Peter Shilton got voted off Strictly Come Dancing over the weekend. So we’re told at least. We had better things to do with our lives than to actually sit down and watch it. Honest.
We bring it up not to discuss the flaws of his Foxtrot or the foibles with his flamenco.
In a week when Wayne Rooney secured a salary comparable to the GDP of some micro-nations, it’s a timely reminder that not all those associated with the beautiful game enjoyed the benefits of TV money and lucrative sponsorship contracts. As much as the dizzying sums mentioned in newspapers and on websites may suggest otherwise, it’s only the professional football players of the last 15 years who are truly milking the cash cow. Even then, there’s an elite at the very top of the game earning the massive money who we think of when considering the vast sums flying around, but in reality the majority are youngsters and journeymen earning far more modest amounts and facing a long post-playing career with little education, little earning potential and most likely few of the ‘friends’ that seemed so abundant when the cash flowed freely.
Shilton sadly falls into this category. He is one of the true great of English football and to see him prancing around on stage for a few quid in a bid to increase his profile is downright distressing to anyone who appreciates sport and the sacrifices required to play it at the highest level. During his career, Shilton used the services of a ballroom dancer to perfect his footwork. Looking back at the footage – of his playing days rather than the dancing – Shilton looks like a man far ahead of his time and combined with the then unconventional notion Brian Clough had regarding the importance of the goalkeeper to a winning side, he won some major honours. A huge collection of caps generally shouldn’t be taken as anything other than availability, a love of international football and a pair of boots (case in point would be Kevin Kilbane’s 105-odd caps for Ireland), but in the case of Shilton he amassed his collection whilst operating at the highest standards.
Having had the misfortune of his finest playing days not coinciding with the more affluent days of the game he must take these rather dubious offers of work to finance his later years. Perhaps there’s an argument that Strictly gave him the chance to display that balance, agility and determination that made him such a fantastic goalkeeper and at least had an air of self-respect about it (more so than eating kangaroo balls in the Australian jungle) but the same can’t be said for his appearance on Channel 4’s Stand Up For The Week. For the millions and millions out there who missed this momentous event in television history, this show essentially involved Paddy Kielty hurling abuse at Shilton in front of a rowdy drunken live audience. If the goal was to produce a spectacle of almost horrific awkwardness, then it ranks as a classic, but on any other measure it ranks purely as rank.
This isn’t highlighting Shilton as a sob-story. He clearly made some ill-advised decisions with his fortune and that has compounded the problem, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. There must be thousands more like him across the world and beyond the sporting world, there are millions upon millions of people who live in abject poverty every single day who are more worthy of our sympathies. Still though, it’s a shame such a sporting icon should feel the need to partake in an ‘industry’ in which dignity can be left at the door for the right price.
Let’s remind ourselves of his talents with this compilation of some of his excellent goalkeeping. Which was undoubtedly better than his dancing.