The drinking game

Published : Oct 27, 2001 00:00 IST


WHEN Frank Lampard junior was dropped from the England squad to meet Greece in Manchester, some sort of justice seemed to be done. Though Chelsea, his club, hadn't dropped him, or the other three players Icelander Eidur Gudjohnsen, Jodi Morris (in trouble yet again) and John Terry who'd been disgustingly drunk and reportedly abusive in an airport hotel bar near Heathrow; hard on the heels of the atrocities in New York and before a host of appalled Americans.

Chelsea fined each player the maximum of two weeks' wages which was permitted as Leicester City did their defender and ex-Chelsea player Frank Sinclair, also among the drunks. Lampard, son of the former West Ham assistant manager and fullback Frank senior, never involved in such scandals, made a contrite apology, but it was too late to save him from exclusion by England.

Meanwhile the so called news had been announced that Paul Gascoigne, eternal if gifted self-destructive maverick of English football, had confessed he was an alcoholic. We hardly needed telling. The irony being that on the day before his true confession, one had watched him have a splendid game for Everton at Blackburn where he was the outstanding figure on the field showing much of the old, original, inventive Gazza. It couldn't last, of course. The following Saturday one of the crazily superfluous tackles which have littered his injury-filled career, when playing for Everton versus West Ham in Liverpool, had him hobbling off the field after a few minutes with knee damage.

That weekend, perhaps the finest post War British player, George Best, known in the past to have appeared drunk on television, took part in a chat show, seemingly sober and under control. Just as well since so little of his much abused liver is left that it seems a few more drinks will condemn him to extinction.

Then, of course, there is Tony Adams, the dominating Arsenal and England centreback and captain, who wrote a whole best selling autobiography to speak of his addiction to drink which got him jailed after a motor crash early one morning, but which he eventually battled with success. His ex-Arsenal team-mate, Paul Merson, has owned up to similar problems, which in his case were compounded by compulsive gambling. And what of Jimmy Greaves?

One of the most incisive opportunist goal scorers of the last 30 odd years for England (though not in World Cups!) Chelsea, Milan and Spurs, Jimmy was surprisingly successful in hiding his addiction in his playing days. I certainly never suspected it in the numerous times I went on tour with him and the England team. Nor when he and I were organising matches between our respective Sunday teams; with Jimmy playing in goal! But the size of his problem was enormous and he too, thank goodness, fought it with ultimate success.

It is, I suppose, easy enough to express astonishment at the fact that today's colossally paid or overpaid British stars, subject to far more intense training, dieting regimes, should behave in this way: and the list could be hugely extended. One of those, for example, who protested that footballers should surely be allowed the odd drink was the Coventry City and ex-West Bromwich Albion England international, Carlton Palmer, found guilty not so long ago of molesting a woman in a bar and losing his subsequent appeal.

Manchester City, it has been reported this season, when Kevin Keegan succeeded Joe Royle as manager, had what might politely be called a drinking culture. So, surprisingly, did Glasgow Rangers when under the aegis of the present Everton manager, Walter Smith. And Arsenal had what they called the Tuesday Club, whose members, Adams and right back Lee Dixon among them, went out boozing each week.

"Work," said Oscar Wilde, memorably, "is the curse of the drinking classes". How many British footballers down the years would raise a glass to that dictum? I know of some extraordinary episodes which took place between the Wars when our footballers were far away from being the rich young men they are today. Not least in the case of one of the finest players of his age, Hughie Gallacher of Scotland, a member of the so called Wembley Wizards forward line of little men which destroyed England 5-1 at Wembley in 1928.

Small, stocky, a prolific goal scorer for a string of clubs, Gallacher was, one Friday evening, thrown drunk and incapable out of a pub on the Kings Road, Chelsea; to the amazement of members of the team due to play Chelsea next day who happened to be passing at the time. The following afternoon, Gallacher ran them ragged!

Ted Crawford, later a successful manager in Sweden and Italy, used to tell me tales of drinking by the then Clapton Orient team in those days. Such as the X'mas morning when, due to play Bournemouth, the whole team turned up drunk on Waterloo station, the manager boasting a whole barrel of beer! Crawford admits that every time he went up to head a ball, he saw two of them. "There's another of them drunk!" shouted a home fan when he collapsed to the ground. Orient drew, 1-1.

Then there was the case of Arthur Rigby, once of Blackburn and England but by then playing for Orient. A notorious boozer, he staggered in drunk just before a home game in East London. The players shoved him under the shower and when the referee came in, said they were waiting for Rigby. "What," said the ref, "is he drunk again?"

"Go out on the left wing, Arthur," Crawford said, "and I'll try to keep the ball away from you." Late in the first half, however, he had no choice but to push it out left. Rigby ran on to it and crashed in a goal. He ended with three.

With their colossal salaries and abundant free time it is perhaps inevitable that drink should continue to be such a prevalent plague in British footballers' lives: despite the moderating influence of such managers as Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. Physical self-preservation certainly doesn't seem a high priority with all too many of our players. But then, alas, they come, almost all working class lads, from a milieu where heavy drinking is far from the unknown. Better than drugs you might say, but that's scant consolation.

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