Anyone who like myself has grown up in London will realise that between the ages of 17-23, it is pretty much a wild place.
The pub scene, the culture, the clubs, the lifestyle and obviously the fact that there is plenty of work means that you can have a pretty amazing time. Trying to say to your mates that you don’t drink is pretty much saying don’t ever ring me again, as from that moment on you would be pretty much dead to them.
But my question is when is enough finally enough? When also is it not right to do what is deemed so natural to anybody that are of a similar generation growing up at the same time in the same regional location? Should you be expected because you have made a choice to be a professional athlete that you now cannot do what is deemed so natural for your generation?
To me, footballers have from a young age been pushed by parents and/or had their own dedication to make it to the level required to be that much better then the average lad who plays football in the UK. This though comes at a price. I would say that what you can expect from your average Premier League star is a very well paid yet uneducated person who from a young age, maybe even 11, had it all given to them.
I know from first hand evidence as I come from a family with 2 brothers who were both very gifted at football and who both potentially could have made it to stardom who had everything done for them. I remember my father literally doing all he could to get them to that next level. He would clean their boots to the point you could have a mirrored image looking back at you and he would be dropping them to training or a match nearly every day of the week it felt like. He would attend every match usually with oranges and numerous drinks for half time and be there to coach them and advise them where they were going well or wrong. He would literally kick every ball from the side lines. However, in the end dedication and the will to succeed as they hit important years in their teens were most likely why they didn’t make the grade in the end. But living in London its hardly unexpected.
I wonder if what we are trying to achieve with home grown talent in the UK is sustainable. Arsene Wenger himself says we should have kids playing together from a very young age and learning a culture or a way a certain club does things. I just can’t see it working while the UK is how it is with its drinking mentality. People blame foreign talent that plays in the Premier League as being a huge detriment to the national team and they may have a point. However for me its much deeper.
In my opinion the reason that there seems to be so many better players from countries with perhaps far less opportunity to succeed (for instance say Brazil) is because players that make it there have come from humble beginnings and the only reason they are a professional now is generally due to the commitment of kicking around a ball day in, day out with very little money to even eat never mind be embroiled in a society and culture taking you down a vice that is so easily accepted in London.
To me the reason why our national team is suffering is a far bigger issue than just football, training methodologies or trying to school players into a mindset from a younger age. The problem is that we are churning out young people to be binge drinkers to follow a certain culture that has a tight grip on society. I have never been to University, but the stories you generally get from your mates is very rarely about the subject that they studied. It was all to do with ‘£1 a pint night every Tuesday’ or the amount of nights out and how much they drank in those years. And that is from a place where they are supposed to be getting further educated.
Let’s look at your average 17-year-old in London. I remember when I was 17. Before I hit that age I used to play football from the age of 11 to 16 most evenings down the park with my friends. Then I hit 17. I was only one year away from my 18th birthday but it was close enough that now I could start to risk getting into the odd pub or failing that send a mate in to an off-license to get a 3 litre bottle of Strongbow or Diamond White cider. I didn’t even like the taste of it, but it made me feel accepted with my mates as they were all doing the same.
That was 15 years ago and in my opinion society has got even worse since then. You often see a selection of 15-17 year old which I can only describe as scallys standing on most London roads on a Friday and Saturday evening, drinking cans from brown paper bag. I am sure you know the type I mean, there will usually be an older one on a bike, and generally they will all be wearing caps. With my selection of mates we used to just like to sing and be merry.
Now let’s look at the continent, for instance Italy. They don’t have such a drink culture like us. Of an evening a similar age group would go for a stroll, perhaps a (one) beer followed by an ice cream. They are not being pressured into thinking that they need to prove anything to anyone by putting six pints away, having a fight, then a kebab and then puking in a cab home. They have a much more relaxed way of life, where in London there is everything available on your doorstep. You will then notice that as these young lads become men that a night out for them is not drinking 10 pints in the ‘Dog and Duck’ but having a nice meal followed by a glass or 2 of Chianti.
How can we expect young lads growing up in the UK to not fall off the wagon every now and then, surely it’s expected regardless of what they do for a job. Jack Wilshere is paid a lot of money, yes. But have you heard him speak? And I don’t want to sound too harsh as I think he is a great player but I can’t see why we should be blaming him so much for his latest shisha incident as I feel its to be expected, and even more so as I’d expect he wasn’t the best academically.
I know a professional snooker player yes he can knock in a 147 but ask him who was the first man on the moon and he’s clueless, he also has a drink and gambling problem. He was also home schooled from the age of 13 to allow him to focus more on Snooker practice but speak with him after five minutes and you realise that if he ever stopped playing the game he literally is un-employable.
Obviously, let’s not forget that this is not the norm for all British sportsmen in the UK. It will only ever be a selected few. We should also remember that some of our finest players had their own of the field issues. Adams captain for club and country (Alcoholic/Drink Driving/Prison), Paul Merson (Alcoholic/Gambling addiction), Charlie Nicolas (nicknamed Champagne Charlie) to name but a few. And look at Gascoigne, Best etc etc… I honestly struggle to think of one player past or present not playing in the UK who has had such issues. I am sure there is but certainly not to the same amount that we have.
To me, we cannot expect players who mainly have come from a British background, who are growing up in London or any other major UK city at the age of 17-23 to not do what is most natural to them in the society that they are in. This can include alcohol, smoking, gambling or even drug use.
When the country as a whole can crack down on this then we can start to look at how football can adapt and do their part.
I would love to know your thoughts on this especially if you are in that age bracket now. Do I have a point or am I way off?