Torquay’s recent signing of Crazy Chris Zebroski, and Oldham’s not-so-recent signing of Lee Hughes, have made TMN ponder the question of whether football clubs have an obligation to police the sport’s moral code, and also what sort of beer to buy before the football season kicks off again…
TMN has been putting off pre-season training for some time. A summer of indolence, brewskies and barbecues has left the home of irreverent idiocy (uh, that’s TMN) flabby and utterly incapable of making it through 90 minutes of South London League amateur football. Spending sweaty days sat on a leather lounger in a pair of boxer shorts has made TMN more seat than man. But no longer!
Peeling itself from the couch, nimbly wrenching up jogging shorts and squeezing into a XL white t-shirt, TMN will today lumber forth and begin its training. And it will start by sprinting as fast as possible up yonder hill to The Moral High Ground.
And what’s the view from up here? Well, to begin we’re looking down on Torquay United. The Gulls have just signed Millwall nutjob Chris Zebroski on loan for six months. Zebroski, a powerful striker, also spent two months on loan at Oxford at the back end of last season <TMN shakes its head and tuts at the Bullies, who spread their hands and shrug ‘What?’ in a show of innocence> But why TMN’s disdain?
Zebroski started his playing career as a youngster with Plymouth Argyle before allegedly smashing a glass jug over captain Paul Wotton on a pre-season tour to Austria, causing horrendous injuries that required 100 stitches in Wotton’s head. Maybe it was Wotton’s infuriating ability to score 40 yard daisy cutters week-in, week-out (and thereby secure promotion for a poor footballing team) that caused such animalistic rage in Zebroski. Or perhaps it was Wotton’s alleged incessant bullying of the youngster that brought it about. Whatever it was, the whole thing sounds as ugly as TMN after a 4 minute jog.
Argyle understandably sacked the 18 year-old Zebroski, who was sent for anger management courses (where he probably met a bunch of Millwall fans who talked him into signing for them). Now, the obvious question is, should this fella be allowed to continue playing football? Should he not, in fact, be behind bars for an assault that could have killed his team mate? Moreover, do football clubs have an obligation to police who is in the game?
These problems are always going to be magnified when something as public and inclusive as football is concerned. An attack on the streets will enrage the victim’s family and friends. An attack like Zebroski’s has enraged the entire population of Cornwall. Moving to Torquay – so close to the scene of his crime – is a daring move. As TMN types, there may be hoards of green-clad seven-fingered Cornish crazies armed with frozen Ginsters pasties heading up to Torquay on their tractors.
Without trying to answer all these questions yet, TMN glances to its left and catches sight of Oldham sheepishly trying to hide behind Bury. Now as far as we know Bury aren’t all that bad, but Oldham? Well they signed Lee Hughes. Hughes’ crimes are worse that Zebroski’s and there is no place for joking about them. But the man has served his time…if the appropriate institutions are satisfied that Hughes can now re-enter society is it Oldham’s place to jog up and join TMN on the Moral High Ground by not employing him?
Because Oldham have received plenty of vitriol from other clubs’ fans for signing Hughes. But again, the problem is complicated by the publicity that comes with football, and the rivalry that is entailed in the sport. Is the scorn and over-sensitive morality exhibited by some fans towards Oldham, and by Plymouth fans towards Millwall, Oxford and Torquay, not born at least partly from a sense of either resentment (at Oldham’s signing of a top quality striker) or local rivalry (Plymouth and Torquay)?
This article has groped and staggered towards the central concern, which can probably be summarised as: where does the moral responsibility lie? Because there is some obligation, surely, to do the ‘right thing’ in the broadest sense – i.e. to society – and in the narrow sense of protecting the image of the game we love (to hate).
Some will say that clubs are duty bound to do ‘the right thing’. But what are the chances of that in an era of Premiershite-defined footballing morality where cash is foremost, and therefore results are the key, so that morals and tactics and entertainment come a distant wheezing third, fourth and fifth, ahead only of TMN on the final straight of its afternoon run. If Torquay didn’t sign Zebroski, maybe Stevenage would have, and maybe he would score past the Gulls in the play-off final and deny them promotion…there wouldn’t be much moralising in Torquay in that scenario. Or worse, if he relegated Torquay many good men could lose their jobs. But does this justify the signing in its singularity?
Crucially, Zebroski wasn’t charged in Austria or in the UK. Hughes has served his time. The judicial systems of this country seem satisfied that these two are (now) free men, so aren’t the clubs concerned fully justified in employing them? Or is it passing the buck? There will never be a consensus among fans.
And trust Boston to go muddying the waters even further by signing Rob Wesley, a current prison inmate who will be allowed out to play for the Pilgrims on match days! Boston’s general manager, John Blackwell, is quoted as saying:
“He deserves a chance and we’re here to give him a chance and here to help him and help the prison. Hopefully this will make him a better person.”
Well, crikey. TMN doesn’t even know where it stands on that one. Perhaps Boston were just pining after a criminal element after seeing Steve Evans disappear. I suppose the disclaimer is that Wesley’s crime (stealing from supermarket cash machines) pales in comparison with the acts committed by Zebroski and Hughes.
One thing is for sure. With all of the fighting, pushing, diving, swearing and cheating happening on and off the pitch in the Premiership, TMN won’t be glaring at Torquay and Oldham (or Boston) for too long from atop its moral hillock. How can anyone expect anything other than compromised morals in the quest for success when the only way to survive is to play the game as it exists; as it is defined by those at the top?
More importantly, TMN needs to roll back down the hillock and crack open the beers in time to get suitably sozzled for the borefest that will be the Charity Shield…