|Pride in the shirt|
Mon 10th Sep 2012 20:06 by Roller
QPR blogger Roller considers whether loyalty still exists in football as former team mates of Alan McDonald prepare to remember his 17 years of service for the R's and Northern Ireland.
If, like me, you meander around the various QPR forums this is a reoccurring theme with various posters questioning if anyone in the current squad really has pride in the shirt. The more I think about this the more curious it gets, but this does seem to be a topic that vexes our thoughts on a regular basis.
As supporters we are very demanding: not only do we want out team to win, we want them to win playing stylish and attractive football and not only do we want them to win playing stylish and attractive football, we want the players to be as proud of the club as we are. Just as we all love watching the silky skills of Stan Bowles or Adel Taarabt, we all love watching the gritty determination of a player who is giving everything for our club, chasing every ball, tackling as if his life depends on it, putting his body on the line throughout the match regardless of the score line. The sort of player who then genuinely acknowledges our support at the end of the match. A player with pride in the shirt. In these days of high paid mercenaries is it time to face up to facts and admit that this is yesterday’s dream?
Is loyalty a prerequisite for pride in the shirt? Since Sky bankrolled the formation of the Premiership and as more and more money has flooded into the top flight of English football the loyalty shown by both players and clubs has rapidly diminished. With very few exceptions both are ruthless in their pursuit of money. Arsene Wenger must despair at the number of players that he, his coaching staff and his methodology have turned into high quality footballers only for them to depart Arsenal for a higher wage elsewhere. Ashley Cole, Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Kolo Touré, Emmanuel Adebayor and Samir Nasri instantly spring to mind; their default claim that they are leaving to enhance their chances of winning trophies by and large sounds too glib and pretty hollow.
Arsenal are, of course, not the only club unable to retain their players, just the most obvious case in point. One other stark example of a player showing no loyalty whatsoever would be Wayne Rooney who at only 18 years old turned his back on Everton, his boyhood club, the club that had nurtured his talent since he was nine, as soon as he received the offer he was hoping for from Manchester United, his “once a blue, always a blue” t-shirt discarded at the bottom of his wardrobe. Rooney then courted a move from Old Trafford 18 months ago because, apparently, he didn't believe the team was being strengthened sufficiently – concerns that evaporated upon the offering of a nice new lucrative contract.
This is not a one way street by any means though and clubs will shamelessly attempt to “move on” any player that no longer satisfies their requirements – we've seen plenty of that at QPR in recent years.
There are some exceptions to this norm. Tony Adams at Arsenal, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher at Liverpool, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville at Manchester United and, as much as I despise everything else about the man, John Terry at Chelsea all play or played with a desire, even a fervour, that stands them apart from the multitude of other professional footballers. None of these players ever gave the impression that a more lucrative offer would entice them to play for any other club, although all undoubtedly could have signed for different clubs willing to pay them more. It could be logically argued that all of their clubs were successful during their tenure and it would be naive of me to totally discount this, but who can really picture Steven Gerrard in a Chelsea shirt?
In general though, the only loyalty most footballers understand these days is a “loyalty bonus”. Reportedly Andy Carroll received a £150,000 loyalty bonus at the end of his first season with Liverpool . When Newcastle United activated Joey Barton’s release clause in his contract with Manchester City the transfer was delayed as Barton demanded his loyalty bonus because he hadn’t requested a transfer. This was especially galling considering that he had been suspended by City for assaulting teammate Ousmane Dado leaving him unconscious in a training ground incident. Eventually Newcastle had to increase their offer to cover Barton’s loyalty bonus. Clearly the concept of loyalty shared by many players and their agents is completely incongruous with any football supporter’s understanding of the term.
So can a player have pride in the shirt without loyalty to the club? Maybe we need to try to define what pride in the shirt actually means to answer this. Does it must mean more than just pride in your own performance, must it be a burning desire to perform in a specific shirt? To answer that I think we need to examine one other question first; can you have pride in more than one shirt? Shaun Derry and Clint Hill are often offered up as players who exhibit pride in the shirt, but do they perform any differently than they did at Crystal Palace before signing for QPR? I don’t think so.
This is not by any means a criticism of either of them, in fact it is quite the opposite. Neil Warnock knew exactly what he was getting when he signed them, both are top professionals who give 100%, and when either of them get moved on they will continue to give everything for their new club. Maybe I’m blurring the boundary between loyalty and devotion? I’ve never left Loftus Road thinking that either could have given more or could have cared more so I think it would be exceptionally harsh to conclude anything other than that they do have pride in the shirt, even though they have no specific allegiance to QPR.
If we had agreed that for a player to truly have pride in the shirt then he had to value performing for QPR above any other club it would undoubtedly eliminate anyone other than those who had supported Rangers in their childhood. This would leave DJ Campbell as our only current candidate. Having grown up as a Rangers fan he fulfilled one of his boyhood dreams when he scored at Wolves last season. His poor injury record and an influx of higher quality strikers since Mark Hughes became manager makes it seem unlikely that he will get another opportunity to repeat that feat, but I doubt that he has ever had a prouder moment on a football pitch. He now fits into that category of players a club is trying to forcibly shift on.
QPR fans playing for the team is an area we have been blessed in over the last decade or so with Lee Cook, Marc Bircham, and Kevin Gallen being the most obvious examples. None of them were world beaters and generally represented us in lower divisions but all have blue and white blood pulsing around in their veins and all of them wore the shirt with pride. This also highlights the sad inevitability that as a club rises through the leagues it is less likely to be represented by any local lads. It is impossible to conceive of another Celtic winning the European Cup with a team all born within 30 miles of their ground.
I think a simple definition of a player who exhibits pride in their shirt would be one who gives their all every match, strains every sinew in their efforts to succeed and one who puts the club’s needs before his own. Neither Cook nor Gallen were suited to Bircham’s blood and guts style, but were equally determined to see QPR win in their own way.
So based on that definition I would say that this is not yesterday’s dream, there are still players out there who have pride in the shirt and there will continue to be, however should the full definition also include an understanding of the heritage of the club? Or is that asking too much?
One QPR player who will always get mentioned in any discussion about pride in the shirt - a shining example that completely crushes any argument that a player must have supported a club as a boy to take pride in playing for it - is Alan McDonald. Can anyone name a player who had more pride in his shirt? From the time that Macca arrived at Loftus Road from Northern Ireland as a 16 year old boy to the time he left 17 years later he always represented the club with determination and dignity.
A match between legends teams from QPR and Northern Ireland face each other this evening in his memory after his sad passing earlier this summer.
For me, McDonald personified pride in the shirt.
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