Sir Geoff: Fair play, football and the love of the game
As I write, the 2011/12 season has just finished in a flourish of competition with the fate of clubs being decided in a matter of seconds. I, like all football fans, have been caught up in the emotions of success and failure but I can't help feeling there is something missing from our game.
The joy of the win is there but where is the joy of the game? Of course, every team wants to win but has the hunger for success risen to such an extent that today, on the pitch, a tangible sense of fair play or a visible love of sport and sportsmanship is a rare treat.
What kind of message does it send to youngsters when they see their heroes cheating, and getting away with it. How refreshing it would be to see one of the Premiership superstars own up to an indiscretion on the field of play rather than try to get away with it as so often happens.
Paolo di Canio's demonstration of outstanding sportsmanship in a match at Everton in December 2000 divided opinion. Some acclaimed his sense of fair play while others criticised him for a lack of professionalism.
The Italian striker was playing for West Ham when the Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard collapsed in the goalmouth as Trevor Sinclair crossed the ball. Di Canio could have volleyed it towards the goal but instead choose to catch the ball, thereby halting play.
Gerrard was stretchered off and the match ended 1-1. Di Canio's critics claim he could have scored but others, including me, felt he had displayed outstanding sportsmanship.
It was a big talking point at the time largely because of the rarity of such sporting behaviour.
Cheating, especially diving and time wasting, has long been part of the game, including the time in which I was playing, but it is far more prevalent today. We used to be a country admired for our sportsmanship but that is no longer the case in football. In fact, we struggle to think of any team that has a reputation for values and fair play in football.
There are few examples of top level footballers, paid to do something they love, that express their 'joie de vivre' on the pitch. Just last season, it was a joy to witness the Man City striker, Sergio Aguero, playing with a broad smile, even when things weren't going his way. It was great to see but all too rare although my hope is that it is contagious.
The stars of modern football wield huge influence, especially over the young, and I feel that their fame and status could be harnessed for the good of the game and society in general.
It's not too late to rediscover these sporting virtues and big-time footballers can play their part. We can do better for the sake of future generations - and we should try.
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