THIS is not a defence of Anthony Stokes. There is no doubt he acted in a highly unprofessional manner. All players believe they should start every week, and those who don’t get their chance, or least the majority, complain to team-mates, family, friends, or they go and knock on the manager’s door. They do not go on social media, make a spectacle of themselves, possibly distract the team before a crucial game, and let the whole world in on a behind the scenes rift.
Footballers, celebrities, everybody needs to realise this: social media is a good place to vent, but you have to be careful. If you’re a footballer, is the sentence you are about to type something you would happily repeat in front of a television camera? If it’s a yes, then bash on. If not, put the phone away, silently fume for a while – trust me, it’ll pass – and don’t make things worse than they already are.
Supporters of all clubs quickly jumped on the tweets and criticised the Celtic player for them. Quite rightly so. As Ronny Deila said after the game, as a professional he should make his point on the training pitch and not with a smartphone. However, there was one line of criticism that didn’t sit right.
“You’re being paid thousands of pounds a week to watch a game of football. What have you got to be unhappy about?”
In society there exists a real resentment for how much footballers are paid. The whole firemen and nurses argument is brought out every time an athlete exceeds some ludicrously high threshold where the madness used to stop in terms of a weekly pay packet.
There is no doubt footballers earn too much money, and that firemen and nurses don’t earn enough, but this is not solely the fault of the player. It’s a commercial industry and it’s also an entertainment industry. Musicians and film stars also make a lot of money, shouldn’t footballers as well? Besides, if they didn’t demand a higher cut of revenues, do you think the chairman would donate the money to better causes instead? Or would they just keep it?
Because of that resentment there remains a line of thinking that footballers should be happy regardless of circumstance. Sometimes, in cases such as this one, it can be something petty. Sometimes it can be quite dangerous. When Stan Collymore, as a player, admitted he had depression, his own manager threw him under the bus with one ill-thought-out question. How could a man with talent and money be depressed?
Nowadays, thankfully, we’ve moved on from such ignorance with regards to mental illness, even in football circles (to an extent). But the same insistence that money should be an immediate cure for an athlete’s emotions remains.
If you have a problem in your life and someone hands you £50 it does nothing to solve your unhappiness, unless the problem is a lack of money at that precise moment. It may give you a temporary reprieve from it, a slight distraction while you marvel at your own luck, but the problem will bring you back down eventually.
Imagine your own job and the thing you like most about it. Now imagine that best thing is taken away from you. Would you be happy? No, of course you wouldn’t. Getting paid to train and play in football exercises at Lennoxtown isn’t a bad way to make a living, but it’s not what Stokes want to do. Footballers want to play in the games. They want to get their competitive juices flowing and show their worth.
From a personal perspective, if I came into work today and was told not to write about sport and, instead, to simply upload 20 ready made articles onto our website then I wouldn’t be happy about it. I had conceived the idea of this column last night and looked forward to writing it. Sports writers want to write about sport. Doctors want to treat patients. Teachers want to teach. Stokes wants to play football.
Some will consider it a slap in the face that they’ve travelled hundreds of miles, paying for travelling costs and match tickets, while he’s complaining about a free ride and a free ticket. And that’s perfectly understandable. But consider it from Stokes’ perspective.
He wants to play but he’s not allowed, and yet he’s still dragged the same distance to watch his colleagues doing what he’s desperate to do. Fans look out onto the field with a feeling of anticipation, excitement and pride. Stokes’ view is clouded by resentment, particularly when Nadir Ciftci gets a game ahead of him and struggles worse than Stokes ever has in a Celtic shirt.
Stokes was unprofessional for complaining to the world instead of airing his grievances in private. And, at the end of the day, he’s hurt himself more than anybody else. This will only diminish his chances of getting want he wants, which is to play football. But he’s still allowed to be unhappy about it.