Danny Hall Column: Faux fury over footballers’ wages says more about society than it does about the likes of Steven Fletcher and Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney... good value at �300,000 per week?
Wayne Rooney... good value at �300,000 per week?

Jordan Seabright is probably the most famous car salesman you’ve never heard of.

If you’re not familiar with the name, you may be familiar with the story. Former Torquay United goalkeeper Seabright made headlines earlier this month when he quit professional football - to become a car salesman in his native Poole.

“I lost the buzz,” said Jordan, now an apprentice at Poole Audi.

“I’ve got aspirations to buy a house and live in Poole and I couldn’t see that happening if I had stayed in football. Don’t get me wrong, when I was growing up, I really wanted to be a footballer.

“I was at AFC Bournemouth with lads who were on good money and dreamt of playing for the first team.

“But reality hit home when I dropped down and I couldn’t see myself making a good living from the game. I ended up scraping around for another 12-month contract and I would like to think I am more ambitious than that.”

The common school of thought in football is that you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper.

Seabright seems quite the opposite.

His name did the rounds again at the weekend when Chris Hargreaves, Torquay’s manager, revealed that his Conference squad earn an average of £375 a week. Helpfully, the Daily Mail put that in their own kind of context and ‘revealed’ that it would take the likes of John Campbell and Courtney Cameron 16 years to earn what Wayne Rooney takes home in a week.

Torquay, for context, are 15th in the 24-team Conference and lost 5-1, just over a week ago, to the footballing might of Braintree Town. But ever since the Premier League announced its latest inflated rights deal to become richer than ever, any chance to stick the boot into the likes of Rooney has been gladly seized upon.

Steven Fletcher

Steven Fletcher

He earns how much? Then, the next part of the sentence is interchangable to suit, really. Choose from: ‘all he does is kick a bag of wind about on a field’. Or ‘all footballers are overpaid, lazy primadonnas’. And, my personal favourite; why does anyone never think of the ‘real heroes’, like doctors, nurses and soldiers?

True, Rooney et al do kick a bag of wind around on a football field; as do Campbell and Cameron. The difference lies in their ability to do it. The theorem sounds so obvious that it is barely worth writing, but some still don’t seem to understand it; higher levels of ability command higher levels of remuneration.

Rooney is a unique talent; with the skill set and mental strength to perform on the highest level, for a market leader in the richest league in world football, which in turn is one of the most lucrative industries on God’s green earth. Cutting a long story short, why the hell shouldn’t he earn astronomical amounts of money?

A similar criticism was levelled at Steven Fletcher this week, for having the audacity to buy a new car with his club side, Sunderland, fighting against relegation. The Daily Mail doom-mongers loved that. How dare he?

The article centered on fans’ ‘fury’ at Fletcher, the striker their side paid £16m for. Apparently the timing for the picture, of Fletcher and his new £260,000 Lamborghini Aventador, was ‘appalling’.

Forget, for a moment, that Fletcher didn’t actually post the picture; the company selling the car did.

(And ignore that Fletcher earns £40,000 every seven days. So his new ride is the equivalent of an ordinary bloke, earning the UK average of £457 a week, splashing out just under three grand on a new motor.)

This columnist’s first feelings when reading the article was not outrage or, indeed, ‘fury’. It was pity.

Yes, a little pity for Fletcher, whose every move and purchase is scrutinised with no justification whatsoever.

But moreover, pity for those who see a rich, talented young man buy a new car, and their first reaction is ‘fury’. Put simply, what does it have to do with them?

One comment even read: ‘So he’d rather buy a car than marry his partner and make the child legitimate? So sad where his priorities lie.’

Sorry, what?

There are shades of grey in the issue, of course. Sunderland fans may, rightly or wrongly, have their own opinions on Fletcher as a striker, and question whether his ability matches his salary. No qualms with that. But the issue of wages is such a complex one, that what a player ‘deserves’ is sometimes difficult to define. David Beckham famously repaid his £25m transfer fee, in shirt sales alone, after emigrating to Real Madrid. And Eden Hazard’s £57m, five-year deal will look value for money if Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea win a couple of titles and conquer Europe again in that time.

The default position, almost, is to compare footballers with nurses and soldiers when the two could barely be more incompatible. True, there are nurses out there who are overworked and underpaid, and no amount of money could recognise their dedication and commitment. And without doubt, anyone who willingly signs up to be shot at by the Taliban deserves our respect and a pay-rise. But they do it for a reason; to make a difference. No-one ever enrols in nursing school, or enlists in the Army, to become rich and the argument has become lazy to the point where it loses all effect.

Not to mention the fact that giving each soldier a ‘footballer wage’ of £100,000 a week would cost each UK taxpayer an extra £57,000 each year. We’d soon decide that, actually, firemen deserve soldiers’ wages. There’s be outrage - and, yep, maybe ‘fury’ - if a corporal happened to buy a nice car and ‘flaunt’ it on social media.

Whatever happens, at least sensible lads like Jordan Seabright will stay in work. Maybe he’s better off out of it.