Why Is Not Playing For England 'Disgusting'?

What a curiously old-fashioned idea that playing for your country is the ultimate accolade. Why does football judge players for putting family first? Nick Miller is confused...

Last Updated: 24/06/14 at 12:25 Post Comment

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There is something about football that makes us all lose our thread. You don't spend hours and money going to any other form of 'public entertainment', knowing in advance that there's a pretty good chance you're going to have a terrible time, in the cold, surrounded by morons. We all know this. It's been written about many times before. We've all read Fever Pitch.

This irrationality would be bad enough if it just applied to ourselves, but it stretches beyond that and into the behaviour we expect of players. And one of the most obvious manifestations is of course international football - the highest honour a player can have to play for their country, we are told. No arguments. It's the default setting on a professional footballer, and any player who exhibits any behaviour to the contrary is automatically criticised.

And so to Harry Redknapp, who this weekend did what Harry Redknapp does and, affable, loveable, approachable media character that he is, threw a verbal hand grenade into the England squad and wandered off, whistling a happy tune.

"I can tell you when I was at Tottenham, when full internationals came around, there were two or three players who did not want to play for England," he parped.

"They would come to me 10 days before the game and say, 'Gaffer, get me out of that game, I don't want to play in that game'. That was how it was. I'd say, 'you're playing for your country, you should want to play'."

Part of Steven Gerrard's response to this was admirable, calling Redknapp's bluff and asking him to stop being so bloody arch and name names. However, the foundation of Gerrard's words was still stuck in the notion that a footballer should always want to play for England, and should prioritise this above all other things.

"If that's the case, it's disgusting," said Gerrard.

Disgusting? Is it really? Redknapp of course didn't stop at the end of those words quoted above. He continued:

"(They would say) 'Nah, my girlfriend is having a baby in four weeks, I don't want to play' and that is the truth, so it makes you wonder."

Indeed, it does make you wonder. It makes you wonder about an atmosphere created in football where the idea of a man wanting to stay close to his eight-month pregnant partner, rather than play football for England, is regarded as 'disgusting'.

Say, for example, the player Redknapp is talking about wasn't a first choice for the England team. In lieu of Redknapp actually identifying this treacherous scoundrel, we must guess at his identity, but there weren't too many first-choice England players under Redknapp's charge at Spurs so we can assume that this mystery man wasn't exactly at the heart of the national team's plans.

For the sake of argument, we'll pick the first England game after Redknapp took over at Spurs, which happened to be a friendly in Berlin against Germany. Now, if a Spurs player, on the fringe of the England side, was picked in the squad for an essentially meaningless game, knowing that he probably wasn't going to play anyway, why exactly is it 'disgusting' that he wasn't particularly keen, especially if his partner was about to have a child?

In fact, scratch all that - even if it was a competitive game, even if the player didn't have a pregnant partner, why is it regarded as 'disgusting' that he wouldn't want to play for England? The idea that representing one's country is the highest accolade a player can have, and that he should be derided if he thinks otherwise, is simply wrong.

Football is a place where priorities are skewed, and prevailing attitudes over things that are basically personal choice and have minimal, if any, impact on anyone else are enforced in a manner that is little short of bullying.

It's a similar response to the one that greeted David Bentley when he announced his retirement recently. Bentley simply didn't want to play football anymore, but the response was incredulous. How could he, he earns so much, what a cushy gig etc and so on and so forth. Bentley left a profession that did not make him happy, and that hadn't made him happy in for quite some time. The idea that because a particular career or way of life is so coveted by so many that someone else should simply carry, even if they don't want to, is ridiculous.

Bentley of course wasn't any good for the last few years of his career, and the question of whether he wasn't any good because he fell out of love with football, or he fell out of love with football because he wasn't any good, is neither here nor there. He could have played out the final few years of his career in some well-paid backwater, but didn't because that isn't what he wanted to do. In any other walk of life, that would be regarded as admirable.

Similarly, in 2011 Fabio Capello missed his son's wedding because England had arranged a friendly for that day. This decision was partly down to Capello's professionalism, but one would think also partly because he knew what the response would be if this foreigner put his family before his job. In what other profession would missing your child's wedding because you had to work be considered acceptable, and indeed in some quarters admirable?

When something tragic occurs it is common for people to comment that it's just a game, and that football is put into perspective, but this idea shouldn't be confined to a death in the family.

Attitudes in football are changing, and in terms of social issues largely for the better, but the idea that representing one's country is the highest honour the game can bestow on a player is one of the last remaining old-fashioned values that should be broken. Of course, it would be great if those players who represented England did so with pride, but if they don't feel that, why force it?

Sure, it might be genuine for some, but it shouldn't be imposed on every player to the extent that they're considered 'disgusting' if they don't agree.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter. Or risk being called 'disgusting'.

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