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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 13:19 GMT
Football's booze culture
Three players who have suffered from drink problems: Paul Merson, Paul Gascoigne, and Tony Adams
Alcoholism and binge-drinking are problems which continue to dog football.

Revelations in Hull Crown Court showed that, despite all the talk of increased professionalism in the English game, there are players who continue to hit the bottle in a big way.

Leeds defender Jonathan Woodgate testified in court that he drank seven or eight pints of a vodka and rum cocktail on the night Sarfraz Najeib was attacked.

And team-mate Lee Bowyer was described by a witness as being "absolutely hammered" in Leeds' Majestyk nightclub.

They are not the first - and undoubtedly will not be the last - footballers to paint the town red.

Tony Adams, Paul Gascoigne and Paul Merson have all been guilty of overdoing it, often with serious consequences.

Gascoigne reproduces the 'dentist's chair' after his goal against Scotland
Gascoigne reproduces the 'dentist's chair'
Alcohol, among other things, nearly wrecked the careers of all three players and certainly had a major effect on their lives.

Adams' battle was well-publicised and even cost him his freedom at one stage.

The former England defender served 56 days of a three-month sentence at Chelmsford Open Prison in 1990 for drink-driving.

But it was not until 1996 that he admitted he had a problem and cleaned himself up.

Gascoigne's boozing cost him his international career.

After one drinking session too many, the former Lazio star was dropped on the eve of the 1998 World Cup finals by then England manager Glenn Hoddle.

The midfielder vowed to bounce back but has so far been unable to force his way back into the international reckoning.

Despite Gazza's well-publicised problems, it was not until last September that he actually admitted he was a recovering alcoholic.

"If I wasn't playing, I would drink Saturdays, then Sunday, then Monday," he told The Observer.

"Then I would try and train and it was no good, then have another drink just to pass the day away."

Paul Merson
Merson had his problems with drink
Gascoigne was at the centre of another infamous incident involving the England team.

Prior to Euro 96, several players - among them Gascoigne and Teddy Sheringham - partied to excess in Hong Kong.

At one point, revellers took turns to sit in the "dentist's chair" while comrades poured drinks into their mouths.

It came as no surprise when pictures from the bash appeared in national newspapers a few days later.

The photographs seemed to undermine attempts within the England camp to keep drinking to a minimum.

The Football Association stepped up random breath-testing to combat alcohol abuse in the game, but not all the warnings were heeded.

Sheringham found himself embroiled in controversy again when, just before the start of France 98, he was seen drinking and smoking in a Portuguese bar.

There were calls for him to be booted out of the squad, but the striker escaped with a stern ticking-off.

Footballers were in the headlines again last year when the Leicester City team were expelled from a hotel in Spain.

The squad were on a four-day break as part of their preparations for the Worthington Cup final against Tranmere.

England coach Sven Goran Eriksson
Eriksson is determined to take a strict approach
But when players got well-oiled on the first night - and troubled striker Stan Collymore let off a fire extinguisher - they were soon on the plane back home.

There are signs that things may be improving, however.

And leadership from the top will no doubt have a big impact.

Following his appointment as England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson announced his intention to ban alcohol in the build-up to big games.

"If you play for England, you don't need to drink wine or beers with your meals," said the Swede.

"We are together to play football, not for anything else."

Aston Villa boss John Gregory has also banned alcohol from the players' bar at Villa Park while a number of other managers are keen to promote healthy living.

Unfortunately, not everyone has come round to their way of thinking.

As Woodgate has proved, there is still a long way to go before all footballers can be rightly called "the model professional".


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