Idolatry has always been an iffy thing. Webster's defines it as "the worship of a made image"—and given the perpetual corruption by tarnish, rust, mold, age, vandalism, foul weather and pigeons, obviously any made image can be utterly unmade in no time at all. And so it was last week that two of the best-made images in the pantheon of sport—Jean-Claude Killy, 24, the summa cum symbolism of youth, sex, France and international derring-do on skis, and Sir Stanley Matthews, 53, for three decades the sterling-silver Joe DiMaggio of British soccer—wound up in scalding hot water.
That both cases—totally separate, but equally startling—were rooted in inconsistency, bureaucracy and blatant hypocrisy made them no less shocking to devout admirers of the pair. In both instances, money was, of course, said to be the basic corrupting influence, but it required the most zealous and puritanical interpretation of rules seldom invoked (indeed, rules almost always overlooked) to deface, even temporarily, the images of Jean-Claude and Sir Stanley.
Of course, Killy's alleged indiscretions caught far more headlines across the world than Matthews' because any young swinger fresh from a triple Olympic championship is bound to fascinate readers more than a middle-aged retired professional soccer star, however splendid his playing days may have been. The charges flung at Killy had to do with that phantasmagoric old bugaboo—professionalism. Well, for years every ski writer in the world has known that every serious racer in Europe gets financial help from his government, from ski firms and from national ski federations. Ski Coach Honoré Bonnet once put it, "The last amateur skier I knew was Karim Aga Khan."
Nevertheless, whatever the realities of it may be, Killy's character came up for assassination in the Paris press two weeks ago because he was alleged to have made some money beyond his official government employment as a douanier or customs official, a nonjob awarded to French skiers much as college scholarships are given to U.S. football players. The crucify-Killy campaign was started by the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé (The Fettered Duck), which flatly accused him of selling to Paris Match an exclusive color picture of himself wearing his Olympic gold medals. For that, plus several other pictures and a couple of pages of first-person statements, Le Canard claimed Killy was paid $7,000. Other newspapers climbed on the scandal wagon. Even Le Figaro, financially linked to Paris Match, said, "By his apparent cold manner, by his realism which borders on cynicism, Jean-Claude Killy has most certainly played the role of the sorcerer's apprentice."
March 18, 1968
Then Killy turned up driving a flashy orange Porsche worth $7,000 or so, and now the press wondered loudly where a poor customs agent would get the money to buy such a machine. Of course, by this time there was more than enough associative guilt and poisoned speculation in the air so that someone just had to do something official. So Marc Hodler, president of the International Ski Federation (FIS), got up from his desk and declared flatly, "Killy must no longer be authorized to participate in an international ski competition. A decision concerning his amateurism will be taken in the next few days. Killy seems to have lost all sense of measure."
Hot on Hodler's heels, Bjoern Kjellstroem, chairman of the FIS eligibility committee, announced that he was suspending Killy and gave the skier a deadline of March 8 to "prove that he wasn't a professional." Quite a few people felt that the FIS had yet to prove that Killy was not an amateur, but for the moment Jean-Claude stood guilty as charged. It hardly seemed to matter that the charges were brought by newspapers, and that they were based on alleged violations of "laws" that any realist knew were anachronistic as well as foolishly idealistic.
As it turned out, Killy had plenty of realistic supporters. Among them was French Sports Minister Fran√ßois Missoffe, who said grandly, "I want to express my solidarity with Killy. I intend personally to hand him his red ribbon of the Legion of Honor." But Jean-Claude was his own best advocate. "I am fed up with all this hypocrisy," he said. "My conscience is clear; I have never cheated. To tell the truth, not a single competitor at the Grenoble Games could have taken part in the Olympic competitions if the rules of amateurism had been applied to the letter."
Well, lo and behold, once the novelty of the scandal began to fade, even the Paris papers began to creep back in Killy's defense. Now Le Monde labeled the attacks on him "ridiculous and shocking" and said that the FIS had better take another look at its rules—"otherwise it isn't one ski racer who should be disqualified but all the actors in the white circus." And, sure enough, the FIS did a perfect backward somersault in that old white circus ring; Hodler announced now that he would not disbar Killy if he would swear in writing that there was no money for him in the Paris Match story and pictures. Killy did just that. And the Porsche? Jean-Claude's father, a reasonably prosperous hotel and ski-shop owner in Vald'Is√®re, declared that he and Killy's grandparents had given him the car. "We are in a financial position to do so," he said with pardonable pride. And Killy himself added coolly: "For those who are interested, I have already owned two Porsches, two Alfa Romeos and two Peugeot 404s. Nobody ever asked me about them."
By the end of the week, the FIS was in full retreat. Although holding out vague prospects of an investigation, Kjellstroem's eligibility committee decided to hold off any action until the ski season is over—at which point Killy will turn professional, anyway. In spite of the new pressures of the controversy put on him, Killy won the World Cup giant slalom at Méribel, France last weekend, and this week he arrived in the U.S. for the Roch Cup races in Aspen. Though slightly scratched, his idol's image was far from destroyed by the tempest over his amateurism. Yet he is neither fool nor purist nor hypocrite when it comes to the realities of his time. Ironically enough, he said it best in the very same Paris Match article that helped start the controversy. "It is impossible to practice a sport as it was practiced 40 years ago. Sport without money—that is a millionaire's concept. I am the first to say that if people had not helped me with my equipment, my trips, etc., I would never have become what I am. I plan to finish the World Cup races and, after that, well I hope to earn as much money as possible, with the least possible effort."
But whereas Jean-Claude Killy symbolizes the joie de vivre of youth and the girls-and-champagne mode of enjoying his rewards and the to-hell-with-my-elders insouciance of his generation, Sir Stanley Matthews is quite a different hero. He was known as a man of ascetic demeanor, Spartan determination and flawless performance in a soccer match. He is almost a saintly man to millions of Englishmen. That his image has been stained is more ironic—and, in a way, considerably sadder—than in the case of Killy.
Stanley Matthews was known as The Wizard of Dribble, a soccer player who could make a ball act like a yo-yo attached to his feet; he could throw massed crowds into spasms of ecstasy just by trotting out to his right-wing position on the field. And his career was quite as remarkable for its longevity as for its skill. He played his first Football League game for the First Division Stoke City team in 1932 when he was 17. He played his last game for the same team, after 14½ magnificent years with Blackpool, in 1965 when he was 50 years old. That same year he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
Despite the dazzle of his play and the fervor of the acclaim for him, Matthews remained what a friend once described as "a soft, simple, modest sort of guy—all very much in keeping with the British character." True enough. He was born in Stoke, one of the five pottery towns made famous by Novelist Arnold Bennett but even better known for its production of Spode and Wedgwood china. The family income was exceedingly modest—Matthews' father was a professional boxer—but young Stanley began to pay his own way as a professional soccer player when he was just 15. He apparently inherited none of his father's liking for fisticuffs, for not once in more than 50 international matches and over 700 league games was Stanley Matthews ever sent off the field for misconduct.
Matthews never smoked, never drank and has always kept himself in steely physical condition. Almost obsessively modest, he invariably left the few dinners or dances he could not avoid attending at an outrageously early hour, usually slipping silently out through the kitchen. "I don't mind if I'm with the team," Matthews said once when he was asked about the public adulation for him. "But on my own it's terrible. My face burns and I feel like a cornered rabbit." When he finally retired, there was a special exhibition game in Stoke that drew players and spectators from everywhere and was televised to 11 European countries, and he was praised in a Football League proclamation that said Sir Stanley had never been guilty of "any act, on or off the field, which could have brought the game or the Football League into disrepute."
Once he quit playing, Sir Stanley went back to the Five Towns area of his boyhood, signed on as general manager of Port Vale, a mediocre and debt-ridden Fourth Division club. But Stanley Matthews wasn't up to the challenge. Brilliant as he was on the field, he was a failure as an executive, and the fortunes of Port Vale soccer continued to be misfortunes. Sir Stanley was not the drawing card for brilliant young players that had been expected; indeed, it turned out that Matthews' Port Vale club was using quite a different kind of lure.
Last month the British Football Association found the club guilty of several serious offenses—including payment of weekly wages to schoolboys and amateurs, recruiting underage boys and offering extra bonuses to players for signing with the club or for winning specific games. The association found there had been "gross negligence," levied a ¬£2,000 fine and ruled that the board of directors, the secretary and the general manager—Stanley Matthews—be "severely censured."
Last week, Port Vale was fined another ¬£2,000, and summarily expelled by the Football League, the first time such action had been taken in 49 years.
Well, unquestionably, what the club was doing broke all the official laws of the league. But Sir Stanley's team was not exactly perpetrating some new form of skullduggery on British soccer. Bonuses and payments to "amateurs" are as common as barked shins around the league, and what has shocked most experts is not the rascality demonstrated by Port Vale's management but its stupidity. "There are many ways of getting around the rule against extra inducement," said one active observer of the league. "You can write them into a player's contract as salary, which is legal. Or you can hand a gift of money to the parent instead of the schoolboy. That's hard to trace, you know."
Astonishingly enough, Port Vale management had actually recorded the illegal payments in the minutes of its meetings—an action so hopelessly naive that the general reaction around the league is one of sympathy for some dear, dimwitted friends rather than animosity toward a crowd of scoundrels. "I realize regulations are made to keep," said Albert Henshall, chairman of the Stoke City club, "but I honestly believe that Port Vale has the sympathies of other league clubs. It is almost certain they will be voted back into the league at the annual meeting." The suspension is effective May 25 and the meeting scheduled for June 8, so this action against Port Vale is obviously little more than a paper punishment.
And as for the harassed and embarrassed idol Sir Stanley Matthews, he was ignominiously ducking through more back exits and kitchen doors than ever before. Although he almost broke the public record for continuous no-comment, he finally did mumble bravely to a reporter, "I feel neither the club nor any official has reason for self-reproach."
Possibly so. But when it comes to the world of idols, the reproach comes not from oneself but from the disappointed millions who have made a man into an image for worship. And, as Jean-Claude Killy and Sir Stanley Matthews have learned, unfair as it may be, the reproach is quick to come because people do not like to have their gods suddenly turn into ordinary corrupted mortals—however uncertain or hypocritical the cause for demotion may be.