Football may be a beautiful game, but it’s also a loathsome cesspit of humanity, devoid of morals and corrupted by money.
In terms of dirty businesses, it is only worsened by politics.
Sorry if that’s a bold opening statement to your Weekend offering and apologies to estate agents who normally occupy the lower levels of my personal inferno, but as a new season begins in earnest today, what have we really got to look forward to over the next nine months?
First off, over the next few weeks you’ll see a parade of millionaires refusing to turn up for their employer because they want to be paid even more money by someone else.
In the real world, anyone who doesn’t turn up for their job would be sacked and no-one would touch them with a barge pole.
In football, the new employer will be quietly delighted by the stance and agree to pay them gazillions, oblivious to the likelihood that they will be the next victims of the player/agent scam at some point in the future. Once a mercenary, always a mercenary.
It’s boring to go on about the ridiculous kick-off times, so I won’t. Suffice to say, I won’t be tuning in at 11am on a Sunday morning for Sunderland against Burnley come mid-March. Cheers Uncle Rupert.
The battle over ticket prices was long since lost too; Hull City have shamelessly increased season ticket prices this year by 30 per cent.
The cheapest adult ticket is now a staggering £501, up from £395. In Hull. For the same standard of football that was on offer last season. Say no more.
Even plucky old Burnley have upped their prices by 37 per cent to a whopping £685 top price (£499 for the cheap seats). Last time I looked, you could buy a house in Burnley for that. Or even the town itself.
But the Clarets fans will no doubt stump up, for a season of hammerings and humiliation despite the chance of actually winning anything being precisely nil.
This week they had a photocall to unveil not a new Carlos Kickaball signing, but a row of trendy new seats for the subs and manager, right in front of a cramped and rickety old stand where Marlon, Mandy and Co can’t even get their knees straight.
Still, as long as those fancy chairs look the part on the telly.
But seats, kick-off times, ticket prices and unscrupulous players are all small pre-match beer; they don’t scratch the surface of the game’s real evils.
There’s the corruption at its highest levels, all being conveniently ignored by Sepp Blatter and his cronies. There’s the regular match-fixing and spot fixing allegations. There are the all-too-common ‘strange’ refereeing decisions, normally involving some of the continent’s top teams.
And then there are players like the rapist Ched Evans.
The Welsh international was jailed for five years in 2012 for raping a teenager in his hotel room.
Having served just half his sentence (of course) he is due to be released in October and, incredibly, there are reports that his former club Sheffield United, in the third tier of English football, are set to offer him a contract on his release worth £3 million.
(As an aside, it’s worth noting that in his will this week Sir Tom Finney, one of England’s greatest-ever players, left just £115,000.)
The Blades, quite sensibly, are not commenting but Alan Smith, of the official supporters’ club, says he understands Evans will be returning.
Moreover, Mr Smith thinks this is a good thing: “I think that for most supporters it’s good he’s coming back because of what he did for us before. I think that he’s served his time.”
Less than three years inside for raping a teenage girl. Wonder what the victim and her family think about that?
Of course, Evans wouldn’t be the first convicted criminal to be welcomed back by football with open arms.
Killer Lee Hughes’ career, after serving just three years, is well documented in these parts. He now plies what’s left of his trade with Forest Green Rovers.
And Luke McCormick, a goalkeeper who caused a crash killing two young boys on the M6 in Staffordshire, is back in business after serving just over three and a half years inside. So much so that his club, Plymouth, has just named him captain for the new season.
He was twice over the legal drink-drive limit when he caused the fatal crash in his obligatory footballer’s naff Range Rover.
Back to Evans and 60,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on Sheffield United not to take the player back, but will it make any difference. What do you think? After all, there’s points at stake in the mighty League One promotion race.
Petition organiser Jean Hatchet says: “If you rape a woman you will have to pay a price. A lucrative contract should not be your ‘reward’.
“Many say he is entitled to work. I don’t deny this at all. But the symbolic nature of returning to the very privileged position as a role model for young people and a representative of a city is not appropriate.”
I couldn’t agree more. Especially as football’s misogynistic morons will probably make jokes about it from the terraces in the same way they disgustingly chant about Heysel, Hillsborough and Munich.
If Evans has a shred of decency – and bear in mind we’re talking about a convicted rapist here – he should spend time working unpaid for victims’ charities or giving educational talks to young players at least until the full term of his sentence has expired.
The vast amount of money he earned from his early career will more than pay the bills of a modest lifestyle until then.
After that he could return to the game having proved genuine remorse.
Instead, we will more likely be witness to some crocodile tears and a mealy mouthed statement written by his agent.
And no sooner than the prison gates slam behind him, he’ll be back on the pitch like nothing ever happened.
Everyone back on the team bus; football’s back alright and its stench grows worse with every passing year.Subscribe to our Newsletter