I have always thought highly of ex-Liverpool great Robbie Fowler. In his pomp he was a fantastic player and one of the greatest strikers in Europe but perhaps unfortunately never got the Continental recognition his talents deserved. He was always a man of principle and was never “removed” from the fans like a lot of players – he knew them and understood them because he was one of them. In 1997 after scoring his second goal in Liverpool’s 3-0 Cup Winners’ Cup win over Brann Bergen of Norway Fowler lifted up his red Liverpool shirt to display a T-shirt which read: “Support The 500 Sacked Dockers”. The t-shirt was a parody of the Calvin Klein logo that all the witless were wearing that year. The UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Committee fined him for this but we loved him even more.
I was surprised when Fowler had turned up at the behest of Ramzan Kadyrov to play an exhibition match in Grozny, “Maradona and Liverpool greats play exhibition match for Chechen leader”. Ramzan Kadyrov the leader of Chechnya and has been accused of human rights abuses. An article in The Independent newspaper, “Ramzan Kadyrov: The warrior king of Chechnya” makes interesting but disturbing reading. An article on Amnesty International’s website entitled , “Justice urged for Russian Human Rights defender’s murder” again makes for sad but predictable reading. The Guardian article notes that, “… Kadyrov is known to enjoy a good time, dancing up a storm and showering guests with money, he has imposed a steadily strict Islamism on the republic, discouraging alcohol and nightclubs. Women who walk around town without headscarves have been shot at by security services with paintguns.”
I’m not surprised that Maradona would attend beause he never seems to have been that fussy about the company he keeps. But what about Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Louis Figo, Franco Baresi and Fabien Barthez?
I’m happy to believe that they would not want to associate themselves too closely with someone of Kadyrov’s reputation without there being a very good reason. Maybe they though that the presence of men of their stature would somehow would refocus international attention on this unhappy and unfortunate country? After all what better way to draw attention to the problems that still exist in Chechnya by sending a team of retired footballers who were important a decade ago?
I wouldn’t for a minute think that this trip to Chechnya was motivated by greed; motivated by the need of multi-millionaires to make even more money. Was it money that made these men travel to Chechnya to “perform” for the “Warrior King”? Who knows what they’d be prepared to do if they were paid enough money?
I hope that they genuinely, but misguidedly, believed that what they were doing was right. I really do. I’d hate for my my gut feeling about footballers being cynical, pampered, vacuous, grasping parasites to be correct.
Sadly most of the time it seems to be bang on the money.