Keith Newbery: How the beautiful game turned ugly

It’s sad when a love dies; when an abiding passion slowly fades and nothing but fond memories remain.

It’s sad when a love dies; when an abiding passion slowly fades and nothing but fond memories remain.

My devotion to football began when I was barely old enough to read – so my parents bought me annuals for birthdays and Christmas, which featured photographs of stars like Nat Lofthouse, Duncan Edwards and Jimmy Dickinson.

They were brawny, barrel-chested men, invariably seen ploughing through ankle-deep mud in clod-hopping, leather boots.

But they were individuals worthy of hero status; men who went on to represent their country at the highest level and to whom no hint of scandal ever attached itself.

My fondness for the game continued through the sixties (climaxing in the national delirium of 1966) and into the seventies, where I was a season-ticket holder as my local club foundered in the old fourth division.

By that time I felt like a bit of a harlot, because I was also working on the sports desk of an evening newspaper and getting paid to do something which provided me with pleasure as well as money.

I spent the happiest three years of my working life surrounded by like-minded individuals, and every day involved writing and talking about sport in general, and football in particular.

Looking back, I think my passion began to wane in the late eighties, and disappeared altogether once Rupert Murdoch began to exert his malign grip on the sport.

Before long, top players were being paid more in a week than most of their supporters were earning in three years.

Then football slowly sold its soul to the corporate followers (it would be a misnomer to call them fans) and some leading players began to exhibit the morals of alley cats and the IQ of a pedal bin.

The sport became a disciplinary cesspit, and television screens were filled week after week with images of expectorating players roaring their expletive-spattered opinions into the faces of match officials.

I eventually ditched Sky as a one-man protest at its appalling customer service, and the fact it was funding this degradation of a once glorious game.

I now spend my Saturday afternoons in the winter watching a local rugby club.

It’s a sport which exemplifies the qualities professional football has long since abandoned – genuine toughness, discipline and mutual respect.

More exciting weather: Thundersnow!

Regular readers will know this column has become an enthusiastic repository of meteorological jargon – and the lexicon grows ever longer thanks to the weird weather which has beset these islands in recent years.

Hardly had the ‘beast from the east’ had us reaching for our thermals, than a much-heralded ‘snow-bomb’ exploded over mid-Wales.

But they are mere bagatelle compared to latest phenomenon to come rolling in from the Atlantic – ‘thundersnow.’

The very name conjures up images of big, black clouds belching out flakes the size of dinner plates as lightning illuminates a fearsome sky.

It’s all too exciting – and poor old Michael Fish must be ruing the day he hung up his kipper tie for the last time.