With Brexit looming, one archipelago off the coast of Europe has found itself in a fit of nostalgia.
Second World War sentiment is at a high, people are looking back fondly on the days of food rations, and gammon is as popular on morning talk shows as it is on supermarket shelves. We can now add on another complaint: modern footballers are all snowflakes because they don’t like being abused at work.
If it wasn’t immediately obvious, that comment was a not-so-subtle nod to Neil Lennon’s “mutually agreed” sacking from Hibs. Let me be clear from the start – I have no idea if Lennon deserved to lose his job. Reports seem to suggest that after a series of bust ups with Florian Kamberi the Swiss forward – together with a number of other players – went to members of the board to make a complaint about Neil Lennon.
Rather than the story being, “manager sacked after losing the dressing room” ex-players and pundits are falling over themselves to lament the fact that managers (supposedly) can’t give players the hairdryer treatment anymore. If you think that managers no longer shout at their players for fear of hurting their feelings then I would just refer you to the sidelines of any game in any tier of Scottish football. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of it.
That hasn’t stopped many from making the claim. What’s made this particularly laughable is some of the people uttering the argument, with Gordon Strachan in his Paddy Power column front of the queue: “People who are successful talk about managers who drive them to the top, getting the most out of them. The ones that fail are the ones who say they got bullied. There’s a correlation between allegations of bullying and failure.”
This is the same man who famously fell out with his old manager, Alex Ferguson, for seven years because one line in Fergusons diary entry was critical of Strachan. Snowflakes, eh?
He is right that accusations of bullying do often only come out when it coincides with failure. However, rather than that being seen as the smoking gun Strachan thinks it is, maybe we should instead ask why clubs only care about bullying when it is tied to failure or, why can’t some managers deal with failure without resorting to bullying?
Again, I have no idea as to the merits of the Hibs players’ complaints but what is notable is that the press, who have not exactly been overly kind to Lennon in the past, are ready to use this as an example of how football is no longer a ‘man’s game’ or some other cringe-worthy cliché.
Part of the issue is that British football suffers from the over-reliance of sport-as-war metaphor. Players are expected to act like they are in the trenches. Managers sacrifice individuals for the greater good. In this mix of hyperbole and metaphors people forget that players are employees and managers are, well, managers.
If your manager at work popped a blood vessel screaming in the middle of your office that the excel spreadsheets could have been done by a chimp with a crayon you would probably feel a little aggrieved. If that public humiliation happened consistently every day then you would probably make a complaint about it.
Transported into the corporate world maybe the uber-macho managers of British football would build a good workplace environment, although I suspect it would more likely resemble the Wolf of Wall Street – just with less humour and more cocaine charged aggression.
The next line of argument that comes out of twitter or the even more reactionary Scottish football media is, “if I was earning footballers wages I would just suck it up”. As if workplace rights should be dependant on your pay packet. It also ignores the fact that most players in Scotland aren’t earning Celtic or even Hibs wages.
Football for those of us that are cursed to merely spectate is a passion. It makes life better. It provides an outlet and can bring pride into a community. It’s that passion that makes the game. However, for players it’s their workplace.
No one is saying passions can’t run high and it would be naive to think a football club is a totally normal work environment. But for some it seems managers should have a right to act however they want to their players. No matter what the truth about what went on at Hibs, the reaction to it from our Scottish football press has been the most depressing part of the debate.
I can’t help the feeling that our national obsession with hard man football is holding us back, not helping us develop.