by Rob Shepherd.
There was time when football smoked. But now it seems like a hanging offence for a footballer to puff on a cigarette.
The reaction to paparazzi pictures of Jack Wilshere (aka Ciggy Stardust) having a crafty fag outside a London club as he wound down after Arsenal’s 2-1 Champions League win over Napoli caused palpations in the press.
Shock Horror Soccer Star Smokes: The puritanical wing of The New Media Army that has moved into football were beside themselves with disdain.
Outraged inquisitors demanded a reaction from Wilshere’s Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger who gravely agreed something had to be done.
Wenger revealed he would have some strong words with Wilshire about how much damage he could be doing to his health and what a bad health example he was setting.
The player’s “people” – his PR machine – were suitably alarmed that Wilshere’s shocking act could have a bad knock on effect when it came to enhancing the “brand”.
So they decided to put up a smokescreen and issued a statement.
It read: “Jack was with his team mates and friends. One dared Jack, who does not smoke, to hold the cigarette as a prank. Jack absolutely didn’t smoke the cigarette nor does he condone smoking.
“Jack is utterly committed to fitness and a healthy lifestyle.”
Why do advisers think anything they say should be taken seriously or resemble the truth when they spout such utter piffle..? By protesting so much in such an obviously contrived manner it merely leads one to think they have something to hide.
For goodness sake Wilshere was not breaking the law. It WAS tobacco. And despite what some people seem to think he’s not alone. A lot of current players like Ashley Cole or Dimitar Berbatov enjoy a cigarette or indeed cigar when they are away from prying eyes.
And while no-one can argue that smoking cigarettes is actually good for you (although health “experts” used to), down the years it has proven smoking hasn’t necessarily harmed or hindered players during their playing careers.
Indeed some of the greatest players of the past smoked.
Many enjoyed the odd fag to calm the nerves before a game or quell the adrenalin afterwards, like Sir Bobby Charlton.
When Charlton played his farewell game for Manchester United at Chelsea in 1973 the London club presented Bobby with a silver cigarette.
Others were serial smokers like Johan Cruyff. Jimmy Greaves, Ossie Ardiles, Socrates – they all smoked.
Many managers would chain smoke through games such as John Lyall or Argentina’s Caesar Luis Menotti.
Some players and managers even smoked a pipe, like Jimmy Hill. In Italy and Spain it was almost a requirement. And to this day many players in Serie A and La Liga will light up after their meals.
Indeed there was a time when, bizarre as it seems now, cigarettes were promoted as something that could be healthy.
So when England’s first knight of the clean cut, Sir Stanley Matthews, was part of an advertising campaign for cigarettes in the 1950’s no-one batted an eyelid.
Smoking and soccer were in many ways inextricably linked. The majority of working class fans on the terraces smoked and would collect photos of their heroes in the form of give away cards in the fag packets – that is if they could afford “straights” rather than roll ups.
It seems incredible now but dressing rooms were often smoke filled, sometimes even before kick-off.
And our picture shows Billy Bremner enjoying a wind down fag after a game. Or even more amusing is the photo of Leeds colleague Jack Charlton having a puff before a training session (see BOBBY’S ‘Great Shot’ archive).
More amazing still is the sight of West Brom goalkeeper John Osbourne having a lug DURING a game in the Seventies having been given an “oily rag” from a fan standing behind the goal!
Now if a player is caught with a ciggie off the pitch it’s as if he’s gone to pot and his entire career will go up in smoke.
The world really has turned upside down…