Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives. Wise words. And having tweeted them to those with their noses pressed to the glass in the hope of seeing another human being, off went Jack Grealish to a private party.
Well, not a party as such, more a gathering. A soiree if you will. One that was lively enough to still be going at 4am, according to the neighbours, culminating in Grealish playing bumper cars with his Range Rover and several parked vehicles as he attempted to exit a Solihull street four hours later.
On Monday night, he was back on social media recording another message, to apologise for his behaviour and to implore people to do the opposite of his actions at the weekend.
Jack Grealish apologised for going to a party (left) after urging people to stay at home (right)
Easy, isn’t it, though? A tweet. A clap. A line. A video. The empty gesture. Like a great many high-profile figures in sport, Grealish had been asked to spread the Government message on coronavirus and duly obliged. He just didn’t think those same orders applied to him.
He is famous, after all, he is not a civilian. Standing at the scene of his accident, dishevelled, wearing one flip-flop, one furry slipper, Grealish’s main concern, witnesses said, was getting away before the authorities arrived. He offered to pay for the damage, and swiftly departed.
‘Suddenly, he wasn’t around,’ said a neighbour. Tweets, shoots and leaves. It is the style of the modern professional footballer.
Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager, identified how easy it was for a player to excuse a poor performance these days. A glib post-match apology to the fans on Instagram and it was all forgotten, he said.
A white Range Rover damaged two parked cars in a crash in the early hours of Sunday morning
Previous generations had a week to stew on a poor result, seven days for the next match to come around in the hope of making it right. These days, 10 seconds, more or less, depending on thumb speed.
It was the same for Grealish. He trotted out his coronavirus slogans without a thought to what they actually meant, then posted a 58-second mea culpa when he failed to live up to his own standards.
He is not alone. We all know people who clapped for the NHS last Thursday, having given public houses their best night of the year the previous Friday. It is no effort, clapping. It is the other stuff that is arduous, staying home, staying two metres, saving lives.
Maybe Grealish is surprised by the reaction to his latest — certainly not the first — indiscretion. He shouldn’t be. Coronavirus is an enhancer. It adds perspective, context, like little before. It reveals character, it focuses minds.
An image of a man resembling Grealish, wearing odd footwear, was circulated on social media
Take Mike Ashley. He confesses his mistakes as owner of Newcastle United, and appears plausible. When he admits failing to invest at the right time, or explains the background to Rafael Benitez’s departure, his remorse sounds genuine. Yet, last week, first attempting to keep his Sports Direct chain open against Government advice, then ramping up the price on certain items to take advantage of the coronavirus lockdown, his actions became inexcusable. More apologies and an offer to make his fleet of lorries available to the NHS followed. Yet it was too late. The damage was done.
On Monday, Newcastle became the first Premier League club to put their non-playing staff on furlough. It may be that others follow. It is certainly no different from the instincts of thousands of businesses, in all fields of enterprise, around the country.
Coming from Ashley right now, however, it feels different. After last week, nobody will forget what he described with tone-deaf understatement as a misunderstanding. In the shadow of coronavirus, people understand only too well.
It is no different for Grealish. Quite probably, the cost here may be greater than a dented bumper, a smashed rear light and a lost no claims bonus. This was meant to be his summer. The summer of Grealish. The summer he got the big move out of Aston Villa, the summer he made England’s squad for the European Championship finals, maybe even the team.
This summer was supposed to be when Grealish got his big move away from Aston Villa
Now, he is back where he started. All his good work across the last two seasons is undone. He is back to being the nitrous oxide inhaler of 2015, the player who was photographed passed out on a street in Tenerife. In a world where money is tighter than ever before, would you take a chance on this man?
Anyone who thinks the 2020 transfer market will boom as always is spending no time in conversation with the nation’s chief executives. One of the reasons clubs may soon begin to clamour for the season to be curtailed is because only then can the Premier League hand out its merit payments.
Clubs will have to accept a league position frozen at 29 games — with perhaps an aggregate adjustment for those with a match in hand — but at least they can then make salary demands. The reason many are none too keen on bailing out lower leagues is they cannot be sure of paying their own bills yet. So this is the market into which Grealish arrives, his most recently memorable contributions being an underwhelming Carabao Cup final turn and an appearance in every national newspaper beneath the headline COVIDIOT.
And that may be harsh because Grealish has had an outstanding season and Villa would be in considerably more trouble without him. Yet, equally, this is a transfer measured in tens of millions that may be the limit of the summer budget, even at a club the size of Manchester United.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may now be less inclined to sign Grealish
So balance that with the risk Grealish took at the weekend. Not just with family members and the public, but with his club if there is a plan to return on the first Saturday in May. Training may start soon. Villa need the whole staff to be sensible. Grealish heads off to a jolly-up and then, his driving skills found wanting, is forced to stand in close proximity to several bystanders, giving his details. A smart guy off the pitch is likely to be a smart guy on it, too. What does this say about Grealish’s smarts?
Gareth Southgate is no rigid disciplinarian, but he believes in personal responsibility, as James Maddison discovered. If he has a decision to make on Grealish, it may already be formulating. If he didn’t indulge Wayne Rooney, why would he indulge a player who hasn’t even made his team yet?
Coronavirus is heightening awareness. It is not enough to clap, or tweet, or record your empathy these days. Mean it, or forget it. Mean it, or stand on the kerb in one flip-flop and a furry slipper, looking like the fool you are.
STAY SAFE – AND STAY PATIENT!
Watford defender Christian Kabasale says he is spending time at home with his son, playing Pokemon.
‘I am trying to enter his world, trying to make the time go faster,’ he says. He may have picked the wrong activity there. Pokemon is a design classic, a brilliant game and recommended for all, but patience is required.
Put it like this — in the animated series, Ash Ketchum, the hero, finally achieved his dream of becoming a Pokemon master in September last year. The show started in 1997.
Not one for Jack Grealish, perhaps. Stay safe all.
IT’S A HAZARD OF A JOB, BUT RONALDO PUTS EDEN IN SHADE
Eden Hazard wishes to put the first season at Real Madrid behind him. ‘It’s been one of adaptation,’ he said. ‘I’ll be judged on next season.’
Injury has affected Hazard, true, but he turned up for pre-season unfit and in the 15 games he has played, scored a single goal.
Compare this to Cristiano Ronaldo, who came from the same league as Hazard but needed no spell of adaptation, rewarding Real with 33 goals in 35 games in his first campaign.
Hazard will have to go some to match his second season, too — 53 goals in 54 games —although one might say judgement is already in. Ronaldo is a different class, plainly.
Eden Hazard has endured a difficult first season at Real Madrid, unlike Cristiano Ronaldo
GAMES ANNIVERSARY WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD
There really shouldn’t be an argument over the London Stadium’s priorities this summer. Whether what remains of West Ham’s Premier League fixtures or the Anniversary Games take place is unknown. but, as anchor tenants, the football club has clear primacy.
Any hope of compromise probably took a hit, too, when the new chief executive of UK Athletics, Joanna Coates, blundered unhelpfully into the conversation by calling on West Ham to waive tenancy rights so a dwindling crowd can wallow in past glories at enormous cost to the taxpayer.
The Anniversary Games — a needy branding that harks back to the 2012 Olympics — were scheduled to take place on July 4-5, with the stadium refit for those nights weighing in at over £4 million.
It is money the Government does not have at this time.
The reconfiguration also takes several weeks and it cannot be known from a reasonable distance whether large gatherings will be permitted, or whether stadium workers are even allowed in proximity for the refit. It could be that £4m is spent for nothing because if the Olympics cannot take place at the end of July, how will London be ready for the start of that month?
West Ham, meanwhile, could play behind closed doors through the summer. Indeed, some would argue they are the one club who would not suffer from a loss of atmosphere — while still paying rent.
Year on year, interest in athletics and its Olympic anniversary fades. In 2019, UKA boasted 40,000 attending across two nights but refused to say how many in the crowd were guests.
West Ham’s average attendance per league game this season is recorded at 59,896 and the crowd drawn to the Anniversary Games was more in line with their family fun day. It is a pity, but athletics’ sense of entitlement around the London Stadium is an indulgence we can increasingly ill afford.
The London Stadium should play host to West Ham’s games above anything else this summer
TRAGIC MASON THE FORGOTTEN SCANDAL VICTIM
Anyone who cares about the true cost of cheating in sport will be saddened by the story of Germaine Mason.
At the Beijing Olympics, he won silver in the men’s high jump, finishing second to Russia’s Andrey Silnov.
The Athletics Integrity Unit has now charged Silnov with doping offences as a result of the McLaren investigation, presented to the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2016. S
Silnov was already a discredited figure as a senior vice-president of Russia’s athletics federation, which has been banned from the sport since 2015, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport will now consider whether a suspected positive test for the anabolic steroid Turinabol can impact on his status as a gold medallist in 2008.
If it does, Mason will be placed atop the Olympic podium, an honour he will never know after perishing in a motorcycle accident in 2017. Tragedy upon tragedy; that is what cheating inflicts.
LET McLEAN HAVE HIS JOKE
Everybody knows what James McClean is, everybody knows the type of people he regards as heroes, or martyrs.
Yet seeing his photograph in a black balaclava, supposedly home-schooling his children with the caption: ‘Today’s lesson — history’ made me laugh. It was a joke; a joke about his beliefs.
Then again, I’ve never understood why clubs are fined when their fans sing ‘F*** the IRA’ at him either. The FA act as if it is a form of racist abuse. It isn’t.
The IRA were a terrorist organisation. They were murderers. They killed innocents, they killed kids. So, yes, f*** the IRA. But allow McClean his joke.
James McClean posted this image of himself wearing a black balaclava in front of his children
A correction to last week’s column. I am indebted to reader Nick Perry for pointing out that it is the 150th Open that will be marked next year, not the Open’s 150th anniversary.
Meaning, if the event is not played at Royal St George’s this year, there would be no problem bumping each venue back 12 months. Unless, of course, there are already several warehouses in Fife packed to the rafters with merchandise celebrating the 150th Open, St Andrews, July 15-18, 2021.
OLYMPIC-SIZED PROBLEM FOR JAPAN TO SOLVE
In Japan, the view is growing that coronavirus numbers were suppressed to avoid damaging their status as Olympic hosts this summer.
The daily infection count has risen steadily since last week when the event was finally cancelled, leaving many suspicious about previous figures.
Yukio Hatoyama, prime minister from September 16, 2009 to June 8, 2010, is among those arguing the count is changing now Tokyo has no reason to disguise it. ‘To make an impression that the city was taking control of the coronavirus, Tokyo made the number of patients look smaller,’ he said. ‘It has spread while they waited. It was Olympics first, not Tokyo’s residents.’
The IOC’s response, meanwhile, has been to rush through another date on which the Tokyo Olympics must begin: Friday, July 23, 2021. It is almost as if they want the world to just pretend.