, rock stars and actors without ever really becoming part of it. When Chelsea were relegated from the old first division in 1988, their chairman Ken Bates told journalists, "I'm off to my 300-acre farm, you lot can bugger off back to your council houses."

The journalists were probably living in suburban semi-d's, but Bates' jibe did capture an essential truth about the relationship between those who write about the professional game and those who have grown rich from it. There are many reporters who avoid being eaten up with jealousy because of this disparity, but there are others who see it as their entitlement to get one back on the millionaires whose careers they cover.

In the same year that Ken Bates delivered that bon mot, I emigrated to England (back in the bad old days when unemployment was over 10 per cent and young people had to leave the country to find work. Please God we'll never see the likes of those days again). I applied for a job with a London news agency and found myself working for a crew who provided stories to the tabloids.

It involved, among other things, doorstepping people who'd suffered personal tragedy and prying into the personal lives of famous people. It was a far cry from covering games between Tulsk and Strokestown. I lasted a week and caught a cold waiting outside the flat of Wicksy from EastEnders in the hope that he'd land home with a bird.

One thing which stuck with me was the attitude of most of my workmates to the celebrities whose steps they were detailed to dog. In my naivete I'd thought that this hounding of the famous would be regarded as just part of the job. Instead it often seemed to be driven by a personal animus. One soap star was described as "a barrow boy". "Common" was another description which got bandied about quite a bit. Envy was in the air.

It still is. And that's why we shouldn't be taking our lead from the English media on stories like this. There has long been a cult of denigration at the heart of the papers

across the water. Complain all you like about Irish journalists, and I'm sure there are times when you're right to do so, but the boys next door are a different and more sinister kettle of fish altogether.

They always have an excuse for using someone's personal life to trash them as a human being. Tiger, we were told, was fair game because of his "squeaky clean image". (Apparently, he'd have been entitled to play away if he'd done it in front of a crowd on the 18th green.) And John Terry's private life deserves to be everyone's business because the man was silly enough to pick up a meaningless Dad of The Year award thought up by some PR company or other. What his wife Toni and his two three-year-old children did to deserve their public ordeal has yet to be explained.

In reality, it's all about proving that journalists who earn less than one hundredth of John Terry's salary can get the better of him in a way that no opponent ever has. Armed with a telephoto lens, the right bit of gossip and Max Clifford's telephone number, they can make his life hell. And when they've made him eat dirt, they'll move on to fresh prey.

I don't envy their next victim.

Sunday Independent

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