When footballers hit the headlines, it’s usually a case of infamy, infamy, or they’ve all got it in for me, to paraphrase the great Kenneth Williams. From racism to roasting, garish mansions, infidelities to illegal parking, murky motel encounters with team-mates and vulnerable young women, to even murkier whatsapp messages to vulnerable even younger women; when footballers are on the front pages the reasons are always tawdry, voyeuristic, sometimes even sinister.
Except those stories that have trickled out of the media over the past few weeks concerning Juan Mata and Mats Hummels. Those truly heart-warming, faith-in-mankind-restoring kind of stories that really deserve to be top of the news agenda, in whatever form you choose to absorb media. You know what story I’m referring to of course, don’t you?
Maybe not. The story was over a week old before I stumbled across it. Maybe that’s because my head is usually in one of two places, i.e. in the clouds, or buried in the sand, or maybe because good news stories about footballers don’t sell, so it remained buried under a quagmire of inane speculation and paralysing analysis.
In case you are wondering, the headline is Juan Mata, the subheading is Matts Hummels, the premise is that both footballers have pledged 1% of their salary to the Common Goal charity, and the heart of the story is the streetfootballworld NGO that is focused on changing the world for the better through football.
“Football is very well remunerated at this level … With respect to the world of football, I earn a normal wage. But compared to 99.9% of Spain and the rest of the world, I earn an obscene amount … I live in a bubble. Real life is the one my friends live. They’ve had to look for work, sign on to the dole and emigrate. That’s normal life now. My life as a footballer is not normal.” Juan Mata.
This is something we are all aware of, but like so many things, it is refreshing to have confirmation form the horse’s mouth. Mata has always cultivated a large social media profile and is a conscientious commentator and blogger. He is also one of football’s Mr. Nice Guys, who has cemented his reputation by pledging to donate around £1400 every week to Common Goal. This is news in itself, however the bigger story is his “calling out” of other footballers to follow his lead.
Mats Hummels is the first to take up this call to alms. The big Bayern centreback says “As soon as I heard of ‘Common Goal’ I knew this was a chance for football to improve our world, and I wanted to be part of it … I feel we could be doing more to connect the increasing revenues in football to some kind of deeper purpose. Through the one per cent pledge, we’re building a bridge between football and its social impact around the world.”
Imagine that. Another top class footballer with a social conscience and the balls to go beyond the occasional goodwill gesture or the obligatory charity gig goes under-reported.
The charity is simple. It asks professional footballers from all the top leagues to pledge a minimum of 1% of their earnings to a collective fund. The fund is then allocated to football charities around the world. The distribution is overseen by the non-governmental-organisation Street football World, founded by a German, Jürgen Griesbeck. Griesback was trying to find a way to use football as a method for conflict resolution in Medellin, Columbia, following the murder of international footballer Andreas Escobar after he scored an own goal that sealed Columbia’s exit from the 1994 World Cup. (That’s a whole other article).
With guns left at the door, a gender mix in teams, and no referees, all conflict on the pitch had to be solved through dialogue, teaching the participants valuable life lessons, and keeping them off the drug and bullet plagued streets. Griesbeck expanded this Football for Peace initiative into the global organisation streetfootballworld that aims to improve society through football.
In this day and age footballers are often criticised for their disconnect from the fans and from reality as most of us know it, and Mata has admitted as much. And who can blame them? The money they earn can keep them insulated from the moronic masses who thrust phones in their faces for selfies every time they try to get a bit of shopping, or hurl abusive or threatening language at them when they’re out having lunch with their partner or kids.
Often, when footballers do let their guard down and have a few sociables with the fans, make that connection that has been so lamented, they are surreptitiously videoed on a phone and the footage sold to the highest bidding rag. If footballers are to connect with the fans again, then the post-match pints are no longer the way to go, sharing the wealth is a much more practical option.
DECENT MAN OFFERS TO GIVE 1% OF VAST WEALTH TO POOR is admittedly not the sexiest headline, or the most tempting click-bait, but it is an important story that should be disseminated as widely as possible. One percent of the premier league wage bill alone amounts to around £200 million per year. That’s a lot of good causes.
These guys, Mata and Hummels, and the Common Goal initiative are really setting out to achieve something noble and worthwhile, words not often associated with top-level football. Yet it gets lost in the commentary, speculation, analysis, and that fucking meaningless Transfer Deadline Day banner constantly rolling across the Sky Sports screen.
Footballers are privileged. Most are aware of the vast amounts of money they make compared to us peasants. They only need to turn on Sky Sports or BT to glance in the mirror, and the mirror could appeal to their own sense of charity, narcissism or guilty conscience. If the mainstream media, particularly Sky and BT had any kind of real social conscience at all, this is the advertisement/sponsor that should precede and follow every ad-break. In his own words:
“I’m asking my fellow professionals to join me in forming a Common Goal Starting XI. Together we can create a movement based on shared values that can become integral to the whole football industry — forever. Football is very well remunerated at this level … It’s like we live in a bubble. With respect to the rest of society, we earn a ridiculous amount. It’s unfathomable. The long-term goal is to unlock one per cent of the entire football industry’s revenues for grassroots football charities that strengthen their communities through sport. I am leading this effort, but I don’t want to be alone.” Mata.
And a pretty damn good footballer too! Don’t you just love this guy.