Football And Alcohol: Angels And Demons

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 1:18

Football And Alcohol: Angels And Demons

It isn’t big or clever to do daft things when you’re drunk. But it is, very often, extremely funny. The most recent example of course came at the Manchester United end of season awards, when Louis van Gaal seemingly took full advantage of the refreshments on offer before taking the microphone to deliver a speech, that has in various quarters been described as ‘inspirational’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘p**sed’.
Football has a complicated relationship with booze. It – or more specifically addiction to it – has destroyed lives and careers, from George Best, to Paul Gascoigne, to Paul McGrath, to any number of other players whose relationship with the bottle has soured after their careers ended. When the game stops the demons become louder, and a lads-will-be-lads culture can give way to a problem. Of course as with most things, this is an issue seen through the prism of football, but a part of wider society.
The game itself has a curious attitude to alcohol, not least in how it’s consumed at games. You’re allowed to buy as much sauce as you like in stadia, but not drink the stuff in sight of the field of play. Oh no, God forbid. At some grounds this rule is taken so literally that any area in the concourse below the stands from which you can see the pitch is marked off, accompanied by a sign warning you in the sternest possible terms that you must drink your watery cup of grog five yards to the left. Meanwhile, at rugby games you’re allowed to merrily sink ale after ale in the stands while singing that appropriated slavery protest song, which is fine because there’s never been any problem with rugby fans doing despicable things while drunk.
That said, we’ve all stood next to a swaying, glass-eyed, fleshy receptacle for a gallon of Stella at a game, the sort of beered-up gibbon who breathes Belgian fumes in your face before informing you that Player X is “s**t” 23 times throughout the game, even though Player X was sold last summer. Their mate, having drunk a little more sensibly, will look slightly embarrassed then usher them out at half-time saying “Come on Smiffy, let’s get you a coffee.”
Still, as with most things, bad and good has come from the combination of grape and football, the latter primarily through the assorted amusing tales that have come from it. The most famous ones tend to come in similar circumstances to Van Gaal’s big night, when players/managers/officials have taken a glass or two then appeared in public. For example take Stuart McCall celebrating Bradford’s promotion by having a few cans and climbing atop a car, only to return from whence he came rather quickly, or Delia Smith hitting the Pinot and rather ill-advisedly deciding then was a good time to grab a microphone and issue a rallying cry to the Norwich fans.
Then there are the stories of booze-inspired violence, quite often on pre-season tours, notably Alan Shearer and Keith Gillespie settling their differences with a bout of beery boxing in Dublin, or Craig Bellamy taking a golf club to a sleeping John Arne Riise.
One of football’s better chants over the years has been ‘Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants’, which stemmed from an alcohol-soaked trip away to Italy with Manchester City in 1992. After a few sherbets Quinn got into an enthusiastic disagreement with Steve McMahon which, as did many things with Steve McMahon, turned physical and resulted in Quinn’s shirt becoming ripped and bloodied.
Not wanting this to ruin his night, Quinn headed to a local discotheque and removed his soiled top to gain entry, meaning he was clad only in a pair of high-waisted cut-off jeans, in which he danced rather enthusiastically, not realising a group of delighted City fans were watching on. Therefore, the glorious chant ‘Niall Quinn’s disco pants are the best/They go up from his arse to his chest/They are better than Adam and the Ants/Niall Quinn’s disco pants’ was born. It was even recorded and released as a single by some Sunderland fans from fanzine ‘A Love Supreme’. It reached 59 in the charts.
An evening taking drink often ends in a takeaway, and footballers are no different. After one such night on the tiles Nicklas Bendtner (you knew he was going to pop up at some point) found himself in a pizza shop but without cash, and after his card was declined he was unfortunately captured on a cameraphone drunkenly trying to reason/barter with the proprietors, but to no avail. And there’s the tale of Peter Crouch, told by the Guardian’s Sean Ingle, who reportedly entered a fast food establishment while in his cups, demanded some nachos, refused to pay for these nachos and when the nachos were handed over, ate all the nachos while saying “Crouchie’s having his nachos.”
As well as various extra-curricular activities, pop has been used tactically as well. You’ll be familiar with Brian Clough insisting his Nottingham Forest players get boozy the night before the 1978 League Cup final (which Forest won), and when Herbert Chapman wanted to sign David Jack from Bolton in 1928, he employed the staff in the bar where negotiations were taking place.
“This is Mr Wall, my assistant,” he told the barman, before the Bolton delegation arrived. “He will drink whisky and dry ginger. I will drink gin and tonic. We shall be joined by guests. They will drink whatever they like. See that our guests are given double of everything, but Mr Wall’s whisky and dry ginger will contain no whisky, and my gin and tonic will contain no gin.” The Bolton delegation of course quite quickly got absolutely trousered, and Chapman came away with a very reasonable deal.
However, perhaps the best story involving the drink and transfers comes from Ladislao Kubala, the great Barcelona striker who defected from Hungary in the early 1950s. When he first came to Spain both Barca and Real Madrid wanted him, but José Samitier, the former Barca manager then working for them as a scout, was determined to get his man. Real had made Kubala an offer, but Samitier got his man nice and drunk, poured him onto a train and took him to Barcelona instead.
“Kubala came to Spain thinking he was going to be signed by Real Madrid,” former Barca president Enrique Llaudet is quoted as saying in Jimmy Burns’ book ‘Barca: A People’s Passion.’ “But because he was half-p**sed he didn’t really know whether he was coming or going…there was a real confusion on the train and Kubala…suddenly turns to Samitier and says ‘Hey, we go to Madrid, don’t we?’ ‘Sure we are,’ says Samitier. ‘But the sign says ‘Barcelona” insists Kubala. And then Samitier says ‘Don’t you worry. We are going to the club now.’ And that is how he brought us Kubala.” Maybe Van Gaal should try that with Raheem Sterling.
We could go on and on and on. When football and alcohol combine, havoc can ensue, and so can entertainment. But drink sensibly, kids.
Nick Miller

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