Desmond Kane

Rooney’s contract a sad reminder football’s been stolen from the people


Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Premier League match with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

One of the worst trips known to man in and around London is being stuck on a train heading for Twickenham when England are contesting a rugby union match.

One tends to become lost in a morass of Barbour Jackets with chaps who look and sound like they have knocked off a few pheasant in the morning while their moats are given a good cleaning out.

Rugby union remains a fascinating sport, epitomising an honesty in battle that typifies the Corinthian spirit. You only had to study the elation on the faces of the England and Scotland players after a couple of taut wins over game Irish and Italian sides in the Six Nations on Saturday to understand its core values.

Unfortunately, rugby union has and continues to attract a certain sort. No matter how much it tries to burn the strings of the old-school tie, rugby union in England remains very much a middle class pursuit as we learn from those bound for Twickers.

At least rugby union is not trying to be a sport it is not. Union might be a preserve of the well heeled, but football is also a sport for the haves and have mores. Old and new money is the same money. It gives off the same stench.

Football lost its core, working-class values long ago, but there remains something inherently depressing when you are reminded of it at certain junctures. Such as Friday night when Wayne Rooney was extending his contract at Manchester United. At a price, of course.

When Rooney thumped a volley into the Crystal Palace net from 18 yards in Manchester United's 2-0 win at Selhurst Park on Saturday, we suddenly had a ticker-tape of voices bellowing: "That is why he is paid £300,000 per week".

Rooney has agreed a whopping new contract that will carry him forth to well into his 30s as a United player. It is horrific to consider such a wretched sum, but these are the times of the modern era when there are no salary caps. There is no limit for players such as Rooney.

He might be a wealthy young bloke, but it does not really do much for the standing of Wazza in his local community. All it encourages is an envy and resentment that is likely to persist beyond his playing days.

Through no fault of his own, he will be celebrated from here on in as a man who earns a grotesque sum of money. There will be extra demands on his shoulders because he is wallowing in figures that no footballer should earn.

When he fails, his weekly wage packet will be brought up. Long gone are the times when fans were not aware of how much their heroes picked up.

These are sums that drive a large wedge between football players earning a crust in the Premier League and the core market that are struggling to find the sums to watch it such is the cost of match tickets. What you get instead are Roy Keane's prawn sandwich brigade where once stood the common man and woman.

Goodness knows why the United chief executive Ed Woodward was pictured alongside Moyes and Rooney as the new contract was announced. He should be an anonymous figure left in the background to do deals, but some of these business sorts crave the limelight. It is a sign of the times.

The Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon once led Chelsea's players up the stairs to collect their medals after the Champions League final in 2008. Make of that what you will.

The national game was a sport for all, a game that never sneered at the man in street. The world game was in touch with working-class heroes, but there are no heroes now. Britain's working class itself shrunk, or rather diversified to encompass a working middle class and a separate, maligned underclass. The heroes are all dead. Players are simply commodities made for television.

In parts of the world exposed to poverty where kicking a ball remains an escape from the grim reality of the breadline, football is a distraction. But our great game in this country has long since been defaced, detached from the glue that attached it to local communities.

We do not need reminding of such facts in an era where the phrase "what have you done me for lately?" tends to dictate how people treat others.

Wayne Rooney used to be a working-class lad, but money has made him a beneficiary of a sport gone mad. What does he really have in common with his roots?

Trevor Francis could be heard offering his views on Manchester City's 1-0 win over Stoke on Saturday. He was the first British player to move for £1 million when he joined Nottingham Forest from Birmingham in 1979. It surely cannot be long before a player collects £1 million per week.

As the Premier League can name its price to TV companies who need England's elite league to sell their products, money continues to alter the landscape of football.

Some fans are not even sold on these millionaires. Several thousand Manchester City fans could not seem to wait to escape from the Etihad Stadium on Saturday despite the home side holding a 1-0 lead with five or six minutes remaining.

It is better being an agent these days than a player. Paul Stretford won the lottery when he wound up as Rooney's representative.

Stretford apparently once made a speech at Wazza's wedding, but the player's sometimes stormy marriage to Manchester United continues to sum up where football has gone wrong.

There has been a form of financial vandalism afflicting the game that will never be reversed.

As football fans brought up on a simple game of a ball being kicked around for fun, we are all the poorer for it. Even if men like Wayne Rooney are richer.