Having grown up as a skinny Asian boy whose entire family were obsessed with football, it was inevitable that my father would push me into Sunday league football. Although at the time I resented him for this, Papa’s insistence on me taking part proved vital in moulding my character. Drowning in an oversized shirt and freezing every Sunday morning taught me more than just how to flash a ball into the corridor of uncertainty.

Every child playing football on damp, windy weekend mornings, learns three basic lessons. Firstly, flashy boots immediately make you into the next Ronaldo. Secondly, regardless of how well you play, the long commute home with your dad will undoubtedly be one of the most silent and uncomfortable journeys of your life. And thirdly, that respect is a two-way street. What has gone wrong?

In recent weeks, the fundamental truth of respecting ones opponent has been forgotten by some of football’s modern day heroes. Alan Pardew, manager of Newcastle United, recently head-butted a Hull City player as a result of a minor touchline confrontation. Although his team were cruising to a comfortable league win, Pardew’s actions on the side of the pitch seriously damaged his credibility at world manager of the beautiful games. It seems hard to fathom that a man, who is meant to act as an example to his players of how to conduct their actions, could regain the respect of his fellow managers, let alone the rest of the footballing world.

Worst still, actions on the pitch are not any better. In the recent match against Hull and Manchester city, George Boyd seemed to spit in the face of goalkeeper Joe Hart following an on-field clash in which the Hull player simulated being fouled by the keeper in a pathetic attempt to win a penalty. Spitting in modern day society in unacceptable, and yet the ego of certain footballers convinces them that they can do whatever they like.

Going back a few years, John Terry, one of the greatest centre-backs to ever play for England, disgraced both his team and his country by clashing with and racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. After a lengthy police and F.A investigation, Terry was given a four match ban and a £220,000 fine. This was not the first time Terry behaviour demonstrated a basic lack of respect to others. In 2010, it emerged that the Chelsea captain had had an extra-marital affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the girlfriend of England teammate Wayne Bridge. Terry actions on multiple occasions clearly demonstrate his basic lack of respect not only to the opposition, but also to his teammates.

It must be said that these cases of malice are, of course, rare events. Football matches across the globe demonstrate the sportsmanship and character that old-fashioned fans grew up on. Whether it is confessing to a dive or helping an injured opponent, football still retains the ability to demonstrate the great aspects that completion has to offer.

Despite this, it seems footballers so easily forget that they are role models to thousands of children across the world. What is football without respect? Anyone who has played the beautiful game will have undoubtedly experienced the associated competitive drive and passion. These feelings beg the question, is ego a characteristic needed to be a world champion?

For me, the undeniable answer is no. A close comparison with rugby explains this. One of the most brutal and aggressive sports in the world, rugby is known for its sportsmanship, both on and off the field. Swearing on the rugby field is almost non-existent compared to on a football pitch. On field fights are unheard of and camaraderie extends to both teammates and opponents. Football could learn a lot from its ironically more aggressive rugby cousin.

When dropping me at university a few years ago, my father gave me one last piece of advice. “Remember partner, maintain integrity, hold onto your class, but most importantly, respect yourself. Make me proud.” These words guide me each day and will undoubtedly stay with me for the rest of my life, whether I like it or not. The lessons that can be learnt on a football pitch are enough to turn a young boy into a man. Perhaps the pampered stars of world football need to remember why they started playing the game all those years ago.

By Gurjot Thind





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