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I need a drink. This was one of my first thoughts after we got relegated last season. It sounds like the famous starting lines of Tony Adams’ autobiography. This doesn’t tell, though, about his and definitely not about my story. With all fairness it probably describes more about every players nature. Whether I got one or not after the season doesn’t matter, I didn’t need it. It was just a part of the script that I should.
The liquid of darkness or lightness of being, Doctor Jekyll or Mr Hyde, the heaven or the hell, Champions League Everton or Championship Toffees? How to describe it when it has a paradox in it? Is it an answer or a question like the dilemma of which one was first: chicken or egg? Why the outcome is you never know what you got, you could even turn out to be Forrest Cump? It changes you. That’s also your reason for it. It can be the X-factor to both our gloryest and darkest moments. Still even Simon Cowell would judge it is not a talent. It is a lie. The mighty alcohol has different faces. But many times, not yours.
When I read about George Best I didn’t see just a sole legend taking couple of pints too much. For me it told a story of many footballers. However it needed one of the biggest ones to reveal the epidemic. It has not been really covered before because others were only famous when they were playing and haven’t interested headlines afterwards while being hooked by the evil bottle. George Best was not just the greatest player but also on top of the long list of former footballers parked to the closest pubs.
In order to answer why a footballer drinks you have to find out first why anyone drinks? The answer is Thierry Henry! The power of a pint is what Henry is to Arsenal – you think it is the only thing that makes you to tick. You have grown up to believe it is the choice to rely on in most situations. It has become an institutional habit, a given corner stone of your Highbury. It goes like this. What do you do when you want to celebrate? Or need to cope with sorrow? How about when you meet up with old friends? Win a glorious game? Or get relegated? Going to a holiday? Or want to forget your work? You always go for a drink, don’t you! That is your first instinct. Your immediate answer is found from a bottle. We react to all different situations in our life by ordering a drink. It is so deep inside us that we don’t even see it is part of what we are. Still we actually drink to momentarily be something else or to go somewhere else. In that we normally succeed. Like Henry does for Arsenal.
I know this decent footballer. Let’s call him with alias John Smith and pretend he is a Championship player for FC Itstheonlywayout. He is very professional and goes on about how drinking is a rare chance in modern game. There is always a game. Or training. Or he wants to maintain his fitness level and health. His club has banned by contract alcohol consumption for 72 hours prior to a game. He knows nobody needs this regulation, there just won’t be anyone even thinking of doing it. However if fixture list allows it, night outs after games can happen. After all he likes to celebrate for the work well done or sometimes just to clear the system. He tells often the usual story how it is impossible to forget the games and results. Sober that is, because then he is too conscious how he lives and breathes the game. From his experience, little alcohol is the only way to get away from it. He is doing just fine.
I know also this other footballer, let’s call the youngster John Smith Junior. He has not really made it yet but he is already in the frame because he plays for a big team FC Howcoolisthis. He has realised the power of celebrity status. Instead of being just a rose on a wall side at a dusty local pub he now has a chance and can afford to hang out with the coolest places and people. He loves the attention and the options given to him although keeps complaining how public eye tries to destroy his private life. The very reason why he loves the world he mingles makes also nothing private anymore. He is annoyed when there is always someone coming to question him how come he is drinking, shouldn’t he be training? A week to a next game, in the middle of a nightclub it doesn’t make any sense to him. He doesn’t see the point, though, that supporters who pay season tickets and would die to be in his boots, want to feel that players have made all the sacrifices to be justified to their lifestyle. Some fans feel bit cheated when their heroes aren’t living a life of a munk or be as professional as they imagined. So trouble has always been couple of pints away from John Smith Junior. Drunken judgement has failed him. He starts to think he can. Or can’t. Or should. He definitely will anyway and no matter what he still got it wrong. His decisions making has a spirit of Woodstock written all over it. Next morning things and people look different, he wants to forget and swears never to drink again. Unfortunately he has one week’s memory. He has not played well lately.
Another friend of mine, also a John Smith, is huge now. He really has succeeded to play himself all the way to the top, to FC Thisworldanddrinkisnotenough. Now he feels how the pressure and expectations are hard to cope with. Sometimes he desperately needs to get away from everything. Since he has already conquered half the world there is nothing much that excites him anymore – sober. Couple of drinks later there suddenly are more to this world again. He wants his basic human need for experience but without pressure and expectations. That has been momentarily cured only by alcohol. He is still playing well but is often miserable.
I know so many John Smiths who have struggled after football and have come friends with a bottle. They have tried to find their thing, or anything, even a small substitute for football. They have money and time, but no real purpose in life. They are summed up by being the ones living in big houses and looking like someone who might have been famous before. The depression kicks in quickly. Often closely followed by empty bottles. With all they have in material they are missing in life. Making rich footballers look like victims here may sound bit unfair to many. We are not victims. But we are humans. We are like you. We live the world that surrounds us at each part of our life. We do like the occasional drink. We feel we need it sometimes. Problem is when many Mr Smiths seem to need it all the time because of the surroundings after their career. They are very poorly these days.
I laughed at the headlines of social drugs and all the nandrolone cases. Not because I thought these were funny incidents but because these are just small scale worries hiding the bigger time bomb – alcoholism. The problem of alcohol in modern game is not the amount of consumption or that it would affect players’ performances during the career. It is the reasons for the need of it. If it really is the only answer to relax or the most common solution after football, there is something seriously wrong with this sport. I see alcohol as one of the scariest ghost in modern football.
This is not the best story. This is a story of all John Smiths. Will I turn out to be a Mr Smith one day? I don’t think so. On the other hand, so said all John Smiths now reading this paper Monday afternoon with a pint in another hand. This should be acknowledged quickly. I hope a good recovery to George Best and all Mr Smiths out there. And when it happens, let’s not drink to that.
ps. Facts and observations about alcohol are real but all other relation to any particular footballer are only product of your imagination!