After literally decades of watching football – beginning as an avid Liverpool armchair fan in the mid-seventies when they were just beginning to start winning things, through the eighties and nineties when they won everything – or so it seemed – to now, when they could potentially win a lot of things but are in danger of having forgotten what it was like to win anything; I have noticed a few changes.
First, the hair.
This is obviously only a reflection of fashion trends but there is no way on earth that a footballer from the earlier era would have had come on to the pitch wearing a headband.
Second, the cold. If it is true that the earth is getting warmer, then there really is no excuse for footballers today to be wearing extra layers underneath their kit. I don’t blame them really of course. One TV commentator however, caught out some substitutes for Chelsea I believe the other week. They were sitting in their seats, watching the match unfold, accompanied by wait for it…hot water bottles!
“Hot water bottles? Oh dear, I wonder what ‘Chopper Harris’ would have made of that?”
One could argue that many of the headband-wearing and hot-water-bottle-holding guys are foreign players used to far warmer climes and this leads me to the third major difference, the provenance of the players.
Whilst there was a growing influx of foreign players moving to the English League Division One as it was called back then in the late seventies, they were more of a novelty than the norm that is today. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see top quality, world class players competing in our Premier League of today. The problem of course, is that without a limit on how many you can have in a single team, it is harder than ever for our own younger players to break through and become anywhere near as good.
Fourth; the salaries. I read a headline recently that said, ‘Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) just earned more in five days than most Americans would in five lifetimes’ and it reminded once again of how much has changed in amount of money any sportsman, let alone footballers earn today. I’m not here to criticise that especially – it is merely indicative of the world we live in and how much advertising and endorsements control much of our lives – if we let them.
Fifth and finally, a lot of players – both foreign and home-grown – are doing something that no one ever did when I first started watching the beautiful game and this is something that has only become commonplace in recent years.
Yes, prayer. Who would have thought it?
The next time you watch a match, (if you hate football, simply treat the exercise as an opportunity to observe sporting, human behaviour) look out for when a substitute comes on, or even merely when the team first enter the arena, and definitely whenever someone scores a goal.
The actual style varies of course but in general, the player will lift his hands to the sky and mouth what is clearly a prayer, or perhaps kneel down and kiss the grass.
The real question is maybe this: Does the player who prays always win? Or always score? Or never get injured or make a mistake that cost his team the match?
The obvious answer is an emphatic No. But that doesn’t stop him praying, because he believes in what or rather, who he prays to.
Just as much as Rafa Nadal believes that touching a dozen different parts of his body just before he serves somehow helps him.
Or the Liverpool players who tap the This is Anfield sign as the enter the tunnel that leads them out on to the famous pitch helps their overall performance.
So, we believe what we want, and do our best – all of us. That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed whether you’re a footballer or a normal person.