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Friday, March 12, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Leicester players perpetuate England's drink culture


LONDON -- If somebody offered you a job which paid £30,000 a week and one of the stipulations was that you had to give up alcohol for a certain period of time, would it be too much of an imposition on your freedom?

Christopher Davies

Each week you would earn £30,000 -- a year's salary or more for many -- and the concession was that perhaps apart from a short period during the summer your idea of a double was two orange juices or the finish in a game of darts.

These days even an average footballer in the Premiership can pick up £30,000 a week. Unfortunately some cannot resist picking up too many glasses of alcohol either and while it is said money can be the root of all evil, the booze culture in England and particularly English football has once again seen players making the wrong sort of headlines.

Leicester City's Paul Dickov, Frank Sinclair and Keith Gillespie have been in a Spanish jail facing charges of alleged sexual assault involving three girls while the club was on a training break at the La Manga sports complex.

How a club which was in administration last season could afford to send its squad to the five-star hotel, is no doubt a question creditors who were paid 10 pence on the pound when the old football club went under, have been asking.

It is also staggering that the club returned to the scene of the crime -- three years ago Leicester was thrown out of La Manga when, after a seven-hour drinking spree, Stan Collymore let off a fire extinguisher, which the other guests did not find amusing.

Two weeks ago players from the club, which was broke a year ago, jetted off to the Spanish sunshine and the last words of manager Micky Adams, who was to join them later on, were: "Behave yourselves."

Some seem to have misheard their manager and thought he said: "Drink in the bar until the early hours of the morning."

At the moment all the players are innocent of criminal charges, but they are guilty of being unprofessional and letting down their club.

Adams, who considered quitting, said he was deeply concerned about the actions of a minority of players.

"I have spoken to them on many occasions about the need to conduct themselves properly on and off the pitch at all times," he said.

"A minority of players let the club down, but if they are guilty of anything it is of being unprofessional 24 hours before a training session -- of being drunk to excess.

"If I am guilty of anything it's that I didn't put a curfew on the players.

"We know curfews can be broken. They [the players] know that they were there to train at a training camp."

It is sad that Adams should feel instructions about behavior and a curfew are necessary for grown men earning riches beyond most people's dreams.

"The trip was taken, with the best interests of the players at heart, to do some specific work. I think everyone has seen that I treat players like adults. I can't be with these players 24 hours a day.

"I did not set a curfew but I told them of their responsibilities to behave.

"It is easy to say you can stop players drinking. What happens in the comfort of their homes? How can I stop them drinking?"

Adams should not have to -- such discipline should be self-imposed as it is by the majority of decent footballers led by David Beckham, Michael Owen, Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy who have given so much to the Premiership.

Perhaps the behavior of the Leicester players -- they are not the first and no doubt not the last either to be drinking on duty -- merely represents the drinking culture in England.

While other countries can enjoy a few glasses of wine with a meal, a night out in England can become a drinking race.

Instead of believing they are Frank Sinatra, too many turn into Mike Tyson, and it is undeniable that alcohol has been the cause of hooliganism that English football has sadly exported and inflicted upon others.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said his organization did more than any other to educate young players about the dangers and temptations of modern-day sporting stardom.

Taylor estimated the PFA spends more than £2 million a year on a program to educate young players, but there was "only so much" his union could do help its 4,000 members.

Ultimately, he said, the responsibility for the behavior of footballers had to lie with the clubs and the individuals themselves.

Around 600 16-year-olds begin the PFA's three-year apprenticeship program every year. They are given lectures on the dangers of drinking and drugs, on the temptations of fame and fortune and potential "danger areas" such as nightclubs, plus the need to be mindful of how they behave in public.

"At the end of the day it is up to the individuals and the clubs," said Taylor.

"There is only so much we can do with our structure, our resources and our support system."

There is a growing public perception that those involved in football are above the law. An increasing number of players have been questioned, arrested and charged with various offenses, including rape, yet those found guilty are minimal.

The huge sums earned from football ensures the best lawyers can be hired -- one Premiership manager even escaped a charge of driving along the hard shoulder of a highway, claiming he had an upset stomach and had to get home quickly.

In addition, the circulation war means papers are happy to pay money to any woman who has slept with a Premiership player -- it is almost as if the footballers have a bounty on their head.

There is nothing wrong with a single footballer doing what most single guys enjoy doing, but the consequences can be for the night of pleasure to be shared with the nation.

Whatever the Leicester players did or did not do will be revealed in the course of justice.

If it proves to be the wake-up call for English football, then perhaps some good can come out of yet another ugly episode for what Pele once called "the beautiful game."

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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