THE BLOG
15/08/2012 10:34 BST | Updated 14/10/2012 06:12 BST

In Defence of the Beautiful Game: Why the Olympics Have Nothing to Teach Football

The Games really were great but I can't wait for the football season to begin on Saturday.

London 2012 was an enormous success and the athletes behaved impeccably for the most part. There was that badminton game and the usual drug speculation as well as accusatory glances at the Chinese and bold claims from the French about the roundness of British cycling wheels. But on the whole, it was a ruddy good show, particularly from Team GB. I loved every minute of it.

Marvelous - so what has this to do with football?

When England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 - the greatest sporting moment in my lifetime - every radio station seemed to hold a poll asking who was sexier out of Beckham and Johnny Wilkinson. The latter inevitably won hands down as the nation became swept up in rugby fever. That lasted long...

People spoke of a gentlemanly spirit found within rugby that did not exist amongst the thuggery of football. Absolute nonsense, of course.

The main difference being that the spotlight shining on football is far brighter and lasts longer. But off the top of my head there was a dreadful incident where Harlequins player Tom Williams used fake blood to feign injury. And let's not forget the recent World Cup fiasco in New Zealand which outdid the Euro 96 dentist chair routine.

But what the rugby players share with many (not all) British Olympians is a privileged background - one of our biggest successes at London 2012 came in the rowing. The fact that these Olympians and rugby players are more media savvy and well spoken should not come as a surprise.

So does this favouritism reflect the British public's desire to see itself as an upper class society. To show the world that they were right - we do sip tea, play a bit of rugga and drop the Queen out of a helicopter with James Bond from time to time.

Possibly. But footballers, for the most part, came from underprivileged backgrounds and worked incredibly hard to fulfil their dreams. Yet when Beckham burst onto the scene, all anyone could talk about was his voice. "Yes he can play football, but he speaks like a commoner - off with his head." Maybe he was too busy kicking a ball about to take up the elocution lessons on offer at the foundation school in Chingford he attended.

The majority of footballers come from similar backgrounds and also grow up constantly taunted by fans. Wenger is labeled a paedophile, Bale receives monkey chants (as did Keown) and Rooney is repeatedly portrayed as Shrek. They've grown up in an arena surrounded by hostile louts.

What did Lampard do to receive chants of 'you let your country down'? He is also known as 'Fat Frank'. None of the Olympians have nicknames like these.

So can you blame them for erecting a Roger Waters-esque wall.

Condemning footballers is tantamount to Jeremy Kyle laying into one of his poor participants. They just don't have the linguistic tools to defend themselves. Yes, there are the likes of Terry, Suarez and Adebayor who wouldn't look out of place on the show, but there are also many shining lights.

We should celebrate footballers as the ultimate triumph of social mobility in a country up there with the worst in the developed world.

And if you don't like it, go watch track events for the next decade and see what you think of it.

There is a reason football is so popular worldwide. Sprinters are fast, long distance runners have stamina, rowers have strength and endurance, cyclists much the same. Footballers showcase all that and more. These are intelligent, quick-thinking players ridiculed for their lack of education.

The overwhelming bias toward Olympians is summed up by Usain Bolt's arrogance.

As he neared the finishing line of the 200m race, he performed his usual trick of slowing down to give his competitor and 'friend' Blake a chance of catching him - like a cat playing with its prey before the kill.

All I could do, as pundits and fans ran out of superlatives to describe the charismatic God-like superhero, was imagine if a footballer had done the equivalent.

Imagine if, say, Luis Suarez knocked the ball past the Man Utd keeper in the dying second of the Champions League Final, stopped on the line and slowly knelt down to nudge the ball over the line with teeth. Maybe everyone would talk about what a great role model he is, because Bolt clearly is if you believe what you read.

Anyway, he's told us he could play for Man Utd, so expect to see him line up alongside Rooney next week.

The Games really were great but I can't wait for the football season to begin on Saturday.