With footballers who steer clear of alcohol reaping the benefits, could the introduction of a no-drinking rule in the sport have a positive effect elsewhere in society?
The reaction to the article I wrote about Jack Grealish last week has been massive, with many agreeing he needs to curb his partying ways to ensure he gets the most out of his talent – but plenty disagreeing as well.
I’ve actually been appalled by the number of pundits, professionals, former professionals and supporters who fell into the latter camp, and who have spent the past few days lapping up pictures of him partying in Las Vegas and cheering on Jack The Lad. I can guarantee him now that those same people will be the ones hammering him for being a lush when he has a dip in form.
The twenty-something Daves, who can’t wait to pat you on the back at a bar and offer to buy you a drink, are, more often than not, the first to boo you at games, coat you on social media and sell you out for a few quid if opportunity knocks. I know this because, as I said in the piece, I’ve been where he is now. And only those who care about Jack – and about his family – will give it to him straight, which is why I don’t mind doing it.
I know the trauma I went through due to my own naivety in my playing days and I see the similarities. He needs to learn he’s not just Jack from Brum any more, he’s public property, and that’s why my message remains, “Please, kid, change tack and take it from me that the ‘prize’ of what you’re doing isn’t good”.
I’d be saying this to any player whose party-boy antics saw him regularly wind up on the front pages of newspapers and websites – and I hope soon he will heed my advice. As crazy as this will sound to non-sports people, I’d actually like to see football clubs outlawing the consumption of alcohol by players altogether.
The science is clear – alcohol seriously decreases athletic performance, which is why Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and James Milner steer clear. Doing so hasn’t done those three any harm, has it?
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Look, I get that in football, where the close season is short, the temptation to get hammered is strong even for those who drink almost nothing during the season. And it’s not easy for such as Grealish, Phil Foden or any number of young British players because having a skinful and letting your hair down is very much a part of our culture.
But perhaps if football implemented a no-drinking rule it might just have a positive effect on our wider society. And if lorry drivers and machine operators are tested regularly for the levels of alcohol in their systems, why not do it with our footballers?
The sport has unwritten rules about not riding motorbikes or participating in extreme sports, so why not throw drinking into the mix as well? Because, like drugs, alcohol is a toxin and if you even have a pint or two, particularly when you’re not used to it, it can be detrimental to your sleep, which, in turn, has a knock-on effect on performance.
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I’m not trying to sound holier than thou here – I started to enjoy a drink after games when I was at Liverpool and I still like a glass of wine or a pint now and again. But I wish my clubs had been stricter with me because there’s plenty of time for drinking after football if it’s something a player wants to do.
Some of you will say, “You’re being ridiculous, Stan, we’re getting into the territory of not being able to enjoy ourselves”. But Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo and Milner still enjoy their lives and maybe we should celebrate these lads instead of focusing on those who like to party, just as we did with Paul Gascoigne.
Football needs to look at the anecdotal evidence around drinking and it needs to be more stringent with its players.