Rugby exemplifies qualities that football has abandoned

WARREN HAYDEN: Oh, we do love to be beside the seaside

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It’s sad when a love dies; when an abiding passion slowly fades and nothing remains but fond memories.

My devotion to football began when I was barely old enough to read. My parents bought me annuals for birthdays and Christmas, which featured photographs of stars like Nat Lofthouse, Duncan Edwards and Jimmy Dickinson.

They were brawny, barrel-chested men, invariably seen ploughing through ankle-deep mud in heavy shirts and clod-hopping, leather boots.

But they were individuals worthy of hero status; men who went on to represent their country at the highest level and to whom no hint of scandal ever attached itself.

My fondness for the game continued through the ’60s (climaxing in the national delirium of 1966) and into the ’70s, where I was a season ticket holder as Pompey foundered in the old fourth division.

By that time I felt like a bit of a harlot, because I was also working on the sports desk of this newspaper and getting paid to do something which provided me with pleasure as well as money.

Looking back, I think my passion began to wane in the late ’80s, and disappeared altogether once Rupert Murdoch began to exert his malign grip on the sport.

Before long, top players were being paid more in a week than most of their supporters were earning in three years.

Then football slowly sold its soul to the corporate followers (I maintain it would be a misnomer to call them fans) and some leading players began to exhibit the morals of alley cats and the IQ of a pedal bin.

The sport became a disciplinary cesspit, and television screens were filled week after week with images of expectorating players roaring their expletive-spattered opinions into the faces of match officials.

I eventually ditched Sky as a one-man protest at its appalling customer service, and the fact it was funding this degradation of a once glorious game.

I now spend my Saturday afternoons in the winter watching a local rugby club.

It’s a sport which exemplifies the qualities professional football has long since abandoned – genuine toughness, discipline and mutual respect.

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