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Hammer blows for the game’s moral compass

Kurt Zouma's animal cruelty is just the latest wretched revelation for football, says ROB HUGHES

Blown it? The bubble may have burst for Kurt Zouma. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty

Throughout this two-year pandemic, football has provided a semblance of emotional escape. Not always beauty, by any means. But a valuable outlet
from housebound captivity.

Now, just as we come out to breathe something like normality, there is something nasty in the air. Revelations involving the Rooneys, a West Ham
defender’s cat-kicking video, a transfer deadline day move for a player judged in a civil court to be a rapist, a young Manchester United and England star investigated for sexual assault and threats to kill.

The impression this gives is of a corrupted sport which, from Fifa down, regards itself above the law, and above decency, because of the riches
thrown at it. Where to begin?

In chronological order Raith, the ambitious little club in Scotland’s beautiful Fife region that is the home of the Royal and Ancient game of golf, signed a goalscorer this January in pursuit of promotion. Modest as the Rovers may be, they count former prime minister Gordon Brown and writers Val McDermid and Ian Rankin among their committed supporters.

Ms McDermid was once on the board, and her name is writ large on one stand and across the shirts she sponsored until, along with others, she resigned in disgust at the signing of David Goodwillie from Clyde FC.

Goodwillie never kicked a ball for the Rovers; never will. His arrival breached in too many ways the acronym coined by the club chief
executive Karen Macartney – R (respect), A (ambition), I (inclusion), T
(teamwork), H (honesty).

Goodwillie and his then Dundee United team-mate David Robertson were accused of rape after a night of drinking in 2011. The Crown Office did not go through with a criminal prosecution, but the woman won £100,000 compensation against the footballers after pursuing a civil action five years later.

Neither that, nor three previous convictions for assault, deterred Blackburn, Blackpool, Aberdeen, Ross County, Plymouth and Clyde from hiring Goodwillie. Or Raith attempting to. Now, at 32, his past may have caught up with him, but this is football and he scores goals, so there might be a shameless club waiting for him.

Does a similar fate await Mason Greenwood? We cannot prejudge the issue, but the haste with which Greenwood’s sponsors have dropped him illustrates the seriousness of the allegations against him.

One of Greenwood’s role models, Wayne Rooney, has started a promising managerial career at Derby County and shown at least some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability to manage in adversity. This makes it so much harder to understand why Rooney, having decided to put his chequered life on film, chose to boast that he once changed his studs before a United game against Chelsea with the intention of hurting an opponent.

That makes Rooney only the second player in my recollection to openly admit to setting out to harm a fellow professional. The first was his former
United team-mate Roy Keane, whom the Football Association fined £150,000 for his confession in an autobiography that he caused career-threatening damage to Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland as retribution in April 2001. Keane’s boast was to sell a book. Rooney’s to promote an Amazon Prime Video on his life, times and crimes. Keane has managed players at national team and club level, Rooney aspires to do so.

His other half, Coleen Rooney, while presenting herself as the forgiving wife and mother after Wayne’s sordid nights with prostitutes and groupies, is pursuing a winner-takes-all, loser-pays-the-lawyers-millions libel action against Jamie Vardy’s wife, Rebekah.

Wives, Wags, mothers, friends turned litigants; the language alone would make a shipyard navvy blush.

And shame leads us to London’s Docklands where West Ham’s French defender, Kurt Zouma, last week put his 95kg (13.5 stones) weight into kicking his cat around the kitchen. In times past, many a player and manager have quipped about going home to kick the cat in the aftermath
of defeat. We never imagined them actually doing it.

Zouma’s potentially criminal cruelty appeared to have been for laughs, given the accompanying soundtrack on footage put out on social media by his younger brother, Yoan. The RSPCA was not amused. The public is outraged. And though the Hammers saw no reason not to field their “best” defender in the next match, the crowd and the wider public baited him.

West Ham fined Zouma £250,000, two weeks’ wages. It will cost the club tens of millions because sponsors are running a mile and the £29.8 million the Hammers paid Chelsea for the 27-year-old last summer is diminished. His brother Yoan, 24, has been dropped by lower league Dagenham & Redbridge until animal welfare groups and maybe the police act.

Animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot, 87, and La Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis, the largest animal rights group in France, want him prosecuted there, and potentially jailed. A defenceless cat turns out to have protectors everywhere.

What a wretched reflection all this is on the game. For every miscreant, there are dozens of decent fellows – for example, Conor Coady. The Wolves
captain reached 300 games for the club last week, and goes above and beyond football to represent Wolverhampton in the community.

West Ham maintain their right to select Zouma, and are seeking professional help to straighten out his character. But the reputational damage is done.

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