So, for all those people thinking football has lost touch with humanity, here is a story which may just rekindle your romance with the beautiful game.
It’s not surprising that playing football in huge stadiums with bright lights, thousands of fans screaming your name and cameras following your every move, boosts a person’s ego. With money coming at you from every direction- from sponsorship to match appearance bonuses- it’s not surprising that a person would feel untouchable. This is by large the state of the players who play the game. However one man- Craig Gardner- has refused to let the glitz and glam detach him from society.
Craig Gardner. Sunderland’s number 8. The 25-year-old from Solihull, England, is a fans’ player. He seems like one of us. He has a passion for playing football and has played at the top level for seven years yet his feet have stayed firmly on the ground. He seems like a genuinely nice guy.
Gardner’s nice side was discovered when it was revealed that he had paid for a family to buy elite equipment for their 2-year-old son who has special needs. Whilst having lunch, with his family, in a Birmingham restaurant, Craig Gardner’s daughter became mesmerised by the boy. Because of this, the footballer and his wife went over to the family to apologise, after which the families started to converse about the little boy’s condition- CHARGE syndrome which has left the child with a weak heart, unable to eat solids, deaf and enduring problems with his mobility.
It was then that Gardner realised that the boy required a special piece of equipment to help ease his suffering and that prompted the ex-Birmingham player to withdraw £500 from his bank account which he then kindly gave to the family.
That story must rank Gardner in the top ten of the most liked footballers who play in the Premier League. However I can increase the 25-year-old’s likability even more…
One way to become a fan’s favourite is to say you’ve supported the team for the whole of your life (Gerrard- the Liverpool legend- springs to mind). Another way is to score the winner against your club’s bitter rival- just like Tottenham’s Gareth Bale did against Arsenal a few seasons ago; better still his tap-in ended Arsenal’s hopes of winning the Premier League title. Or in Gardner’s case, you could insist that you would play in any position if it meant playing for your team.
Gardner, who is predominantly a midfielder, has helped manager Martin O’Neill and his Sunderland team out in recent times by operating as a fullback. Whilst many players would throw their toys out of the pram for being played out of position, (for example Newcastle striker Demba Ba who has questioned his manager after he was played as a winger) Gardner has said that, “If you’re in the starting eleven then you should be happy with that. It’s the attitude I’ve got and the attitude most should have.”
Gardner has not been fazed by O’Neill’s decision to play him as fullback rather than a midfielder- definitely evidence that he is playing the game because he wants to play football, not because he craves the superstar lifestyle that tags along with it.
As if you need any more assurance that football does have its nice guys, I’ll leave you with one more story, which will have you wishing that there were many more Gardner’s playing in the Premier League…
Recently the children of a local school in the North-East were visited by Craig Gardner who was supporting his club’s education foundation. The pupils were entertained by the footballer, who participated in a number of games from the ‘bean’ game (you know the one- jumping beans, runner beans, French beans…) to ‘Guess Who?’, which once again shows his hospitality to the fans.
It just goes to show that Gardner is a good sport, as well as good at sport!