Hours after the Premier League season ends, the game’s brightest and best are getting busy blowing off steam
There’s an irony somewhere in the fact that when the season finishes for footballers, the overriding concern is one of survival. And I’m not referring to relegation.
I’m talking about surviving the summer.
Already my Instagram feed is filling with crass images of ex-Championship team-mates allowing their ripped torsos to soften and wobble slightly in new and exotic locations. They’ve sent us selfies from as far away as South Africa and Sydney. Many of them are
returning home for the six weeks of freedom that they’re allowed to visit family and friends. Good for them.
I’m after the private WhatsApp messages and encrypted Telegram pictures. Specifically from Las Vegas. And that little haul is going to come through about 15 hours after the final whistle to the Premier League season.
The Premier League is where it’s at, and not just in terms of exposure, talent, and riches. For when those same traits are allowed to manifest themselves in far-flung places, the results are explosive.
First off, let me say that during my football career I largely played the casual observer. I took names. I watched and listened and remembered. Mental scars became notes, columns, and books. But I was never whiter than white. I misbehaved. And I’m sure when I ‘out’ myself, pictures will emerge of me buried in a heap of naked bodies that will take a fair amount of explaining to my nearest and dearest. I’ve taken the view it is best to give them a flavour by standing behind the stresses of the job.
The pictures sent to me from players, I know first hand, are as dangerous as they are fascinating. This is the slow-motion car crash stuff. The pictures don’t go anywhere. I look at them and delete. And there are a couple of very solid reasons for that. Firstly, I have no interest in stitching them up and secondly, the nature of some pictures would be enough to incriminate myself as an accessory after the fact should my phone fall into the wrong hands.
This is the heavy stuff. This is the Vegas penthouse with the stripper laying back in a hot tub with lines of cocaine on her breasts. Sometimes the idiots actually put themselves in the picture. There was the goalkeeper that relieved himself on a glass coffee table while his teammate lay underneath it with his mouth open.
My own contributions include taking a girl I thought was overdosing to the hospital — she was actually having an epileptic fit, rendezvousing with the female cabin crew of an airline in the swimming pool of a London hotel, kidnapping two flight attendants on a charter flight ahead of a Christmas party in Dublin, and throwing a bunch of tampons soaked in strawberry daiquiri in to the middle of a Las Vegas pool party to freak out some American college idiots who were pissing me off.
Am I proud? Not really. But with every summer, I never set out with the ambition of being proud of myself. My goal was to release the pent-up frustrations of professional football from my soul.
And it was chaos. It was obedience to authority for the better part of 10 months leaving the body. As you can imagine, when you’re in your prime with money burning holes in both pockets, it tends to express itself in a rather unconventional way.
I’m still close to the action. It isn’t just my old mates indulging. Every player who can afford it and get away with it is making a beeline for changing room infamy and immortality. Especially the big names — the difference is they can afford the luxury of total security. Or so they think.
Like the player who flies back home on the private jet for which my friend is the pilot. In fact he was flying home a fair amount during the season too but on this occasion, he had some lady friends with him, a magician, a chef, and some kind of cured local sausage that my friend says is the type of delicacy that could only have come from a country in the grip of famine.
My friend flies the great and the good around Europe but he swears the aircraft is rarely in a worse state than when this particular player is carried off by bodyguards at the other end.
Once I bumped into a player who indulged too heavily in the happy hour policy at the hotel — which bizarrely runs for three hours — that he told me how sick and tired the players were of the manager’s negative tactics. ‘It’s almost like some of the players don’t want to do well on the pitch, just to get back at the manager, but we win. I’m doing two more years and then I’m going.’
I remember thinking, “Wow. That’s a really brave stand to take on £120,000 a week… good for you…”
I can only talk about the things I saw and try to offer a perspective on why they happen. However, to understand this sliver of footballing life you’d need to experience what it’s like to be a footballer from August to August. Pre-season, the negative headlines, the dog’s abuse, the utter despair, and the hopelessness of defeat. The feelings of worthlessness, depression, and the uncertainty that plagues every players’ daily life.
I’m aware that none of the above can justify some of the things that happen in the summer when the cameras are nowhere to be seen but it certainly offers you glimpse into a few reasons for the madness.
My last book, What Goes on Tour, is dedicated to the life and times of a pro footballer between the last whistle of the season and the first whistle of the new season. Of course, it has outrageous stories, and I have been accused of glorifying excess and shameful behaviour, but when I set out to write about football 10 years ago I felt it was important to be authentic about what happens in every facet of the game.
The summer offers up no apologies on the part of a footballer. Unless we get caught, obviously. It is what it is. It is a fact of life that there are some things that shouldn’t find their way onto social media but just because they are laced with debauchery doesn’t mean they are not part of the fabric and narrative of the Premier League.
It all kicks off again in August, shortly after a collection of our peers disappoint us again. It is a delicious irony, and a little bit sad, that England’s players will be thinking wistfully of the team-mates not involved in the World Cup.
They’ll be sitting in their hotel rooms desperately trying to steel themselves for the inevitable barrrage of criticism that will rain down on them upon their elimination.
And they’ll flick through a barrage of messages from the world’s most exclusive beach resorts showing them what they could’ve won.
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