by Steve Curry (From February 2010)
The stag night maxim ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ has long been the sacrosanct dictum of the football dressing room.
But it has become increasingly difficult to impose in the self-destruct climate of the national game.
Just as a cuckoo’s call heralds the onset of spring, so a soccer scandal has become the precursor to a big football tournament. And they come no bigger than a World Cup.
Fabio Capello’s insistence on high levels of self-discipline are commendable but, if he puts aside his books on fine art and reads the history of England football teams, he’ll see that control on the pitch is no guarantee of compliance off it.
John Terry is far from the first captain of his country to be embroiled in controversy, and the furore is not restricted to notches on bed posts.
The late Bobby Moore, whose Wembley statue stands as a testimony to a great captain, always remembered the date and time when England’s 1970 World Cup bid was almost sabotaged.
It was 6.25pm on Monday, May 18, 1970, when he and Bobby Charlton strolled into a jewellery store in the foyer of their Bogota hotel to look for a present for Charlton’s wife, Norma.
Without asking to see anything, they left the shop and sat down in armchairs close by, only to be summoned back and accused of theft, the start of a 10-day ordeal that rocked the world game.
It was, of course, Colombian deception aimed at upsetting the World Cup holders but once again the question was asked: why England?
If Moore was the innocent party in the Bogota incident, there have been numerous since that have owed more to testosterone than treachery.
Though Terry’s misdemeanours have happened close to home, it has been abroad that most breaches have come to light.
Until the Eighties, footballers on tour were accompanied by sports journalists whose remit was to report matches not post-match parties. It has been the cult of celebrity that has caused footballers problems.
Their profile and exposure appear to have risen in proportion to their salaries so that they are followed more closely by showbiz and investigative writers than sports reporters.
It seems the further they fly, the more they become immune to acceptable standards of behaviour.
In Malaysia I watched a Chelsea England youth international — a former friend of Terry — drop his team-mate’s expensive camera in a pint of beer, then urinate in the lift as he left a top-floor nightclub.
At the 1990 World Cup in Italy, there were allegations that three England players had been involved in a bedroom romp with a girl called Isabella. Just what Bobby Robson needed.
Nor was Terry Venables happy that his players took advantage of a night off in Hong Kong prior to the 1996 European Championship finals to celebrate Paul Gascoigne’s 29th birthday by visiting a club with the infamous ‘dentist’s chair’.
Pictures of Teddy Sheringham having neat tequila poured down his throat appeared across the following day’s newspapers. The FA also paid compensation to the airline Cathay Pacific for video screens damaged by drunk players on the flight home.
Glenn Hoddle had to deal with players going public on their need for psychiatric help. Paul Merson and Tony Adams had drug and alcohol addictions, while Gascoigne saw two counsellors after beating up his wife and admitting bouts of rage.
Hoddle met editors and sports editors to try to stem personal stories being leaked, an irony since he kept the best one — Gazza’s wild, drunken behaviour when told he was not in his final squad — for his own book.
There are hotels across the world where men on tour have indulged in rowdiness and promiscuity on the basis that away from home a different set of rules apply. It is also true that English footballers increasingly divorce their professionalism on the pitch from that off it.
If Capello is to lift the World Cup this summer, he has to change not his tactics but his players’ mentality.
This article first appeared in The Mail, February 2010.