Head Lines with Jonny Mitchell: Feet of clay in football boots

HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Now he writes exclusively for us.

A couple of weeks ago, Luis Suarez nipped out for a bite to eat. An Italian, in fact. It would be difficult to question his choice normally, were it not to have happened on the football field before a worldwide audience of many millions. But what has followed is simply phenomenal. O course we should be outraged by his actions, yes perhaps he deserves the vilification he is going to have to endure for the rest of his career, and yes perhaps he merits a lengthy ban for a gross error of judgement. Maybe he thought the cameras wouldn’t pick it up. In any case, they did, and, as far as footballing reputation is concerned, he’s pretty much toast.

But let’s face facts. The man clearly has issues. Some people achieve idiocy, some develop idiocy, and others have idiocy thrust upon them. He’s an extraordinarily talented footballer, maybe even meriting the epithet of “genius”, so often bandied around these days. But he’s a flawed genius, of that there is no doubt. The sort of genius who is prone either to monumental cock-ups or abject self-destruction.

The Amy Winehouse, the Ernest Hemingway, the Kurt Cobain of the football field. And just another flawed footballing genius like George Best, Paul Gascoigne and Zinedine Zidane before him. Beckham was sent off against Argentina for kicking out, albeit very softly, at Diego Simeone in 1998. Rooney followed suit a couple of World Cups later against Portugal. Do you think their respective managers and team mates didn’t remind everyone to keep their sang-froid and not to risk being sent off? I think not, somehow. But they still did it, and England went on to lose the games, unsurprisingly. The pressure of expectation, edge and reputation weighing on these people’s shoulders leads them to do “little” things which have such toe-curlingly vast repercussions. Irrespective of who they are, how much they get paid, etc, though, surely we have to accept some of the blame for these sporadic meltdowns and random departures into the ludicrous world of self-annihilation. Footballers, actors, singers, celebrities are under such scrutiny, with the general public and the media delving into the intimate minutiae of their lives and careers constantly, that it is perhaps understandable mistakes are made. I am pretty sure the Suarez incident has happened many times before, in previous footballing eras, and not a dickie-bird has been said or written.

It will hve passed as entertainment in the working class game. We need only remember Vinnie Jones’ ball-tampering episode with Gazza to prove it.

You would think this sort of behaviour is restricted to the high-octane, quasi-celebrity domain of the footballing world. But you’d be wrong.

Some of the most famously self-destructive icons of recent years have come from all over the spectrum; actors, poets, artists, musicians, politicians, just to provide a handful of examples.

One of the most poignant instances of self-destruction was the suicide of Sylvia Plaith. By the age of only 30, she had suffered various mental breakdowns and had attempted suicide. She had also written some of the most beautiful prose ever produced. Yet still, she buried her head in the oven, after making sure her children could not get into the kitchen, and gassed herself to death. Virginia Woolf nonchalantly put on an overcoat, filled the pockets with heavy stones, and calmly walked into the River Ouse. Her body was found almost a month later. What most critics and historians agree on, however, is that their work was the result not just of their genius, but also of the flaws it brought with it. Self-destruction and fast-living take people to the limit of their sanity, the point at which they produce the very best output, be it art, music or prose. A tipping point, but also sometimes the point of no return.

So perhaps we should rethink how we treat the likes of Suarez.

Accept that he is always going to court controversy, perhaps even violently assault someone, but remain confident that he can thrill us with his flair and ability. Nobody remembers a gentleman, only the loose cannon. And just, sometimes, we should recognise that flaws are almost a necessary part of genius.

Self-destruction and idiotic actions will be, and always have been, glamorised, because they put bums on seats. and give us, the ever-grateful public, something to argue about.