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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Footballers behaving badly
Jonathan Woodgate in action for Leeds
Woodgate's conviction cost him an England place

At times over the past two years, the list of footballers in trouble with the law has appeared to be without end.

On Thursday, Chelsea's John Terry and Jody Morris were cleared of charges relating to a fight in a London nightclub.

But Wimbledon's Des Byrne was found guilty of carrying an offensive weapon.

Before that came the high-profile trials of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer.

Chelsea's John Terry in a shirt and tie
Terry was accused of starting a fight outside a London club
Earlier this year, Newcastle's Welsh striker Craig Bellamy was cautioned for common assault following an incident with a female student.

His team-mate Jamie McClen was cautioned for drunk and disorderly behaviour a few weeks later.

Whatever the verdicts, all four cases damaged football's public image.

But just how bad have things got in the British game? Were those isolated examples of bad behaviour, or is the sport awash with louts?

The average Premiership club has a first team squad of at least 30 players.

That means there are 540 players in the top flight alone, a figure that increases to over 2,000 when you take into account all professional clubs in England.

There is a strong argument which says that, while the recent court cases are regrettable, the actual number of wrong-doers is tiny in comparison to the total number of footballers in the country.

Lee Bowyer shouts at a referee
Bowyer has been unable to stay out of trouble

Does a yob culture exist in the game? Probably not, although British footballers still drink more alcohol than their European counterparts.

To separate the culture of football from that of society at large is misleading.

The country as a whole has a binge-drinking mentality. Sure, some footballers can be found five sheets to the wind on a Saturday night.

But take a random 2,000 British men aged between 17 and 34, and you will find a far higher percentage staggering round the streets in the early hours.

Should footballers, as professional sportsmen, not be looking after themselves better?

Resentment

Absolutely. Those who choose to unwind by sinking pints in late-night bars are as short-sighted as those who complain that they cannot go out without attracting unwanted attention.

It is not hard to work out that, if you are a footballer on 30,000-a-week in a nightclub where most people hope to earn that in a year, you will be the focus of unavoidable resentment.

Jamie McClen in action for Newcastle
McClen was cautioned for drunk and disorderly behaviour

The wiser ones step away, or accept that one of the few down sides of life as a footballer is that your social life will not match that of your old pals.

Do players have a responsibility as role models?

Inadvertently, probably.

With big salaries and the adoration of thousands should come an understanding that some kids will copy your example both on and off the pitch.

Plenty of the game's biggest names show every sign of taking this lesson on board.

Clamping down hard

For every Bowyer there is a Michael Owen; for every Woodgate, a Beckham - a man whose off-pitch behaviour is as close to angelic as could ever be hoped for.

Forget the fashion faux-pas and the haircuts. Beckham's obvious devotion to his wife and son, his charity work and his friendship with terminally ill Kirsty Howard make him the quintessential role model.

Football authorities are also clamping down hard on players found guilty in a court of law.

Sven-Goran Eriksson has said he will not consider Woodgate for the England team until he has completed his community service sentence, while Newcastle hit Bellamy and McClen with big fines.

The message, the authorities hope, is clear: step out of line, and your career is at risk.

See also:

21 Aug 02 | England
16 Aug 02 | England
14 Aug 02 | England
05 Aug 02 | England
Links to more Football stories are at the foot of the page.


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