Toys and Prams.

RENFREW FC – Match Programme

League – September 8th 2018 – Irvine Meadow XI


The recent incident where Celtic fans unfurled a huge banner declaring that Dedryck Boyata was unfit to wear the shirt of Celtic Football Club, no doubt proved an embarrassing episode for all parties concerned. Certainly, from the brief highlights I watched on TV, the player looked very subdued and sheepish. I didn’t see the faces of those fans bearing the banner after their anti-hero scored the only, and winning goal of the game, but surely they must have been a picture of confusion?

That a group of fans would go to such lengths (and it was a lo-o-o-ong) banner) and expense (unless they had all roped their grannies into a week’s worth of communal needlecraft) to express their feelings, raises several points of worthy debate.

The pragmatic response would be to point out that a footballer’s career is short, and could indeed be shortened even further by the next tackle. Surely it’s in their interest to get the best deal they can, when they can?

We all need look after our families. If another prospective employer offered us double money, would we not move? Why should football players be any different to those of us working in Civvy Street?

The thing is – they’re not.

The key words are as mentioned just above: ‘when they can.’ Boyata, and others before him like Payet, Costa, Tevez et al. were all under contract to their existing clubs when they developed mysterious injuries that led to them withdrawing their services until such time as they eventually got their way.

And this is what I can’t get my head around.

A football club has shown faith in a player’s ability, and offered a sum of money over a given number of years. Now whether that player happens to be Ronaldo or Billy Dane (he of the Magic Boots, remember him?) it matters not. At the time of signing that contract, the player is happy at both the financial reward and job security on offer. That they may, over the course of the next few months, hit a hot patch of form or indeed, play in the World Cup Finals, is a direct result of that Club showing belief and helping the player further develop.

Under contract? Then ‘now’ is not ‘the time.’

The contract is there to protect the player. Would they have signed for their present club were there no contract and the security it gave not been on offer? Absolutely not. So surely it cuts both ways and the player should respect that same contract, unless there is a mutual consent from both parties that it be rescinded?

Bottom line – who pays these players’ wages? Yes, some of the funding may come from sponsorship; and some will come from television monies dispersed to Clubs. But drill right down, and the money emanates, somewhere along the line, from football fans. So who are dissenting players letting down when they declare themselves unavailable for selection?

Never has the expression ‘biting off the hand that feeds,” been more relevant, and for once in my life, my sympathies definitely lie with those Celtic fans.

And so, the question needs asking: is ‘loyalty’ a forgotten word in football parlance?

Certainly not from a fan’s perspective. We are proud to stick with our team through thick and thin. Indeed, you may not be considered a true fan of a club, have you not experienced a period of the ‘thin’ nature. Until then, you are simply a ‘glory hunter,’ in the eyes of some.

But players? When I were a lad, every end of / beginning of a season, there would a testimonial match in honour of some player or other. Generally, the recipient of this honour had served ten years or more with that club. Of course, I may be wrong here as I don’t watch ‘senior,’ football these days, but I’m not conscious of many of these games being played nowadays.

Fans love these players though. Their blood runs the colour of the shirt; they have the Club at their heart, and play ‘for the badge.’

But do they? Really? I mean, really?

Let’s face it – if a player is good enough, there will be offers to take him away from his existing club. And if he’s valued, they will do all they can to keep him. Like offer him more money, a longer term contract and security. This is exactly what happened in the cases for Messi and Ronaldo. Ok – the latter has moved on now, but he did spend nine years at Madrid.

Fans often ask why Scott Brown hasn’t played in England. Rangers fans will say it’s because he’s not good enough; Celtic fans will say it’s because he loves his present club. I suspect it’s a combination of the latter and the old-school Scottish pecunious attitude of, ‘how much does one really need?’ I’m quite sure he’ll have been amply rewarded for his ‘loyalty.’ Which is fine and most definitely merited.

My point here is that now money plays such a large point in our game, ‘loyalty’ is so hard to define. As I’ve said before, I am most definitely no lover of Celtic (though I concede I seem to talk about their players a lot) but Scott Brown at his best could certainly have cut it to the same extent as Van Dijk; as Boyata; and as I write, Dembele. The difference is he is a throwback to the good old black and white days of Scottish football. The days of Billy McNeill and my hero, John Greig etc.

No toys out of pram situations with Scott. Though having both toys and pram bought for him by his club has helped.

So, the question is: where does ‘loyalty’ live in present day football?

The answer, my friend, is right here in Junior football – where money matters less than being a local hero. A very unscientific and random survey of a few clubs highlighted most had granted ‘ten year testimonials’ to at least one player. In some cases, like ourselves here at Renfrew FC, several. From memory, I can count, in recent times, John Hammond, Jimmy Quigley and Neil Farquharson.
Dedryck Boyata remains a Celtic for the time being, which will upset many fans, I know. But he owes them, big time. And football fans in general. This is going to stick in my throat, but good on Celtic for not bowing to player power. And in fairness, good on the lad himself for at least bearing a permanently contrite look.

Maybe this is the start – maybe the tide has turned. Maybe everyone is fed up to the back teeth of prima donna players getting it all their own way. More power to the clubs and their supporters, I say!

(Uh oh! Did someone just mention Moussa Dembele?)