Last week Sheryl walked down the aisle with Gazza. Rather her than me, says Eva Cook, one-time footballer's girlfriend
Life with a professional footballer can be hell. I should know, I went out with one for six years. He wasn't quite a Gazza. In fact he played for a second division team we won't mention, but if my experience is anything to go by, the England star player's new wife Sheryl is in for a married life in the fast lane.

Players' attitudes towards women were awful. Their wives were treated like slaves. I knew one older player who used to go to a nightclub with a girlfriend, stay up till 3am, stagger back home and wake his wife and ask her to cook him steak and chips - and she would. I asked why on earth she did it. "He's my husband and I want to." Feminism had clearly failed to penetrate the world of the player's wife.

One of my partner Mark's colleagues used to tell his girlfriend that they could not have sex because he had groin strain; in fact his lack of activity in bed was down to regular doses of VD.

The people I couldn't stand were the hangers-on who inhabited football's after-hours world. You would meet them in every players' bar, flashing lots of cash and offering to buy Wilko, Smithy and the Top Man as many drinks as they wanted (yes, I'm afraid they all do have ridiculous nicknames).

The hanger-on does not like women. He avoids having to talk to "the girlfriend" at all costs, although he will pay for your gin and tonic.

"He's only buying the rounds because you're a footballer: if you were Joe Bloggs he'd treat you like dirt," I would say to Mark after the drinks had been accepted. "Yeah, I know, but he might do me a favour one day," was his reply.

There is a lot of doing people favours in the football world, from procuring second-hand cars to helping players get off drink- driving charges. If you are a footballer, particularly in a provincial town, everyone wants to help you.

Drinking and socialising figure large in the life of a professional footballer. Mark only had to do two hours training every day, so he had a lot of spare time on his hands. Like an adept midfielder, he would dribble his way to the bookies, sprint on to the pub or a hotel or restaurant owned by the hanger-on, and swerve back home for a sleep before turning on his heels and darting back to the pub again and on to a nightclub for the final whistle.

I spent many nights in seedy nightclubs in middle England, watching footballers staggering on table tops with their trousers down. Thankfully drink didn't make Mark violent as it does some players, but he would become verbally aggressive if anyone annoyed him. Mind you, I was always on his side when Saturday night punters swaggered up to give their opinions about his afternoon's performance.

Perhaps he had been injured in the match or had been forced to play in a position he didn't want to by the manager he loathed. He would leave the ground and like anyone else would want to go out for a drink after work. Intrusions and criticisms from strangers were not welcome when he was relaxing with his friends.

And it was always some 20-stone man who would pass comment, saying something like: "You were like a carthorse out there on the pitch; my mother-in- law could do better than that." I knew he wanted to punch him, but he always managed to contain himself and would usually say: "I've met a lot of wankers in my life so one more won't make any difference." That usually shut Mr Bunter up.

The punters were the bane of a player's life on the pitch as well - particularly if your own fans decided to single you out and chant all the way through the match. The black players seemed to suffer the most, and listening to a large crowd making monkey noises made me despair.

Life is not easy for the football wife or girlfriend. They have to be made of pretty stern stuff to put up with this life of laddism.

But lying, drunken and cheating as some players may be, they are also funny, usually generous, unpretentious and, of course, have fantastic legs. They may be wicked, but at least they are never dull.

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