Holding out for a hero

It’s 16.02 on September 1 and I’m watching Sky Sports News on a seemingly endless loop of news on transfer deadline day.

It’s almost 25 years since Sky “invented” football – or at least reinvented English football with enormous wads of cash – and 12 years since UEFA introduced the transfer deadline system where clubs are limited to trading players to two specific windows across the calendar year.

Cue Harry Redknapp at the wheel of his Range Rover giving meaningless soundbites to eager reporters and over-exuberant and possibly over-refreshed fans mooning live on TV as the 11pm deadline approaches and the transfer window slams shut.

I’ve already confessed I’m sitting here half-watching this nonsense, but in truth, as a football fan, I loathe this day.

The whole transfer deadline system is not only a sham of the highest order, the money flashed by the clubs in the Premiership is as obscene a display of wealth as you’re likely to see outside of The Great Gatsby.

On SSN’s garishly yellow and black screen, the total amount spent by England’s clubs – across all divisions, it has to be said – ticks ever upwards. Right now, at 4.07pm, it stands at £813,750,000.


That’s £800 MILLION.

On footballers.

I love the game, but this is insanity of the highest order and I can’t be the only football fan who looks forward to the Premier League’s Lehman Brothers moment.

Celtic today sold Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk to Southampton – in the English Premier League, natch – for a fee estimated at £11.5 million.

In just three seasons, Southampton have sent northwards of £30m to Glasgow for just three players – all of them talented, all of them good enough to star in the Greatest League in the World (© Sky Sports).

The trio – midfielder Victor Wanyama, goalkeeper Fraser Forster and defender Van Dijk – are the most successful symbols of the business model Celtic have employed for much of the last half-decade.

Buy cheap, sell big.

It’s been a very successful way of doing business and helps keep Celtic out of debt in the years they don’t make the Champions League with all of its vulgar riches.

But to me, it’s robbing the club of something essential – the opportunity for a player to become a hero, for the fans to have someone they can idolise, a terracing legend.

When a player stays with the club for two years tops, there’s no chance to build that rapport – not for him, not for us.

The last genuine Celtic hero was Henrik Larsson. But the King of Kings left in 2004. Since then a succession of good but not remarkable players have followed the Magnificent Seven along Kerrydale Street.

Each has produced an exceptional moment or two but nothing to compare to the seven extraordinary years Larsson gave.

Football is popular because anyone who has talent with a ball has the chance to make it in the game, because many clubs are still an integral part of the communities in which they were founded, because the game itself invokes such emotions, such passion it can at times be overwhelming – and not always in a positive way, of course.

But 21st-century football is about money, not passion.

And who really wants to cheer on guys who couldn’t care less where they’re playing so long as the cash keeps rolling in?

Where are football’s heroes? They’re busy calling their agent to ensure they don’t miss out on their next big payday, unconcerned about whose shirt they’re wearing on the next matchday.

So hey, dismiss me as an old fogey mourning the loss of the good old days. I do get that football is a business and that players must make the most of what is a relatively short career.

But I doubt that many at the top end of the game, who will never win a thing in their playing lives, would swap even a week’s salary for the chance to claim a medal or to score goals in front of an adoring crowd who will continue to chant their name years after they’ve hung up their boots.

That’s why the sight of the SSN totaliser ticking over relentlessly towards another record-breaking total fills my heart with dread, not joy.

My own club may be cashing in on the bonanza right now, but if we no longer care about creating legends, how much longer will we fans care about the game at all?

3 thoughts on “Holding out for a hero

  1. Excellent football piece, Frances but in the context of what’s happening with the refugees from Syria and elsewhere, it’s disgusting. Who makes most – Sky of course and its revolting owner. However, still sorry to lose Van Dijk.

    Sent from my iPhone


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