Issue Lewis the Gladiator

As told by Michael Wood

Stand at the base of the Roman Colosseum and look up and it is hard to imagine the position of the Gladiator and how he was so loathed by the populous.

The Romans considered Gladiators to be the lowest of the low – beneath contempt – and shunned them from society but as they did they venerated them. The digs of Roman sites in England or in Germany and so on and one will find evidence of the fame and adoration associated with those who were successful combatants.

That was life as a Gladiator. They would make a pot for you, the Romans, but they would never invite you for dinner nor afford you anything like the hand of friendship. Perhaps – with some reason – they thought it not worth the effort expected you to be dead tomorrow.

Perhaps in two thousand years there will be a dig that unearths evidence of Lewis Hunt’s time at Bradford City etched onto an urn but one doubts it. It seems that Hunt – who has played nineteen times for City this season – will not play for the club unless he agrees to drop the mechanism in his contract that awards him a new deal should he play twenty games. Peter Jackson has asked him if he does not mind signing a new deal on less money, and his refusal to do so and subsequent ostracisation from the first team squad, was gathered under the term “personal reasons” when that omission was talked about at the weekend.

Hunt moved to City last summer following Peter Taylor from Wycombe Wanderers seemingly set for a season of being the reserve to Simon Ramsden at right back and spending a good few months injured himself. He is 28 and City offered him a year with a year extension should he prove his worth which he obviously has. Having been given that offer, and fulfilled his side of the bargain, there seems to be very little reason why Hunt should agree that he should take less money from the club.

I recognise that Hunt is not everyone’s cup of tea and – like Luke Oliver – his honest endeavours are forever tainted by his association with the previous manager but while the right back is no Cafu he is a League Two player who has done what is asked of him and now has the club wanting to get out of the deal they made with him.

Why should Hunt be treated like this? The answer, seemingly, is because he is a professional footballer and as with his counterpart of ancient Rome is in a position where he is both lionised and loathed. He will be cheered and held to a standard in the arena but outside it he will not be extended the considerations offered to other men.

Football is full of examples of this duality. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is talked of as having a responsibly to be a role model (which is most often mentioned when he fails to live up to the standards other set for him, although is an example of how he is lionised) but when he does something that anyone else would take as a right and negotiates the best financial deal for himself he is greeted with a public reaction which says he has not the right to do so, or that if he does he should not avail himself of it.

John Terry is similarly lionised but is not afforded the right to a private life which those who do laud him take for granted. Sol Campbell expected to take any abuse given to him because of his “interactions” with this lionisation culture. That we have got to this situation where we will have a poster of a footballer up on the wall but would not invite one into the house is a comment on society rather than the game itself but in that situation we are and the results of it are manifest at clubs around the country.

Players are treated as disposable by clubs. They are to do what they are to excel when they are wanted and quietly disappear when they are not. When they are being courted by a club then they are made promises which – when they are not – they are expected to accept will be broken.

I believe that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by bringing together a stable squad on contracts of a good length rather than replacing them on a yearly basis. That when Lewis Hunt leaves he will be replaced with a player of similar abilities who is less settled, and that will effect his ability to put in a performance, and so underperformance continues. That is a side issue, but the last half a dozen years have shown how single season contract perform on the whole.

Lewis Hunt made a deal with the club and fulfilled his end of it. The club do not want to fulfil their side of it and by withdrawing him from the match day squad do not have to but it makes me uncomfortable to see by club putting pressure on a player to let them break the deal.

Outside of the game this would be condemned as highly questionable behaviour by any business but the footballer – as with the Gladiator – suffers from being loathed as much as he is lionised.