Widespread deflation and dismay over our ‘grubby’ beautiful game

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‘DON’T GO to bed just yet….’ was how Leeds United’s official Twitter account infamously grabbed the attention of supporters with 10 or so minutes remaining of the summer transfer window in 2014.

United fans, quite understandably, took this as a sign that a big name arrival was on his way to replace Ross McCormack. It didn’t. Instead, Matt Smith was also on his way to Fulham – as that same Twitter account revealed just moments before the 11pm deadline to widespread disbelief and plenty of online gnashing of teeth. This unfortunate episode set a new standard in raising and then shattering expectations of those who pay their hard-earned wages to watch football. This week, the message about not going to bed “just yet” – or, more specifically, until after The Daily Telegraph has published its latest damaging revelations – has become sound advice for supporters everywhere. And, just like those Elland Road loyalists two summers ago, the over-riding feeling after each night of the Telegraph’s expose has been one of deflation and dismay along with, most pertinently, deep disgust. Leaving aside whether these accusations stand up to legal scrutiny – and those involved have been quick to issue denials – football feels grubby. Talk of back-handers, bungs and backroom deals does that to a sport. Supporters are entitled to ask just why they not only invest their hopes and dreams in the game, but also a significant portion of their income.

Ticket prices are not cheap and nor are the TV subscription fees that have fuelled the explosion in transfer fees and wages. Finding the necessary cash from ever-tightening household budgets is not easy. Yet, despite that, football in this country is booming in a manner that rarely seemed possible even 30 years ago. This will, no doubt, continue to be the case, but surely the time has come for fans to be shown some long overdue respect by those whose wages they pay. When the next chance to make “easy money” comes along, let’s hope there can be recognition that someone, somewhere will have to cover the cost. And how, ultimately, that someone is likely to be those same fans who often work long hours and go without to support their team up and down the country.

Money, as ever, is at the root of all this venality. Football has become so awash with cash at the top level that it has become easy prey to those from outside the game hoping to make a fast buck. More galling, however, is the grasping behaviour of those who have been in the game for many, many years. Just why someone earning £3m per year and who has just landed his dream job should feel the need to chase another big payday is something only the fella holed up at ‘Big Sam’s Villa’ on the Costa Blanca can truly answer. Of course, there are hundreds, nay thousands, of good people in football. Being tarred with the same brush as the alleged miscreants must be tough. For the sake of those and the legions of fans whose lives revolve around the fortunes of their favourite club, let’s hope there can be one positive to come out of this hugely dispiriting week. Namely, that, in future, those already benefiting from the football gravy train will pause and think twice the next time temptation is put in their way. If that happens, maybe football fans will once again be able to sleep soundly in their beds.