It Cuts Both Ways

Written by Andrew Thomson

Edited by Genevieve Gordon

LOYALTY IN FOOTBALL?

IT CUTS BOTH WAYS.

 

So Matty Taylor, Bristol Rovers leading goalscorer in each of the past three seasons, has become the first player in thirty years to make the switch across the city and join arch rivals Bristol City. Having experienced the passion in Bristol’s football community and, at times, pure hatred for the ‘other side’ this seems like a brave move, however, should we really be surprised?

The Rovers fans perspective on this move will be obvious and quite simple, “how could he betray us?”, “why would he sign for City, of all teams?”  The frustration they feel is predominantly about losing their top striker, Rovers have a long history of selling strikers in their prime, Hayles, Stewart, Roberts and Cureton to name a few. The fact that he has signed for their neighbours just rubs salt into the wound. If you look back through footballing history there are not too many examples of players signing directly for their local rivals, Sol Campbell’s switch from Tottenham to Arsenal the highest profile example in recent years.

Taylor himself was quoted this week as saying he was avoiding social media for a while, and that may be wise as the inevitable backlash rumbles on. In my experience, Bristol can be a quite scary place to be when you run into the opposing fans. Fans that believe we, as players, are also fans of the club in the same way as they are but obviously this is seldom the case. Players are contracted to represent a club and perform to the best of their ability whilst they are employees of that club. You will often hear players referred to as mercenaries for moving from club to club, this is nonsense in my opinion and fans have to accept that players do not have the same passion for the club as they do. A players childhood memories of watching football will not be at their club of employment, they will not have grown up on those terraces watching their heroes every Saturday. Players should always give everything to their team but their love and passion for a particular club will never run as deep as a fan’s.

I remember running into a particularly angry Bristol City fan one evening in a bar, who proceeded to tell me that he thought I was a really good player and he wished I played for City not Rovers but he and his friends were going to beat me up later anyway! He could not understand why or how I could play for Bristol Rovers. I chatted to him for a while (whilst planning my escape route!) and asked him where he worked. He was working as a mechanic for a car company at the time and I asked him what he would do if a rival car company offered him a longer contract and more pay for doing exactly the same job but in a different coloured uniform and they were based just down the road? It seemed to click with him what I was getting at and eventually he calmed down, bought me a drink and we continued to have a very civil conversation for quite some time. He had never thought of things that way before and was completely blinded by his love for ‘his club’.

Incidentally, he said he would he would leave his job for the other company and I got out of the bar unscathed!

The average career length of a footballer in the UK is now just seven years. Seven years to try and earn as much money as you possibly can before the inevitable retirement comes. Footballers (and most athletes) careers work in reverse to most jobs in the ‘outside world’. There is a steady climb in income generally in the workplace as you work your way up the employment ladder, in football you have the potential to earn more in your twenties than you will for the rest of your life. Chances are limited in sport, along with the hard work and commitment there will always be an element of luck, of being in the right place at the right time to capitalise on the opportunities your ability affords you. When these chances come along, and certainly in Matty Taylor’s case, you have to be brave enough to take them.

He has moved to a bigger club (sorry Rovers fans), in a higher division (sorry again) and I would imagine he will be earning a much bigger salary and will have the security of a longer-term contract, which in football is invaluable. Time will tell if it proves to be a successful move, but it is certainly a brave one. It is hard moving clubs, new teammates, new coaches, new surroundings, new training regime, and hugely important in this case, new fans. The complaints from Rovers fans will soon dissipate and they will have a new striker to follow and pin their hopes on, what Taylor has to do now is win over the City fans. That won’t be easy with his history, he will always be the one that came from Rovers.

Loyalty is called into question repeatedly in sport, particularly in football.  I played with players towards the end of my career who were playing first team football, earning £300 per week on a monthly and sometimes weekly contracts. Time and time again these players would be released when they were no longer required by the club with no notice period or support. I was released at the end of my contract when I had been injured for a year, an injury sustained whilst representing the same club, and this situation arises continually. Loyalty should work both ways.

Athletes need to show many characteristics if they are to make a success of their careers, I just don’t believe loyalty is necessarily one of them, certainly not in football anyway.

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