Neville, Zaha and Carroll show football is a game with a good heart


IAN LADYMAN: Gary Neville, Wilfried Zaha and Andy Carroll have shown football is a game with a good heart… but it needs to open its doors and let supporters in

  • Scores of footballers perform acts of kindness and generosity without publicity
  • Supporters don’t know enough about how the work players do in the community
  • When the pandemic comes to an end football should publicise its kind soul 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Possibly the most depressing recent sports video was the one of Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa ‘coughing’ at journalists as he left Anfield 12 days ago.

Now the Spanish capital has been engulfed by coronavirus infection, I wonder if he is still smiling.

Happily, Costa is not the face of his profession. Not in his country or this one. No, football has a bigger heart and much greater intelligence than many may think and during this tricky time we are beginning to see it.

Diego Costa did little to enhance football’s reputation by coughing at journalists at Anfield

Thankfully Costa isn’t the face of football – the game has a much kinder soul than he showed

Gary Neville has allowed NHS staff to stay at his hotel – a gesture football should be proud of

Last week Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs opened the doors of their two Manchester hotels to NHS workers, Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha is doing likewise with the 50 properties he owns, while in Newcastle Andy Carroll has collected thousands of pounds from team-mates to pay for their kitman’s hip operation.

These are all genuinely altruistic gestures not done for the publicity. Having spent more than two decades working around footballers at various levels of the game, none of this surprises me. Unfortunately, I expect it will surprise others.

Footballers, on the whole, do not get a great deal of good publicity away from the field. They are rich, so many presume they are aloof. Some are, most are not.

They have an awful lot of things done for them so many presume they are emotionally and physically isolated from the real world. Some are, most are not.

NHS staff will be able to sleep at the hotel after night shifts as they help coronavirus patients

They spend their careers being told they are special, so many presume the players believe it. Some do, most do not.

I could go on, but rather than that let’s consider some of the players I have met for interviews in recent times. I think of Darren Fletcher calling sick children from his car phone on the way to training at West Bromwich.

I think of Ben Foster stopping to help an old man fix his tyre on the side of the motorway and then refusing requests to publicise it. I think of Fulham’s Cyrus Christie and a list of community commitments so long that his club cannot always keep track of it.

Wilfried Zaha has also opened the doors of 50 flats to NHS staff in another act of kindness

Andy Carroll has collected money from team-mates to pay for their kitman’s hip operation

Ben Foster recently stopped on the side of the motorway to help a man to fix his tyre 

And there are more, many more. Most of which we will not even know about. And then I ask myself why the image of footballers in the upper echelons of the game is so skewed, so removed from the reality.

Certainly, it doesn’t help when players such as Lionel Messi don’t pay their tax bill. But that isn’t the reason.

No, of greater concern is the way many players are shielded from the world these days — by their agents or more often by their clubs.

The public simply don’t know their heroes like they used to do and that strikes me as a great shame. What has anybody really got to hide?

The good players do is lost when high-profile players are found guilty of breaking the law

I have interviewed in the region of 70 players and managers for Sportsmail over the last four years or so, and can only think of two who I genuinely didn’t like — and I won’t name them here.

Maybe it’s me. But I don’t think it is.

So here is a small plea for when we emerge from this wretched darkness and football returns. It is a request that the game opens its doors just a little more.

People may like what they see. It is, as much as ever, a sport with an awful lot to be proud of.

Could Manchester City give Liverpool the title? 

This is an item that can be filed quickly in a tray labelled ‘things that will never happen’ but it’s worth airing anyway.

Were the season never to be resumed, there is one outstanding matter that could be solved at a stroke.

If Manchester City were to forfeit their Premier League game against Liverpool, their rivals would seal the title.

Liverpool have to win two games to clinch it but that’s presuming City win all theirs. You get the maths? It won’t happen and I am not saying it should. City are not obliged to be so generous. But it would stop a great sporting injustice and as such is a nice thought.

Manchester City could forfeit their game against Liverpool to ensure the Reds win the title

Bruno Fernandes is a £68 million bargain 

Juan Sebastian Veron was overpriced at £28million when Manchester United signed him from Lazio in 2001. A year later, Rio Ferdinand was purchased for £30m from Leeds and that was excellent business.

Nobody said any of this at the time, of course, but it’s what they say now. One transfer worked out and the other didn’t, hence the revisionism of the experts who inhabit every dark and dusty corner of the internet.

But what it tells us is simple. When you are a club like United, it doesn’t matter what you pay — within reason — as long as the player delivers.

We are seeing it now in the form of Bruno Fernandes.

A fee of £68m in January seemed high. It doesn’t now.

Ed Woodward and his men should keep this in mind when they haggle for targets this summer and we should do likewise when we judge them.

Manchester United paid £68m for Bruno Fernandes but that fee now seems like a bargain

A survivor’s heroic tale 

After reading items in these pages following the death of Munich hero Harry Gregg, Rosemary Blakeley sent an email from America.

‘Harry was indeed a very special person and may he rest in peace,’ Rosemary wrote.

‘I was the BEA stewardess to whom Harry handed the baby from the Munich air crash.

‘Twice you have mentioned that Sir Bobby Charlton is now the only remaining survivor but I would like to tell you that I am still very much alive, enjoying an active life in North Carolina.’

It was an uplifting missive in these difficult times and Rosemary’s first-hand testimony of events resides at the Manchester United museum. 


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