Originally featured on Goonersphere

The stereotypical image of a young footballer who plies his trade at the highest levels of the game, stumbling out of a nightclub or being papped puffing on a shisha pipe, is one that edifies the very fans that idolise these spoiled ‘men’. It shows children that the life of a footballer is one of fun and pleasure – that all they can wish for can be theirs. It also shows another facet of a pro-footballers life that isn’t so apparent to starry-eyed dreamers. It is evidence that no matter what choice you make, if you are up on a pedestal then the media want nothing more than to send you sprawling. If you leave yourself open to interpretation, then the repercussions could be huge.

Many would argue that the privileged existence that is a Premiership footballer renders these risks moot. If you are earning upwards of a Kings ransom each week, then the world is your oyster and you should work that little bit harder to earn it. Why would you want to go to a nightclub and risk your career when you can play golf, go on a break or even learn to fly a plane. The choices that are available are mind boggling.

Cast your mind back to when you were 18-24. If you are currently that age – firstly, know that I and everyone else upwards of that age bracket hates you.  Secondly, you know how important your friends are. To everyone else who has unfortunately grown out of that age, we can all admit that, as the responsibilities of an adult grow heavier and the demand for readies is an ever-present blight, friendships and your social circle become less than imperative.

Try to keep that viewpoint in mind as I take you on a little trip. One evening in the life of a Premiership footballer. We’re going to play a little game.  Answer honestly and we will recap at the end.  What would you do?

Now, let us imagine the life of a young footballer who has the world at his feet. A player who has a glamorous young wife at home. This young man has his name chanted by tens of thousands  every week and international recognition is now upon him. This virile fella has everything.

His phone rings. It is his agent, who informs him that his sponsors have a launch event for their latest edition of football boot. They’re basically the same as the last set, but they’ve got a new colour splash on the front. Seeing as he is one of the faces of the company, he is expected to be present at the launch event tonight and offer soundbites to the frothing paparazzi.

There will be plenty of freebies going tonight. Plus, a free bar. He has the weekend off as he is currently nursing a groin strain so he has a free pass, so to speak. This is just the type of opportunity his cadre of friends always pester him about.
On the other side, it would be great to take his wife, who brings out his sensible side and is great company. Plus, he loves to show her off. So….

He brings his friends with him.

He takes his wife.

Fast forward to the event itself and it is in full swing. You have offered your face for photos and did the mandatory interviews, with your publicist breathing down your neck if you make inevitable errors. Now that is taken care of, it is time to have some fun.
Every current star is here. From Hollywood A-Lister to fellow top-flight sportsmen. You were never one for small talk and needless pleasantries and besides – the bar is calling.

Four gruelling weeks of rehabilitation. Prior to that he had played 12 consecutive games. He was running on fumes. He needed to let the facade slip a little. He needed to just have one night of unbridled steam-letting and he would reap the benefit.
He had responsibilities though. From his gaffer who placed so much trust in him, to the fans who sing his name and pay his astronomical wages. If he got tanked tonight, he would set his rehab work back a few days and potentially miss a fixture in the near future. Every game was massive. Could he afford to do this? Would the Manager and the public look down on him?

He takes advantage of the free bar.

He abstains from alcohol.

The combination of flowing liquor, dazzling celebs and thumping bass is like catnip to money-hungry, scantily-clad girls who have more than an eye on a man who can provide the lifestyle they yearn for that they watch endlessly on TV. Soon, the dancefloor is swarming with a harem of females who are grinding so fiercely that static electricity is playing havoc with the hair extensions of these temptresses. The young player’s agent has bid him farewell and left him a sage warning regarding his bedtime. He has no plans to play away and risk the loss of his happy home but his friends would be ecstatic if they could be privy to this. Why not take this party to a hotel and make it an afterparty? He’s having the time of his life and the DJ has been on point with the tunes.
Alternatively, he could arrange for a cab and get home. He could get an early night and then go to the gym for an extra gym session. Show the Gaffer that he really can be depended upon. If he wants to make the step up to world-class and be forever etched upon the history of the club – these are the sacrifices he must make.

Let’s have it.

Time to step up.

Congratulations.  If you answered mostly A’s, you currently are in a prison cell awaiting bail. The paparazzi have emblazoned your drunk gurning on all major tabloids and radio stations are currently debating the finer nuances of your choices. Technically, you didn’t cheat on your wife, but pictures of you leaving the hotel in the morning wearing the same clothes as the night before weren’t exactly a marital aid.  These choices left you open for negative press and there is nothing the media love more than a toppled idol. One night of fun and you may have ended your blossoming career.
If you answered mostly B’s, you are the physical embodiment of common sense. Beware though, the press would dearly love a chance to show another side to the angelic poster boy of the Premiership. The slightest slip up or even a whiff of a faux pas and you’ll be hauled in front of your gaffer quicker than you can say ” Prem Star Booze Shame”.

What is occasionally unapparent amidst the idiocy of some young footballers is the plethora of pitfalls that can befall a naive young man. A young man who no doubt has people offering advice from all corners and who undoubtedly have nothing but the best intentions for this young charge.

If a young player, despite being given the opportunity to live a life most cannot comprehend, makes a choice that has grave ramifications that affect every area of his life – then he can only blame himself. No amount of sound judgement can compare to experience.

They just need to remember the sound that thousands of adoring fans make when they chant their name. That will be the best ward to decisions that can permanently silence the devoted singing.

By @JokmanAFC