<< 1 , 2 : Previous pages
Former England goalkeeper David James, widely praised for his thoughtful commentaries on broader issues surrounding the game, believes the real disconnect is clubs' approach to community relations.
"I can't help thinking that football can play a much more helpful - and active - role in helping communities by really engaging through local projects," he wrote in his column in The Observer on August 14. "I don't just mean the annual club hospital visit where Sky TV turns up, films a few cutaway shots of players standing next to hospital beds and then asks the star striker about the big game coming up on Saturday. I mean time and effort invested in building a relationship with those communities of which the football club is a part."
Cornwell understands that the mechanisms of the game, and clubs as institutions, have moved on.
"Of course, the players are there to play professional football. It's now a global game and things have changed."
Globalization means clubs have an even greater obligation to communicate their values to their players and staff. The shortfall in this area was underlined in an interview Rubin Kazan's former Tottenham forward Sergei Rebrov gave to Russian magazine Football Weekly in September 2008, offering advice to Tottenham's new signing, Russian striker Roman Pavyluchenko.
Spurs' striker Peter Crouch talks to local Tottenham barber Aaron Biber, who had his shop broken into and robbed during August's violence in London. (Photo: Scott/Heavey/Getty Images)
"I wouldn't go for a walk on my own around White Hart Lane (Tottenham's stadium)," said Rebrov. "A lot of dark skinned people live there. So naturally the crime rate is higher than anywhere else. It's not nice to be a robbery victim. So I suggest that Roman doesn't walk but drives around that area."
While borne of deep prejudice, Rebrov's comments also reflect a perpetual criticism of players; a complete lack of understanding of their immediate environment outside the security of their clubs.
Limiting 'mishaps' like Rebrov's (of course, he had left Tottenham by the time he gave this interview) is part of the reason that modern English Premier League soccer clubs have such tigerish PR departments, who seek to exert strong control over their respective brand images. With the EPL's level of commercial success, this has seeped down through the levels as best practice.
It was perhaps with this in mind that semi-professional side Staines Town fired their promising 18-year-old Mario Quiassaca. Quiassaca scored twice in August 6's friendly win over Merstham, a week before the start of the Blue Square Bet South season. Six days later, he was remanded in custody by Westminster Magistrates' Court pending sentencing, after admitting charges of theft and violent disorder. Quiassaca had stolen over £1,300-worth of clothes from the Hugo Boss store in exclusive Sloane Square.
When contacting Staines Town for comment, FOXSoccer was referred to the brief original statement issued by the club in the wake of the incident, speaking just of the club's "disgusted" reaction to Quiassaca's crime, and that it had "severed all ties" with him. His age had not been considered as an extenuating factor.
Without condoning Quiassaca's actions, he is little more than a child - like many of the looters. The youngest arrest in the London disturbances was of an 11-year-old. Yet the force of public opinion (and in this situation, public outrage) is a powerful thing. Perhaps Staines felt it had to sate a public thirst for punishment to protect its image. The lack of desire to rehabilitate was perhaps indicative of the public mood, rather than merely the crime itself. To contextualize, Staines welcomed back former striker Ali Chabaan in 2009 following his release from prison after serving an eight-month sentence for possession of cannabis with intent to supply.
New Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has talked extensively about how he expects his players to be role models in society, but whether this is realistic or just another part of the media machine is debatable. James is skeptical.
"To my mind, long-term engagement with a community is far more beneficial than someone on Twitter taking two seconds to type: 'Stop the violence,'" he said in The Observer . "Make a relationship with the community first and your message will carry far more influence. And although we will inevitably gawp at the astronomical amounts spent ahead of the transfer deadline and wonder if a greater percentage of club finances could go towards community work, I do think that donating time can be as powerful as getting the checkbook out."
The reality is that some social problems have no quick fix - which, unfortunately, is exactly what an impatient and worried public demands right now.
"Tottenham has been in decline for years," Cornwell told FiveLive. "We all know that, and this is the second set of riots in the area. It now needs time for everybody to look at the whole regeneration of Tottenham. The club has a part to play, but we can't do that on our own. We need the government and the GLA (Greater London Authority) to get involved."
There is, in fact, no reason the concerned entities couldn't work together. After all, soccer clubs and government face the same challenges in bridging a gap between themselves and a disaffected public that feel these traditional bastions of influence have lost touch with real life. As the one truly global game, soccer has immense power to unify, but the game has to unify its efforts from within to make a lasting difference.