Tell Sepp Blatter where to stick his World Cup

What does the Qatar 2022 World Cup and football of Raich Carter’s era have in common? Not a lot, suggests ANTON RIPPON

Raich Carter: took his playing inspiration when travelling to the game on the local bus
Raich Carter: took his playing inspiration when travelling to the game on the local bus

The FIFA report into allegations of corruption over Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup continues to take some jaw-dropping twists. The governing body decides that there is no evidence to strip Qatar of the tournament; the head of the investigation that led to the report, American lawyer Michael Gracia, claims that its summary contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions”; and the English FA is criticised for “improper conduct” in its own bid for England to stage 2018 tournament.

Now a whistleblower on the Qatar bid claims that the FBI has told her that her life is in danger.

FIFA is apparently going after some individuals, but they will surely only be expendable, “low-hanging fruit”.

Doesn’t football sometimes stink?

At a time when we are honouring those footballers that fought – and gave their lives – during the First World War, perhaps it is time to reflect on how football itself has changed, not just in 100 years, not even in 50, but in the past two decades.

It used to be such a simple, working class game, never summed up better than in 1929 when, in The Good Companions, JB Priestley wrote: “ … not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, dole, sick pay, insurance cards … ailing children, bad bosses … you had escaped with most of your mates, and your neighbours, and half the town … cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders … having pushed your way through a turnstile into an altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with Conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its Art.”

Just as eloquent was the way in which that peerless pre-war England inside-forward Raich Carter was always moved to tears when he talked about the unemployed men who hammered their encouragement on the side of the Sunderland Corporation bus taking him to Roker Park in the 1930s. “We had to do it for them,” Raich said. “We had to brighten up at least those few hours of their lives.”

Of course, Raich and his teammates themselves didn’t earn small fortunes. Not like in the 21st century when, thanks mainly to the hundreds of millions of pounds pumped into it by television companies – most notably Murdoch’s Sky TV – football is vastly rich.

Aspects of the game are unrecognisable from those of only a few years ago. Most of us can remember when even top players were paid little more than the average working wage, not three years’ salary every week, and footballers’ wives (“wags” were people with a wry sense of humour) were more likely to be found down the Co-op than sauntering around Asprey’s.

Compare that to 1956, when the average industrial wage was £11 a week, and a full-time footballer aged 20 and over was allowed to earn no more than £15 a week in the season and £12 in the summer. Match bonuses of £2 for a win and £1 for a draw were allowed for 11 players and one reserve.

Sir Tom Finney used to tell a story, probably apocryphal but funny for all that, about Tommy Docherty marching in to see the Preston North End manager to complain that he was being paid £12 in the season and £10 in the summer whereas Finney took home £15 and £12 respectively.

“But he’s a better player than you,” the manager told Docherty.

“Not in the summer he’s not,” flashed back The Doc.

Mick Hopkinson, who signed full-time professional forms for Derby County in 1959, remembers the Rams’ initial approach: “The manager, Harry Storer, wanted me to go on the groundstaff and offered me £2 6s [£2.30] a week. I was earning £9 a week as a miner and I had no intention of coming out of the pit for that.”

Even in 1961, if a club won the Football League championship, the FA Cup, and even the European Cup, the most any of its players could legally earn was £1,500 in the year. Then the maximum wage for players was abolished and Johnny Haynes famously became the first £100-a-week footballer.

If they were playing today, the likes of the men who won League and FA Cup doubles for Spurs and Arsenal, for instance, would be multi-millionaires. Of course, you can only live the life that you’re given, and you cannot blame today’s players for accepting the riches on offer.

But you can blame those at the top that can’t resist sticking their snouts into the overflowing trough. It would be a wonderful thing, although it is never likely to happen, if football’s strongest nations got together to stage their own championship.

Apart from anything else, wouldn’t it be a grand feeling to tell Sepp Blatter where to stick his Word Cup?

  • This column first appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph
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