When a footballer-behaving-badly story lands in a newspaper editor’s lap, they are professionally obliged to make hay. You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and the chance to mock a rich kid’s role model status is far too alluring to resist.
I think we all understand that; and it’s why Aston Villa whiz kid Jack Grealish has made back page headlines today.
Photographed inhaling the ‘legal high’ nitrous oxide from a balloon after a night out six months ago (no, it wasn’t this week) the gifted teenager joins Kyle Walker, Saido Berahino and Raheem Sterling in the newly formed Laughing Gas Hall of Shame. What should we make of it all?
The clubs don’t find it funny, and I get that. Pictures of their highly paid assets inhaling a substance that does have (albeit quite low) health risks isn’t ideal, and nor is the example it sets to their thousands of young fans.
Professional footballers are expected, and some might say also paid handsomely, to be whiter than white. Footage that shows otherwise creates a bad impression, and Grealish, like the others before him will be rightly ticked off by his employers. However, I do think perspective is needed here.
While what they all did was stupid (and it was even sillier to let themselves be filmed) the sight of a young man trying something perfectly legal that would by all accounts have made him feel ‘giggly,’ isn’t what I’d call the crime of the century.
In a world where people are desperate to stitch famous people up with indiscretions caught on camera, if this is the best they can manage I don’t think footballers are doing too badly.
In the old days a pro had so much more license to misbehave. With no such thing as camera phones, social media or snapchat, it would need a report from one of a manager’s many nightclub spies (and most gaffers had them) for you to be grassed up for acting the fool.
The occasional fan might write a letter to the first team manager, complaining that he’d seen player X, Y and Z, drunk and disorderly on a night out, but without proof, it was a random stranger’s word, against yours. ‘He must be nutter boss. I don’t know what they’re talking about.’
Arsenal had an infamous ‘Tuesday Club’ that regularly saw a group of first teamers head into town for the mother of all-day benders, but unless someone got into a drunken fist-fight, nobody batted an eyelid. A picture of a player smoking a cigarette certainly wouldn’t have constituted a newspaper story.
To be honest, the modern day player lives a monk-like existence compared to his counterpart from two or three decades ago.
Nowadays they’re constantly monitored to ensure they are consuming the right things, and because of that, hardly anyone abuses their body.
Between July and the following May, it’s naïve to think footballers don’t touch alcohol at all, but very few will binge like they used to. It’s just not worth it. By and large, the professionals live extremely healthy lifestyles.
But young men still need the occasional release. It’s a game filled with individuals and different personalities. They have to have fun too. And this can sometimes be difficult for guys like Grealish, Sterling and Berahino, who see their pals and peers partying hard in the flush of youth.
I’m not condoning the use of laughing gas at all. I think it’s a daft and pointless thing for a footballer to do - and given the fallout I’d expect other players to avoid it like the plague from now on.
But would we rather see our young stars getting a quick kick from a silly balloon, or sinking ten pints of lager and poisoning their bodies on regular all-day benders?
Neither is right, but I know which one I’d choose.
To be frank, if this is the worst behaviour our Premier League superstars are getting up to off the pitch, I don’t think we have too much to worry about.
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