THE BLOG

Privacy in Football: Fact and Opinion

25/10/2013 12:52 BST | Updated 24/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Years ago, the footballing 'stars' of a Saturday afternoon in Britain were working men, who had to balance playing for their (often) local team at the weekend with their Monday to Friday full-time job. They were paid a pittance in comparison to today's mega bucks, some weren't paid at all, and it wouldn't be uncommon for fans of top British football clubs to see their star striker sitting on the same bus as them headed for the ground.

You don't need me to tell you that football in the UK has undergone some quite incredible changes since the flat cap-ridden 'good old days', footballers then were factory-working family men, and their exploits were written about in the back pages, and back pages only, of the Sunday newspapers.

Stepping out of old fogey mode and back into the present, off the pitch as well as on it, being a top footballer brings a whole new barrel load of responsibilities, every misdemeanour is public knowledge, every off-field act is scrutinised, there really is nowhere to hide if you're a professional football in Britain.

Should this be accepted though? Footballers are, contrary to popular belief, human beings, yet the British public love nothing better than to feast on gory gossip featuring a Premier League star's out-of-hours activities, which is quite hypocritical considering the outrage that quite rightly greeted the phone-hacking revelations.

The idiocy of pro footballers via the medium of Twitter still never ceases to amaze, surely any young professional will be warned that anything they tweet can be preyed upon and end up as tomorrow's headlines? If so, the warnings have obviously not been heeded, not a month seemingly goes by without a storm in a teacup erupting after a pissed-off player takes to their keyboard to launch an often poorly-spelled rant at something rather trivial.

The fact of the matter is, rightly or wrongly, footballers and top sportsmen enjoy very little privacy, opinions on this will vary drastically. Nowadays, it comes with the job and lifestyle that your private life as a star football player is in the public interest, so you could argue that if you don't want your privacy infringed upon, don't become a pro footballer.

That opinion seems quite absurd however, one rare example of a leading British footballer keeping a relative tab on his off the pitch movements was the famously media-shy Paul Scholes, who to the naked eye just appeared to be a quiet guy who didn't much like talking to the press. Who's to say that the former Man United and England midfielder didn't just put on a front to keep his personal life out of the reaches of Joe Public? It's certainly not out of the question, and it is maybe quite surprising (or is it?) that more in-the-spotlight pros don't take the Scholes approach.

The official journalistic line on privacy is also a matter of opinion, with some believing that the amount of privacy given to people depends on their position. That is to say, a victim of a disaster will be treated with a lot more caution than a John Terry or a Wayne Rooney. It is also divided up into categories, such as those who volunteer for public life (see politicians, rock stars, actors etc.), those in positions of public responsibility (such as doctors, teachers and civil servants), those introduced to public life by accident (those related to celebrities, criminals, or the aforementioned victims of disasters) and notoriety (criminals and those who make themselves notorious).

The more gung-ho approach, favoured by tabloid newspapers especially, is that any intrusion which places information into the public domain that should be there, is not an invasion of privacy.

It really is a matter of opinion, whether that's to do with which paper you read, or personal experience, the issue of privacy is one of the biggest ethical obstacles journalists face, especially when it comes to celebrities and top sports stars.

Wherever you stand on the matter, fact is, it probably won't make a jot of difference. It can't be ignored, nor likely to change, that 21st century footballers will continue to dominate the front pages, as well as the back.