THE NEWS that a sizeable percentage of Premier League footballers suffer from mental problems and depression is strangely (and guiltily) comforting.
It is an antidote to our envy at what we perceive to be a few people’s outrageous good fortune.
Ask most young men what their dream calling in life would be and the majority will plump for (a) rock star or (b) professional footballer. The first, they’d argue, involves a life of non-stop globe-trotting glamour, opulence, beautiful women on tap and screaming fans – and all for playing a few chords. The second (they would say) is about being paid unimaginable amounts of money and living in pampered luxury while pursuing an activity that millions of young folk actually pay good money to imitate for nowt on freezing Sunday morning pitches.
In fact enthusiastic amateurs dig deep into their own pockets to finance their clubs’ survival; they’ll even fork and drain flooded pitches and put up their own nets just to get a game played.
For these latter enthusiasts (of whom for many years I was one) the game is about dashing around on poor quality, lumpy pitches while being watched by only one man and his dog. This is followed by a trudge home then a bout of kit washing and boot scraping. These heroes are amateurs in the truest sense, the word ‘amateur’ being derived from the Latin verb ‘to love’. They love football.
Kicking a ball about is an innate impulse for many young men (and, increasingly, woman, too) but only a tiny percentage get paid to do it. For Premier League players it can be mean becoming an overnight globally famous figure, buying expansive, expensive (if often tasteless) luxury homes, earning more in a week than most can earn in a decade and driving the latest Lamborghini, all for performing in front of 50,000 adoring fans followed by schmoozing night-clubs full of doting girls.
And what Sunday morning amateur gets the chance of being interviewed on telly by Mottie and Lineker or advertising a betting chain in exchange for bootfuls of loot?
So what’s not to like? Well, apparently for some of the superstars the dream has turned sour. You can see it in their eyes in those meaningless post-match interviews as they trot out the usual drivel scripted for them by their agents.
Those eyes look clouded, troubled; their words, trivial enough to begin with, are delivered in a robotic monotone that sounds like something out of The Manchurian Candidate. They have every material need a person could want, yet they are not alive.
They have been removed from real life, locked away in gated houses, manipulated and exploited by agents, financial advisers and other pariahs.
Managers treat them like little lads. Post-training, they sit around their luxury homes wondering why they are bored.
Sometimes, as young people do, they long to go on the lash and on the pull, but they risk falling prey to opportunist ‘dates’ planning to sell ‘My Night of Passion With Football Star!’ to the scandal-hungry tabloid hacks lurking in every dark night-club corner.
Pampered, cossetted and manipulated, soccer stars are the playthings of multiple vested interests. They are investments for a highly lucrative, morally bankrupt industry. How many, for example, in the highly homophobic sport they inhabit, dare confess they are gay? There has only been one, to my knowledge. And he ended up committing suicide.
In the eyes of the world, they are living the dream, a supposition made bitter for them by their own knowledge that it is untrue.
Envy them not, therefore! Envy, as against admiration, is always counter-productive, mainly because we never fully know the reality of anyone else’s life.
So get on with living your own.