TMN: Those Moralising Numpties?

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…



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6 responses to “TMN: Those Moralising Numpties?

  1. JBE

    Hmmm. Not sure we’ve exhibited “scorn and over-sensitive morality” towards Millwall, Oxford and Torquay for giving Zeb a chance. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the glassing incident (and there are Argyle fans who were there who take a pretty sympathetic line towards Zeb), the bottom line is, here is a guy who’s had four clubs in a year and gone from Championship benchwarmer to the Conference. There’s one reason for that. He isn’t very good.

    Not convinced either by your “poor” tag, either. Poor teams don’t win two Championships in three seasons. While Wottsy was an integral part of both teams, his contribution had more to do with his on-pitch presence, rather than the occasional pile-driver. Apologies, corrections and promises of reparations gratefully received.

  2. Phill

    if oldham didnt sign lee hughes somebody else would have, much the same as chris. opposition fans are bound to take a pop at lee next year, but how much of it is taking the moral high ground, and how much is jealousy will only ever be known by the individuals

  3. Peter

    Um, ever heard of learning from your mistakes? Perhaps (and I don’t know if they have) both players regret their actions, both players are better, stronger and perhaps more humble men. Perhaps they deserve another chance in an environment where people don’t judge them on past misdemeanours. Perhaps they’ll both prove to be bad signings. BUT, had I been in either men’s shoes, I would thank my lucky stars that I didn’t have That Magical Night’s self-righteous pontifications throwing stones at me in the safe knowledge of their perfect behaviour…

    Now, about Teddy Sheringham and his swopped driver ID scam…

  4. George40

    Sadly, we get the kind of morality in football that we deserve. If Oldham fans suddenly became up in arms about the Hughes signing, he wouldn’t be signed. If Man City supporters rose up as one and protested at Sinatra’s ownership, he would think twice.

    Its the fans that dictate the morality of the game, not the clubs. The clubs simply reflect the opinion of the fans. All the fans want is success at absolutely any cost, so drunk driving murderers, dodgy dictators and corrupt deals involving Argentinians, amongst other things, will be tolerated as long as that success is delivered.

  5. thatmagicalnight

    Well said George40. The easy reaction these days is to say that clubs answer to the shareholders (‘ooh aah, isn’t football sullied, not what it once was?’), but ultimately those shareholders are reliant on bums on seats. The problem is that there’s a plethora of bums at the top of the game. One moral Man City fan will be replaced by another dope who’s happy to pay to watch an underwhelming team managed by an overpaid fool run by – and let’s be clear about this – a shocking abuser of human rights.

    But does that not mean that fan power is stronger at the bottom of the game than at the top because fewer people will have a greater impact? If 1,000 Oldham fans were to boycott (and I am NOT saying they should) then that would have an immediate effect. If 1,000 West Ham fans did likewise no-one would notice; those fans’ season tickets would be snapped up instantly.

    Ultimately, as the article suggests, the win-at-all-costs mentality (that has filtered down from the cash-driven top flight) is what is at the heart of all this.


  6. Torquay gateman


    Some time ago I read the original article on Zeb (as he is now affectionately known at fortress Plainmoor) and since then I have been pleasantly surprised by the lad’s demeanour not to mention his goal scoring skills.

    He is now acquiring cult/folk hero status (of course, we’ve had a lean time for years in this department) and the doom and gloom merchants have had nothing to chew on.

    Of course, he would have had a better known mentor had he been around a few years ago as we can also proudly boast that Tommy Tynan acquired his nick name “Kettle” whilst on the club’s books. Those with long memories will remember that he threw more than just his toys out of the pram when he was dropped prior to our appearing at Wembley in a play off final!

    I happen to work in Plymouth and the received wisdom from their fans is that Wotton got what he deserved. The only worry is that there is a recall clause in the loan agreement which kicks in next January.

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