I’ve been reading on Decanter.com the rumours that red-faced shoe-throwing football manager Sir Alex Ferguson has plans to purchase a vineyard in the south of France. What a delightful change of direction after 26 years with Manchester United. More brilliant than this news though, as potential blog-fodder, is the fact that he compared Cristiano Ronaldo to a ’61 Petrus. I couldn’t help wondering what he meant by this. Unfortunately as I am even more impoverished than poor Petronella Wyatt I haven’t tasted the finest wine from one of the finest vintages on earth, so I had to turn to Robert Parker for a tasting note on the Petrus. What could Ferguson be saying?
(from Robert Parker’s The Wine Buyer’s Guide, fourth edition) “Fully mature, and more evolved than several of its neighbours”. Hmmm, I thought. I’ll leave you to deliberate that one on your own.
But the link between football and fine wine is not a new one – former Spurs and Newcastle player David Ginola went on to become a wine producer a few years ago, receiving a silver medal for his Provençale rosé. I wanted to find out more.
Now if you love football passionately, and don’t want to hear what a geeky girl that really doesn’t, has to say about it, I suggest you stop reading immediately. You’re not going to like what’s coming. But I will tell you that having a dad that loves sport and doesn’t like handing over the remote control made me alarmingly well-informed by the age of 11 on pretty much all aspects of football, including rules and regulations, the transfer window and the Arsenal offside trap. Don’t challenge me, you won’t win. You might win at football though as I’m afraid my debut for St Andrews Real Ale Sociedad at university over a decade ago was downright disappointing and I was swiftly moved into a cheerleading role.
One of the reasons I stopped following football is the horribly inflated salaries that our top footballers earn. I think it’s right that our top sportspeople should command a lot of money – their careers in the limelight are relatively short and they deserve a bit of stability afterwards while they find another calling, be it coaching, commentating or something else entirely. What winds me up though is that in other sports, the top players have to win in order to get the best financial rewards. Our golfers and tennis players are not short of a penny or two but if you don’t win a tournament or two along the way, the overall sacrifices you have to make, in terms of time on the road, and in the case of tennis players, commitment to a rigorous diet and fitness regime, might challenge your motivation to continue.
I live in England now but I’ve also lived in Ireland and Scotland – I’ll focus on England here as their players have the highest profiles. It makes me sad that so many of our footballers earn so very much and yet deliver so little. Many of them behave badly in public. And many of their actions do not seem appropriate for folks that earn millions of pounds a year that are revered by millions of adults and children alike.
So I stopped watching football. In any case, I once ate four pies at a Dundee United game and my waistline was never going to forgive me if something didn’t change. And around the same time, I found the wine trade, or the wine trade found me, I’m not sure.
It’s funny isn’t it, how our two industries oddly have something in common. Our finest commodities are ludicrously expensive. The relative market sets the price – both footballers and fine wine are worth what they are worth because that’s what will be paid for them if the club/collector wants them enough. Both industries are heavily criticised for this very reason. Now before I start saying that Wayne Rooney is a bit like a 1997 Lafite (I’ve picked that year because it’s a wine that I’ve tasted and believe me, it is about as far removed from Wayne Rooney as a Michelin starred restaurant is from an elderly Northern prostitute). Neither commodity will deliver every time – the footballer might get injured, or ‘accidentally’ bite a fellow player or turn out to be seething with racism or get caught drunk driving or batter his girlfriend… I won’t go on. Their millions of fans are horribly disillusioned, for a while anyway until the next time they do something heroic on the pitch. The wine might be corked – so you might spend an awful lot of money to be very disappointed. Mind you, the only person that will be disappointed is the drinker – and they inevitably know the risk they are taking.
Would the footballers suddenly start to deserve their inflated salaries if they started to perform well when they represent their country? Would it make a difference if they changed their behaviour off the pitch? Is the wine somehow more deserving of the ludicrous price tag than the footballer because the hopes of the nation are not resting on its shoulders?
I wasn’t certain how to tie this up, as it didn’t seem to have a logical conclusion. My previous blog ‘Is it worth it’ outlines my rather complicated views on whether top wines are worth their allocated value or not, and my feelings about footballers’ salaries probably don’t require any further comment. So I decided instead that I would just think on the topic a little bit longer – in fact, I’m going to start putting money aside for an extra special bottle of wine to drink while I watch the World Cup next year. I wonder whether an abysmal England performance will help me to better appreciate the value of my expensive wine. And if you think Bordeaux’s 2012 campaign is a bit crap, let’s just see what England deliver in 2014…
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