By James Hussey
It is a well known fact that history loves a strapping young man. Our world, and particularly our generation, feast daily on the trials and tribulations of stars from the worlds of sport, music and acting. Though I have always had a soft spot for the more athletically minded, in recent years I have found it increasingly difficult to find “heroes” or people to admire in the world of sport.
The squeaky clean image popularly attached to rugby has increasingly been tarnished by controversial tackles, game-destroying tactics and the general lack of sportsmanship shown by many of its most decorated stars. My love of Italian football, and especially Juventus, took a critical blow with the revelation of match fixing during the past decade, though the genius of Alessandro del Piero keeps me clinging on.
This lengthy preamble brings me back to my search for an idol in modern-day sport. The classical heroes we see in history, the dandies and the world conquerors, have long since disappeared. The general public has no tolerance for heroes that wish to hold an iron grip over the world, slay a hideous Grecian monster or have a wardrobe made up exclusively of designer brand names. In the sporting community, we are, quite like the song, in dire need of a hero. And yes, he’s got to be strong and he’s got to be fast and he’s got to be fresh from a fight.
So where can such a man be found? Cast your eyes towards the Premiership footballer, modernity’s answer to Achilles and the multitudes of men that have represented the hero image throughout history. A myriad of Premiership footballers have used their talent to overcome various childhood troubles, family problems and adverse economic conditions, such as Manchester City’s striker Carlos Tevez who grew up in a tough Buenos Aires neighbourhood, catapulting them to a life of money, stardom and glory. The position these highly paid men play in our society cannot be underestimated. They provide a welcome form of escapism for millions of people across the world.
In many ways, soccer and its players have become a religion for vast swathes of the planet’s population. This may be an indication of the increasingly secularised society in which we live, but it also serves as a comment for the sheer popularity of the beautiful game. The haircuts they inspire, the numerous goal celebrations re-enacted across the world and the pouting and gesticulating that inevitably ensues after a poor refereeing decision, are all down to the paragons of man that we watch on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The ordinary people tend not to discuss the finer details of ecumenical matters outside shops and pubs on the average week day, but how many of those same people will talk about the minutiae of United‘s or City’s next fixture? The world therefore needs to embrace the footballer as the paradigm of humanity. Athletic, strong, talented, quick thinking and at the forefront of their respective field, their hunger marks them out from the masses who dream of one day playing at the top level.
The killer instinct that has proven the saviour of humankind through the millennia is present in abundance in the average footballer. It is this that makes them heroes to millions across the globe and sets them on a societal pedestal. The word “hero” is bandied about a lot in the modern world but I believe that it’s time to accept and embrace the footballer as an archetype of humanity.
The way you look on this last statement depends on how you view our society today. Accept it as truth and live contentedly amidst Sky Sports Soccer Saturday updates and RTÉ’s aged pundits. On the other hand, if you reject such a preposterous idea as a damning indictment on how life has given into the homogenised, sensationalised world of the tabloids, you are left to shudder at the number of young boys who wish to be world famous sports stars.