Ashley Cole: legend?

In Opinion, Sport on February 7, 2013 at 1:48 PM

*From a debate article with a fellow TAY writer.


The eternal dilemma posed to anyone pretentious enough to have studied a module called ‘Ideas in the Arts’ at university: Can Leni Riefenstahl’s films be considered good art? (Leni Riefenstahl was – almost universally considered – a talented and innovative film director, but who has divided opinion for making Nazi propaganda). I am not quite sure how I answered the question – a broad yes I think – but it has, strangely, sprung to the mind with Ashley Cole winning his 100th cap. As he is undoubtedly a great exponent of his craft – one of the few solid, even spectacular, England performers of the last decade – but also a bit of a dick. Or at the very least – for he comes across not unreasonably in interviews – he has…let’s say, made several ill-judged professional and moral decisions (if there is even such a distinction in modern football). Certainly in the mind of many, there’s no smoke without fire.

The combination of fast cars and faster girls with tabloids and Twitter can be a poisoned chalice, especially for young footballers. But England fans do forgive controversial moments – look at the adoration of messrs Rooney and, especially, Beckham. Even at 29, Cole was disqualified from driving for doing 104mph in a 50, and at 30 shot an intern with an air rifle. And at 31, he told the whole Twittersphere what a ‘#BUNCHOFT***S’ (nice of him to censor ‘twats’) the ‘#fa’ were for their handling of a quasi-judicial case on alleged racism.

I’m by no means one of the baying, moralising soldiers-should-get-footballers’-wages brigade. I don’t expect players to know give loads of charity, have a compost heap or have read the classics – that’s not their job. So I don’t give much of a shit about him cheating on Cheryl (if anything, gives me more of a shot, if only approximately 0.0000000001% more).

But it helps if you’re not a prick. There’s always people in jobs one doesn’t like, while still recognising their talent. This arguably applies even more to an industry built on entertainment, with posters on kids’ bedroom walls. It just so happens I’m a customer in Cole’s profession, albeit indirectly. So, while it would be somewhat hypocritical – and stupid – to deny his obvious quality and commitment, I think that fact affords me a little moan over football’s water cooler – the blogosphere.

Arguably, to do otherwise – to suggest players’ personality is totally irrelevant –reduces footballers to little more than talented drones; mere collections of stats like their fantasy footy avatars (I actually have Cole in my team this season; very good he’s been too). I think football’s richer than that, though I prefer to exalt the positive – the hunger, the humour, the humanity.

So, whatever his ability, speaking Cole’s name in the same breath as the other, unarguable legends in the 100-cap bracket  – Shilton (125), Beckham (115), Moore (108), Charlton (106), Billy Wright (105) and Gerrard (101) – rings just a little hollow. And that’s only partly because Cole’s position is that height of glamour – left back (in the changing room).

So, that’s why last night I was praising Cole’s achievement, unenthusiastically.

Joel Durston

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