In days gone by, footballers would earn the same amount of money as the fan in the stands, going to work in the same places and generally experiencing a similar lifestyle.
Fast forward to the modern era, however, and footballers such as David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the most famous people on the planet. Why has this happened, and how has it changed the world of football?
Up until the early 1960s, the wages that footballers could earn was capped at £20 per week, meaning that many had to work alternative jobs. Preston North End legend Tom Finney, for example, was a trained plumber. The abolition of the maximum wage in 1961 meant that it was now viable for players to pursue football as a full-time career. England captain Johnny Haynes was the first £100 per week player, and salaries have increased ever since, meaning that footballers have become more and more distanced from the fans who pay to watch them play.
Lifestyle role models
The first real celebrity footballer was George Best who, as well as being Manchester United’s star forward in their 1968 European Cup win, dated supermodels and could regularly be seen hanging out with rock stars in London. However, players retained an air of “normality” right up until the 1990s; drinking was still a big part of English football, and England players such as Bryan Robson, Tony Adams and Paul Gascoigne, though famous, were still seen by fans as “everymen” who could enjoy a drink and a casino bonus with supporters from time to time.
David Beckham was the man who changed all that. Beckham, although a supremely talented player, was never the best in the world, but through his good looks, modelling deals and marriage to pop star Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, the Manchester United and England midfielder managed to transcend the game. Beckham was as at home on the front pages as he was on the back.
The modern game
The explosion in popularity of football worldwide over the last 20 years, coupled with increasing wages and the examples set by the likes of Beckham, have meant that leading players now tend to be seen as both public and sporting figures.
Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo recently had an airport named after him on his home island of Madeira, complete with a suspect bust, while Beckham added a cameo in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to his long list of his accomplishments outside of the game. But is this good for the game? José Mourinho, himself a “celebrity boss”, has been quoted as saying that fame matters more to young footballers than trophies.
Football is a different game to what it was 50 years ago, of that there is no doubt, but as footballers get richer and more well-known around the world, fans are having to re-evaluate the relationship they have with the players. While your grandad would have conversed with his club’s skipper over a pint down the local, we’re forced to deal in retweets.