There could have been further reflection from clubs, players and their representatives. While I’m sure the players want to help, they didn’t act quickly enough and a lot of damage has already been done to their reputation. Footballers are in a hurry to assume they are all greedy and they should have seen it coming, even if, hopefully, the decision by Premier League clubs to demand 30% pay cuts will win public approval.
It is not fair to say that players are only interested in money. They do a lot for charity, which rarely makes headlines, and they pay a lot of tax to the government, which has the responsibility of investing it wisely. But we are in unknown territory and the non-football staff of the clubs are on leave. The players see these people every day, they are very friendly to them and I am surprised that something had not been done sooner. It sounds like the players don’t care about their co-workers, and I’m sure that’s not true.
Clubs could also do more. Players will look at the owners who are worth billions. They will talk to the clubs and wonder if their money will go to the staff or if it will just be swallowed. These questions are correct. But as soon as I got out of football, the real world kicked me in the back. I developed a totally different perspective on normal life. When you’re in the soccer bubble, you can lose sight of that.
I was only 26 when I retired in 2009. A single serious injury can end a career quickly and in a way, I am lucky to have this prospect. Players won’t get it. You think it will last forever; that money will always roll. The money at the elite level, which I was earning at one time, is incomprehensible. It’s hard to explain and there will also be a lot of people living within their means. They could have astronomical mortgages or they could support their family and friends.
However, when you exit the game, you realize that money is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. When I was playing, my head was in my ass. You make crazy money and rarely have to do anything for yourself, which is why some players may not be able to handle the anxiety people outside the game experience. And if you were to give some your salary for the next three or four months? It will not impact you. And who cares if this is the case? It’s a small price to pay.
That’s why I’m emptied of the players. They want to help but they were tarnished because they left it for too long. The problem is that players usually follow the crowd. There is a team mentality: if we do it, we all have to do it. Players tend not to speak individually, which is why the club captain is so important. Once the captain says something is going on, the group lines up.
However, the Association of Professional Footballers takes a hard line. It emphasizes the owners and protects the contracts of its members. But it doesn’t matter when people lose their lives and livelihoods, which won’t happen to Premier League footballers. When football returns, they will start making ridiculous money again. But while the PFA seeks to protect its members, it has actually embarrassed them. We all knew it was going to happen, so why didn’t he try to protect them from a public relations perspective?
I understand why they asked the clubs to provide financial information, but I don’t see it happening, so it just becomes a battle. It should not be a battle between the clubs and the players or the union. It should be a collective goal for all clubs and football players to help staff, the general public and the NHS.
Ultimately, it is the players who will be the scapegoats. I would hate to think that Matt Hancock, the Secretary of Health, was trying to deflect the blame when he said that footballers should play their part. I think he was just answering a question. But it creates more negative headlines.
The PFA could have done more. There could have been an agreement that players give up percentages of their salary based on how much they earn. Football would then have functioned as a community, helping people in the clubs and allowing money to infiltrate society. Everyone would have seemed to care. The speed of action did not help.
Dean Ashton played for Crewe, Norwich, West Ham and England from 2000 to 2009