It is one of the more unsavoury sides of English football. The tabloid headlines and pictures outlying in detail the drunken antics of professional footballers.
Court appearances, suspensions, rehab visits, it isn’t what a manager needs when planning a big game, let alone the far reaching impact such problems can have.
Some big name players have made the headlines for the wrong reasons this year – only recently Nicklas Bendtner was thrown out of a nightclub with his trousers round his ankles. Then last weekend Tottenham skipper Ledley King was arrested on suspicion of assault after a night-out in Soho.
Harry Redknapp responded to Kings indiscretions by saying he plans to ban alcohol from the players bar for next year. He told the Sun newspaper:
“I’ll implement a strong rule next season that drinking is a no-no here. Footballers should dedicate their lives to playing.
“Footballers should not drink. You shouldn’t put diesel in a Ferrari. I know it’s hard but they are earning big money, they are role models to kids.”
His comments raise a couple of questions, one: is there a drinking problem among Premier League footballers? And two: will a complete ban stop the problem?
Well I think that although drinking goes on it is nowhere near the levels of say the 70s and 80s. Then even the top players would go out and get hammered only to sweat it out on the training pitch the next day. Even as late as 1996 the England squad reportedly trashed a plane on the way back from a EURO 96 warm-up match in the Far East – their antics proving the inspiration for Gazza’s famous ‘dentists chair’ celebration in the win over Scotland.
But as the physical demands of the Premier League got tougher and the fitness bar rose, players simply could not continue living the same lifestyle. The problem now seems to be the behaviour of footballers when drunk rather than addiction.
Added to that is the increasing media glare players find themselves in as the Premier League grows and grows – players can barely sneeze without it being reported in the papers nowadays.
Which brings me to my next point. As soon as a player is spotted in a bar or club he will immediately have wannabes and drunks hovering around them. Some will seek to goad these players knowing that if they take the bait they will have their camera phones in hand and a hotline direct to the tabloids ready to sell their story for a princely sum. Either that or the paparazzi will be queued up outside waiting to snap them tumbling into a taxi.
Footballers haven’t really got a chance in that respect and even a very minor incident can be blown out of all proportion. Because of that it is very hard to sift through the tabloid hype and establish what actually took place. Though it is clear some players have done some very naughty things under the influence of booze the numbers may not be as high as the papers make out, only really the clubs can know for sure.
So what can be done about it?
Well a complete ban seems a little extreme – Though the only player to come out against Redknapp’s move has been Gazza, hardly a shining example when it comes to drinking. The oversized egos of the modern-footballer mean they will not appreciate being treated like children and any ban will just be in-place to be broken, plus it is impossible to shaparone players 24/7.
With all the trappings of fame the temptation to live a rock-star lifestyle is all too much to resist for some – the problem is that while some players can go out for a few quiet beers with the lads many don’t know when to stop.
What I think needs to be done is education. The players need to be made aware of their responsibilities and the dangers of celebrity. Similarly if a player looks to be struggling or looks to have a weakness for booze or gambling, the proper support needs to be in place before the problem escalates.
Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic has done a great job in supporting players with drink, drug or gambling related problems, but maybe something should be done before they become addicted in the first place?
Much is said about the binge-drink culture in Britain and football is not immune to that worrying trend. But people across the country can paint the town red of a weekend knowing their actions won’t be recorded in a paper the next day, is the behaviour of footballers any worse to what goes on elsewhere? Is it a greater social problem?
Drinking in football has been going on for years – only the coverage of it has changed. Pictures of drunk footballers sell papers and the press will always run with these stories even if they greatly exaggerate what took place. However the papers would argue they are simply uncovering a deeper problem and one that needs to dealt with.
I would be keen to hear your views on the subject. Drinking in football – a serious epidemic or tabloid hot air?