Our game in shame

Recent events in English football have brought the beautiful game to the brink, writes Kevin Mitchell.

What a sad week it has been for football lovers in this country.
Our national game is dominating the front pages as it is rocked by one scandal after another.

Of course, the game will bounce back: it always does. However, as the gang rape allegations emerged followed by Rio Ferdinand's drug-test no-show and then the threat of a walkout by the England squad, something became apparent - the heart and soul of British football has become rotten to the core.

Although the events of the past week may shock us, they should not surprise us.

Premiership footballers are young men with too much money and too much time on their hands.

Temptation is bound to arise in one form or another, whether it is alcohol, gambling, drugs, or women. How many young men could honestly say that they would not be tempted?

The problem is that Premiership footballers, especially the younger ones, do not seem to realise the esteem in which they are held and that a certain level of respectability is expected in their behaviour.

Think of players such as Leeds' Lee Bowyer - charged with "unsporting behaviour" by Uefa following his apparent stamp on Malaga player Gerardo last December - or Wales and Newcastle soccer star Craig Bellamy - fined £750 for an incident outside a Cardiff nightclub, earlier this month. If they were not footballers then they would be common thugs.

Not all players are bad role models - David Beckham and Michael Owen are fine examples of how a high-profile footballer can conduct his life in a respectable manner. And yet others choose to frequent nightclubs and bars - surely not the best way to avoid trouble.

Football and alcohol will be forever linked: the tragic figures of the game such as George Best and Paul Gascoigne, to name just two. What might they have achieved if they hadn't turned to alcohol? Unfortunately, reports of drunken footballers seem to be on the increase, and stories of assaults and other trouble are likely to continue to appear in the press, under the circumstances.

Aside from their behaviour off the pitch, the recent ugly scenes at Old Trafford involving Manchester United and Arsenal mean players are under increasing pressure to behave on it as well. Youngsters love to copy their role models and if their idols are brawling and verbally abusing the referee then why not follow suit, they may well be asking.

As for the Rio Ferdinand incident, it seems unbelievable the England players were prepared to walk out.

The facts of the case are simple: Rio Ferdinand failed to show up for a drugs test which means that he failed it; his name was leaked to the papers which was unfortunate; the Football Association had no choice but to drop Ferdinand or face expulsion from Euro 2004 if Turkey protested in the event of him playing.

Why do the England players have such a problem with this? Yes, the timing is unfortunate but ultimately necessary.

Ferdinand has acted irresponsibly and does not deserve our sympathy. However, the modern game has developed in such a way that the players now believe that they are bigger than the game.

Their actions last week are those of petulant children, throwing their toys out of the pram because they cannot get their own way.

One would expect the manager and captain to remain professional and focus on the forthcoming game but instead Beckham and Eriksson were leading the protests!

Would Bobby Moore or Bryan Robson have threatened strike action? I think not.

Hopefully, England will defeat Turkey on Saturday so everyone can return to talking about the game rather than the prima donnas, thugs, and super-egos that participate in it.

It seems there are no quick solutions to the problems in this game.