As Carroll ditches the booze, here is a top five of footballs big drinkers over the years
Alcohol and footballers are a volatile mix. For many foreigners coming over to these shores the culture of drinking after training and games is simply bewildering. These days when every facet of players’ lives seems to be managed and their performances under ever increasing scrutiny, you’d be forgiven for maybe thinking that the drinking culture is a thing of the past, bearing in mind the level of fitness and professionalism required to reach and then remain at a high level. But don’t be fooled, after all it was only in 2010 that Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini spoke out about the problem as he couldn’t believe the level of drinking by English players "I do not understand players drinking until they are drunk. We do not have that culture in Italy. We would prefer to go off with a woman," he said. "That's what I liked to do after a match, and I tell my players now it is better that they go with a woman than drink."
Now obviously there have been many famous cases of players doing just as much damage to their careers because of misjudged sexual liaisons, the names Wayne Rooney and John Terry spring to mind but I guess the point is that that kind of controversy is something that should be sectioned off once you enter ‘the office’ so to speak. The effects alcohol and hangovers have on an athlete’s body are something completely different.
The current player in the spot-light for their drinking exploits is Liverpool forward Andy Carroll. The £35 million pound man hit the headlines for a variety of reasons last year, one of the most damaging ones being because then England manager Fabio Capello went on record as saying "He needs to improve, to drink less."
Well the advice seems to have been heeded, with Carroll saying ‘When I came here (Liverpool) I changed my lifestyle and everything about it and settled down,’ adding ‘I have my girlfriend (Stacey) with me and I love it here. I’m settled down now. I’ll go down the street and people will say to me, “Oh, you were in the boozer last week”, but it is just rumours going round. I laugh it off, really. To be honest, I don’t go out at all. My family know it’s not true and the club know it’s not true, so that is all that matters. All I do now (after games) is sit in the house with my girlfriend, chill out and watch movies. I’m on the Xbox or I’ll watch TV.’
So it seems the booze won’t be a long-term problem for Carroll, and after scoring the winner in the FA Cup semi-final over the weekend, things are looking up, so what better time to have a run-down of the top five players that have struggled with the drink over their careers and how they managed to cope?
5. Paul McGrath
McGrath is simply one of the best defenders that played the game. He was doing the whole Ledley King ‘no training because his knees will fall apart’ thing way back when.’ Oh, and he was a raging alcoholic to boot, check out this quote from the man himself I ran round the pitch trying to hold my breath on occasions. Mainly because the person I was up against would know that I’d had a drink and I didn’t want them to. I swear Alan Shearer must have smelled it on one particularly bad occasion. It wasn’t every week. It was only a handful of times. Well, maybe a couple of handfuls.‘
McGrath was at Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson took charge and the man himself admits he tested the new man’s patience with his antics before he moved on to Aston Villa, where he fought his demons to put in the best years of his career. His book, Back from the Brink, tells the story of a career that was almost ended by alcohol.
4. Paul Gascoigne
The most talented player of his generation, Gazza was no stranger to drink as this quote shows 'Before matches I was on nine brandies, plus cocaine and everything, I would have wine' adding 'I was on four bottles of whiskey per day for three months. It took two bottles just to stop the shakes’ He has also gone on record as saying that some of his most memorable performances came after epic benders, which seems incredible to any one of us who has tried to get up after a big session let alone do anything constructive. Incredible, but also makes you wonder how much better he could have been.
3. Gary Charles
Many of you may have forgotten this former Aston Villa full back who actually represented England twice in the 90’s but he is included for two reasons. Firstly, because many people claim that Gazza’s own problems can be traced to the day he lunged in wildly in the FA Cup final back in 1991 in a tackle that snapped his cruciate ligaments. The player he tackled? Gary Charles of course. Secondly, the former Villa man’s drunken exploits really are quite something. He has twice been imprisoned, firstly for drunken driving and soon afterwards for cutting off his electronic tag to go on holiday to the Costa del Sol. In September 2005, he was arrested and convicted for assaulting a woman in a taxi office in Clay Cross, north east Derbyshire. After the jury was unable to reach a verdict, a retrial was ordered. Between the trials Charles was jailed for turning up to court drunk.
2. Paul Merson
Merson was racking up the trophies for Arsenal when in November 1994 he admitted to being an alcoholic and cocaine addict. The Football Association arranged for Merson to undergo a three-month rehabilitation programme and he returned to the side in February 1995. It would also come out that he had a gambling addiction but he battled all of these to have a successful career at a number of clubs in what was a rollercoaster ride.
A true Arsenal and Premier League legend, Adams was a fully paid up member of the heavy drinkers club back at the start of his career - his battle with alcoholism, which started in the mid-1980s, increasingly blighted his life as he was reportedly often involved in fights in nightclubs. On 6 May 1990, Adams crashed his Ford Sierra into a wall near his house in Southend-on-Sea, and when breathalysed his blood alcohol level was found to be more than four times the legal drink-drive limit. That same year he was imprisoned for four months (being freed after half of his sentence on 15 February 1991) but after being released, his alcoholism continued and he was involved in further alcohol-related incidents, including playing through a match during the 1993–94 season despite being drunk, falling down stairs and needing 29 stitches to a head wound when drunk, and letting off fire extinguishers and firing a flare gun into a disabled lavatory with team-mate Ray Parlour at Pizza Hut in Hornchurch, Essex where they were being taunted by supporters of rival clubs.
Finally, on 14 September 1996, Adams admitted to the public that he was an alcoholic and, after seeking treatment, found a more sensitive side to his character emerging, which included a return to education and an attempt to learn the piano. He became one of the most high-profile recovering alcoholics in the UK.
A special mention to Arsene Wenger here, who reformed the club's dietary practices and the players' lifestyles. Wenger stuck by Adams following his confessions about his drink problem, and the improvements in the regime extended Adams's career by several years. Adams rewarded his manager's understanding in fine style, captaining the club to two Premiership and FA Cup Doubles, in 1997–98 and 2001–02, thus making him the only player in English football history to have captained a title-winning team in three different decades. Truly impressive stuff.