Bob Woolmer`s opinion on alcohol was pretty simple, mainly that it shouldn’t be over indulged – Whilst he saw the part that played in everyday life, he was also a clear advocate on the issues that arise through over consumption.
Personally I don’t think what I did after hours influenced how I played, obviously I can`t speak for my teammates. Results indicate we handled temptation pretty well. My fellow team member Trevor Penny can lay testament to many conversations between myself and Bob on the subject of alcohol consumption, and by his own admission our coach enjoyed a glass of wine.
We won a lot of trophies when Bob was around Edgbaston and celebration tends to be based around alcohol – In the circumstances potential problems can be easily masked in the euphoria, in fact it is pretty common. Sponsored by a brewery and with a storage room full of alcohol stacked floor to ceiling, conveniently positioned just a ten second walk from our changing room. – There was always a possibility that a stunning victory and follow up celebration could be the gateway to negative happenings. Rarely did we really go overboard, but we were never described as shy in holding back.
People often refer to cannabis as the number one gateway drug, it`s a nonsense – Alcohol is the number one gateway drug and it is sold legally in every commercial premises that can get a licence. It is all about money and the volume of tax it creates. My advice to the young would be do not be swayed too easily. Hospitality suites have always been a place where commercial managers have encouraged players to show their faces and mingle with partners. The link between sponsors and a professional club`s eye candy has always been a close one. Despite this fact, cricket has fewer victims than many other professional sports.
Colin Milburn the Northants and England batsman didn’t mind a drink and prior to losing an eye in a car accident was putting bums on seats as an out and out entertainer capable of turning any game on its head. He would be a much chased asset in today`s white ball game. Prior to losing an eye Milburn was in the Caribbean on international duty when his tour manager took him aside and asked him to curb his drinking and drink less pints. Milburn took the talk on board and returned to the hotel bar and ordered two halves instead of his usual pint! Attempts of a comeback post his car accident proved unsuccessful and Ollie collapsed on a County Durham pub car park. He was only 48.
Milburn isn’t the only cricket player to enjoy a drink – There are players I am aware of who`ve received help in order to find stability and a happier place in life. In some cases it was potentially a case of life saving treatment. Public life comes with pros and cons and playing sport at a high level brings with it an untold amount of scrutiny and pressures.
Ricky Ponting was briefly dropped by Australia after being knocked unconscious in a fight at a Sydney nightclub. This was the second off pitch incident the Tasmanian had been involved in over the previous 12 months. When confronted by the media Ponting said “I have to admit to myself I have a problem with alcohol at times and I intend to overcome this problem. At times I drink too much and get into situations I don`t want to get into”. – He clearly sorted himself out. He was 25 years of age at this key point in his life.
Fellow Australian Andrew Symonds clashed with authorities through alcohol misuse when turning up for international duty at Cardiff, clearly unfit to play. Symonds was 30 at this stage of his career and he was to have more successes representing his country, however there were to be other disciplinary incidents after Cardiff where alcohol was seen as a contributory factor.
Soccer seems to have more of a history with players falling foul of alcohol. Arsenal and England skipper Tony Adams and Paul Merson have both experienced multiple rehab stints whilst Northern Ireland International Paul McGrath fought a long personal battle with the bottle whilst representing Manchester United.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson applied the method of clearing out those involved in any club drinking culture. No one can argue with Fergusons methods in terms of trophy success, but it is interesting to compare how Jack Charlton managed McGrath when he was on International duty with Ireland. – Charlton man managed McGrath brilliantly and got the very best out of him, as team manager he would even stop the team bus at country pubs, It is part of the reason his players loved him. I guess the different methods applied by the two managers indicate that attaining success can come through varying methods – It comes down to whether something will be effective, and never forget there is no conventional way of doing things.
George Best will forever be remembered both on and off the pitch. Famously quoted as saying “Sometimes great gifts come with a destructive streak” – George spoke for me at Lords cricket ground during my benefit year. Over the 3 hours that we sat next to each other I realised there were so many similarities in our lives, leaving home young to chase a career, the trivial attitudes that irritated and lingered in our different sports. Even time spent in America, and the reasons for going had the same kind of theme.
After that function in the Long Room we went out in London, starting in Hampstead, moving down to Belsize Park, then Camden, before ending up in Chelsea the best part of 24 hours later. A second evening we spent in each other’s company started in Birmingham`s China Town and was totally unplanned. He took me to places in the city that I hadn’t known existed. George had been coming to Birmingham for years, often when he played at Manchester United he would travel to the city because people left him alone there. In reality he was seeking peace of mind and time for himself.
The reality of his problem was he had a disease called alcoholism. This had been within him from young, and at a time where there were no support systems and the disease was not understood. Could I match the amount that George and I consumed nowadays? Probably not, but more importantly it wouldn’t interest me. I made a decision in my 30s to reduce alcohol intake – Hilariously I lost friends through making my decision, by making that choice I had become boring!!
In Best`s case he had left Belfast for Manchester as a young kid after Sir Matt Busby received a telegram from a scout stating “I think I’ve found a genius” – Two seasons later he made his debut and within a short few years was the talk of the footballing world. Named European Footballer of the Year at just 22, top scorer at the club for the following 5 seasons, winner of 2 league titles and the European Cup, things happened fast, and there was zero support. Good looking and with cash to burn, he summed up his career and where things had gone wrong when saying I spent a lot of money on booze, birds, and fast cars – the rest I squandered”.
Paul Gascoigne chose to move to Tottenham Hotspur over Manchester United at a pivotal time of his career. Leaving Newcastle will have been a wrench for the Geordie and many would claim his choice was a poor soccer career move. Others may even claim it was the start of his decline in adulthood, and that he`d have got the support he`d have needed at Manchester United. – In later life his life has been lived through alcoholism, he`s been sectioned several times, and arrested for cocaine possession. – Arguably Gascoigne`s most memorable performance post playing career was when he appeared on the scene of the stand-off between police and wanted fugitive Raoul Moat claiming to be his brother and that he`d “brought lager, some chicken, a fishing rod, a Newcastle shirt and a dressing gown”.
The recently passing Jimmy Greaves MBE scored goals for fun where ever his skills took him and yet his biggest challenge was never defenders or rough tactics on the pitch. Post career he quit drinking after he had reached the capability of drinking 2.5 gallons of lager a day, before moving onto vodka in the evening. Thankfully by the agof 38 Greaves had quit drinking and never drank again, enjoying a successful career in the media.
Gerd Muller the World Cup winning West German centre forward was one of a very few players who has ever received help from a former employer. Much like Greaves, Muller`s biggest life challenge wasn’t on the pitch, Bayern Munich came to his assistance post career when it was apparent that he was struggling with alcohol issues and employed him in a coaching capacity.
Alcohol issues are clearly not just linked to sportsmen. The music industry is littered with victims. Singer Amy Winehouse was plagued by alcohol addiction. In her final year alive it is claimed that she was forced to go on stage and perform by those who`s very job was to protect her. The last few months of her life saw a cancelled European tour, a surprise appearance in Camden, and finally being found dead 3 days later. One would like to think Winehouse would have received greater support in 2022.
Another victim of the bottle is Steve Clarke of the UK rock band Def Leppard. Seen as the principal songwriter, the riff master, and lead guitarist, he had the world at his feet. At the time of his passing Clarke had been given 6 months off from his band to address his issues, he was just 30 years of age when he was found in Chelsea. Being the one of the main earners in a band with 100 million plus album sales, one that sold out stadiums and arenas, it meant little. It only proves that it is often harder to help someone with loads of money banked than someone who is broke.
Tony Funches, a pal in America was Jim Morrison’s bodyguard told me his job had been to keep the lead singer of the Doors away from cops. Morrison’s drinking was legendary, but Tony could match him drink for drink and still function, he claimed you couldn’t stop Morrison having a drink if he wanted one.
Personally I would stop all advertising that is linked to alcohol in the same way sport stamped out tobacco advertising. By promoting something which has such a negative effect only encourages the young, and they harbour a curiosity about drink anyway. At the end of the day it is clear that some people should not drink alcohol – It brings out a side of them that doesn’t reflect well. Some get argumentative, morose, some violent and vindictive. On the other side of the coin there are many who can claim it lifts their spirits.
Personally I`d argue that more poor decisions in life are made through drink, than positive ones. If brought to the market in 2022 I’m sure there would be much debate as to the effect of alcohol on greater society. After coming out of enforced Covid lockdown the police and hospital statistics show how many in society reacted negatively to alterations in how we live our day to day lives.
Don`t be fooled by trendy adverts shot on beaches overseas. Instead, take a walk along any high street that has bars or clubs – Take a look at the pavements early morning and you`ll see disguarded drinks, vomit, and the reminisce of half eaten kebabs. It kind of gives you an idea of reality. There is nothing glamorous about booze – There is a reason it gets tagged “The Devils Brew”.
The PCA have a fantastic support system in place should a player, either past or present, feel the need to talk. There is help for those battling addictions. Anyone out there who acknowledges they have an issue with alcohol, or can identify danger times of the day; they should talk and seek help. Do not be shy. You may owe the choice to more than yourself.