The Lost Boys of English football

Lost_boysI’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of football is minimal, and my interest in the game is not that great either.  However, for the last couple of weeks it’s been incredibly difficult for anyone in the UK to avoid the story of John Terry, ex-England Captain, and his personal life off the soccer pitch.  It seems to be an ongoing saga in the UK over the last decade or so – varying amounts of scandal and titillation around the private lives (often played out in public) of our leading soccer players, and how those issues affect their ability to play the game they get paid handsomely to do.

I’m not going to rehash the stories here; what triggered me to write this was overhearing an interview with Lizzie Cundy on the TV news, in which she referred to various soccer players as ‘boys’ – which immediately hit an old hot-button of mine about infantilisation in society, so here we are!

It really does concern me to hear of young men in their twenties and early thirties being referred to as boys (and also young women in the same age range being referred to as girls, for that matter).  Apart form the patronising nature of referring to a man who earns over 100,000 a week, is a husband and a father, and holds line management responsibility in the same way that I was referred to when I was a snot-nosed kid of 8 years old trying to blow up the garden shed, there is a whole raft of cultural and behavioural issues tied up in that word ‘boy’ that is at the heart of the current fuss about the private lives of these men.

The problem is that when you refer to someone as a ‘boy’ it comes loaded with a load of cultural associations.  And at the core is that little phrase ‘Boys will be boys’ – just how much of a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card is that phrase?  So much of the behaviour of these people is probably predicated on the fact that they think that because ‘they’re one of the boys’ they’ll get away with all sorts of nonsense because that is what is expected.  The problem is that we’re not dealing with lovable, tousle-haired little scamps who’ve kicked a football through the greenhouse window.  We’re dealing with adults who, to be blunt, have responsibilities to family, team and country.

Their partners, managers, fans and more often than not large sections of the popular media support this attitude until situations like this involving the allegations around John terry arise; then we start the usual round of ‘It’s disgusting, it’s terrible, it’s shocking, etc.’  I heard a couple of Chelsea fans on the news saying that Terry shouldn’t have been fired because he was the best man for the job, etc.  I expected this sort of partisan support, an was incredibly gratified that Capello was able to dismiss Terry in less than 15 minutes.  Perhaps Capello is proving to be the stern, parental, father-figure to these ‘boys’ that they sorely seem to need.

In the Peter Pan stories, ‘The Lost Boys’ were Peter Pan’s gang – they literally were little boys that had been lost by their nannies.  Like Peter, they never grew up.  In the 1980s movie ‘The Lost Boys’, the strap-line on the film poster was ‘Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun being a vampire’.  Party all night and never grow old seems to be the teenage dream still being lived by quite a few Premiership footballers.

Perhaps we need to start addressing our own ‘Lost Boys’ in soccer and encourage them to grow up a little.  And the starting point is to refer to them as men, not boys.