Of stars and fans

Do not get too attached to the stars in your team for if the opportunity presents itself they will be gone in a flash to a club that offers greater chances of glory, a brighter shirt and, oh yes, more money, writes Ted Corbett.

To start with there was Kevin Pietersen’s explosive autobiography — full of information except just why he was sacked from the England Test side — and then Roy Keane’s book of arguments with Sir Alex Ferguson which proved that someone stood up to the biggest character in football.

These were tough days if you had to decide, for instance, KP was as white as he painted himself or that a footballer, even one as charismatic as Keane, was wise to tackle Ferguson head on, no matter how right he felt he was.

A few hard boiled footballers tried to answer Ferguson word for word and few remained without battle scars. Ferguson had the authority as manager and the background from Clydebank, one of the toughest areas of Glasgow, a hard city even for those born in the area that once made ships and men who were both more than willing to fight.

Keane, of course, had an education in how to be a football toughie under that great manager Brian Clough who began life in Middlesbrough, another township where men are men and women look on admiringly. (So the men say.)

He is an Irishman to boot with an instinct not to retreat, and an almost poetic gift of the gab. His outstanding gift to the English language came when he described the rich folk who eat their lunch at Old Trafford before the match and stay for a few drinks afterwards as “the prawn sandwich brigade.”

It has become part of the English language and inhabits the dictionaries and rightly so.

Keane was complaining about the influence these well-heeled types had with the men who run the club and at the same time trying to remind his team-mates that the real fans are on the terraces, no longer standing since the dreadful carnage when nearly 100 Liverpool fans were killed during a cup semi-final.

How little the thoughts of the men on the terraces change the course of events was clear after Americans took over Old Trafford. The entire city seemed to shout that the locals were not happy. Years later there has been no change.

As you will find if football does burn a trail through India — and I hope it does to compensate for the comparative quiet on the American front — money rules the game. There is little sentiment, no sentimentality in the board rooms; sackfuls of newly printed rupees, big cheques and shareholders whose noses have grown longer from the constant need to tell lies ruling the roost.

The old days, when football was gently governed by kindly men who loved the area in which they were born and grown prosperous, felt that they could use their riches to give local sportsmen a team to cheer every Saturday afternoon are almost gone.

Football has become an international business, circulating thousands earned from TV and sponsors and foreigners who would not know Manchester, Middlesbrough or Millwall if it was miraculously moved next door. They know the price of everything even if they rarely appreciate the value of anything.

So beware. Do not get too attached to the stars in your team for if the opportunity presents itself they will be gone in a flash to a club that offers greater chances of glory, a brighter shirt and, oh yes, more money.

Not that this simple game — you can understand the whole business except for the cursed offside rule in 10 minutes — has ever been anything but a gladiatorial contest although it has been peopled by graduates, men who went on to make a fortune in the entertainment world, trade and industry.

In recent years the English game, which once recruited only in Britain and the Republic of Ireland, has spread its scouting system to include every country in Europe, half of Africa and the entire Commonwealth. No doubt it will spread further.

It has also attracted any number of rogues and vagabonds, men willing to bribe, cheat and distort the truth in order to make the result of any given match fit their wishes. Beware of these monsters too. If the game catches on big time in India they will be the first at your front door offering attractive odds for the most likely results.

When that happens, remember the words of a character in one of Damon Runyon’s short stories. Father tells son as he sets out on his travels : “One day a guy is going to come up to you and show you a brand new deck of cards and bet you he can make the Jack of Spades jump up out of the pack and squirt cider in your ear.

Son, do not bet this man for, as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.”

We should have learnt our lesson from the wolves who patrol the cricket grounds and who are still giving fans an earful of cider but the truth is the optimistic man about sport dreams day and night that he will win Lotto just by buying a ticket.

Occasionally KP gets the chance to captain England, rarely Roy Keane defeats Sir Alex Ferguson in a dressing room debate and once in a while a parks footballer will win the Cup Final at Wembley with a goal from the half-way line.

Treasure the moment but do not expect to see a repeat.