Football is littered with criminal terminology. To sneak the ball off a defender is “to pick his pocket”; to give it away again easily is a crime. This is no real surprise, we use sport as a metaphor for our lives most of the time, and the most common themes are war, crime and death. Not much sex, mind, but maybe that will come with time.
It is not only part of the romance of the game that some young men are taken away from poverty wracked lives that were seemingly heading towards a life in and out of prison. It is the ultimate way out, for riches and fame.
This is also, naturally, intrinsically linked with the snobbishness that comes with our reactions to player’s wages. They are resented their kings ransom’s for being idiots, for being self-centred and for being tasteless, but this is all snobbery, whichever name you give it. The born-rich have no taste either, marry appalling women and fight in clubs because the DJ won’t play Phil Collins. They just aren’t pilloried for it so much in public.
There is a Brazilian legend that talks about a brown spirit child, with feet facing in the wrong direction. He is of the poorest families, but can fly across the rooftops to evade capture. He is mythologised as having a way out, and can rely on his brains and quick reactions to get away from trouble. He is embodied in Garrincha, the “little bird”, the left winger that was probably more beloved in Brazil than even Pele. It needs to be remembered that players like Garrincha, or his latter day equivalent Romario, came from the poorest backgrounds imaginable. Sometimes anything would be justified to get out of the Barrio.
But what happens when the line is crossed, when sportsmen become criminals, as happened last week with the conviction of former Babelsberg 03 striker Guido Kocer? He was primarily labelled as being a bit of a bonehead. He had agreed to be a part of a gang who were robbing casinos, cafés and shops, as a look-out, but fled to hide in the toilet as soon as the first job was under way. According to The Local, he didn’t do it for the money, but because he didn’t want to look like an idiot and say no.
This is surely a huge point. Who is more open to peer pressure than the footballer? Their whole lives they have run in packs and been fawned over for their abilities with the ball, but they also are often cut too much slack. Their misdemeanours are covered up and their foibles are amused. It is hardly surprising that the chance for some adrenalin is not passed up, for the chance to run with a bigger pack of dogs.
People were terrified during this robbery, the fact that Kocer himself fled to the loo says a lot about the aggression involved, so he is not to be defended in any fashion, but we should try to see beyond the sums of money, and the fame. Sometimes we should try a little understanding of what is, or isn’t, going on inside their heads.