Former soccer star jailed for drug trafficking

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The Independent Online

The 42-year-old, who played as a midfielder for teams including West Ham, Manchester City and Everton, was arrested after four kilos (9lbs) of cocaine with a street value of up to £645,000 was discovered during a raid at a house he rented in Prescot, Merseyside, in May.

He was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court today after pleading guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

The court heard Ward had fallen on hard times since his retirement from football in 1996.

Ward's barrister, Nicholas Johnson, described how "the sporting hero" had become "a convicted drug trafficker".

He said: "When he played professional football he earned a good living but by present day standards the money did not bear comparison.

"At the height of his career with Everton he was earning £1,200-a-week.

"When it came to retirement he had no healthy bank balance, no business interests and no rosy career as a media pundit."

Ward coached non-league side Altrincham FC but was sacked in 1999.

He later worked in a relative's pub and finally ended up on state benefits, the court was told.

In 2004 he moved to Australia in an attempt to revive his football career but he was eventually forced to work on a building site after failing to attract any interest.

He returned home with no money, no job and no place to live.

The court heard Ward was approached by a contact, who was not named in court, and asked to rent a house on his behalf for which he was paid about £500-a-week.

At 11.15am on May 12, police raided the property and discovered the drugs - along with a large amount of an agent used to cut pure drugs.

Ward admitted knowing that the drugs were on the premises but denied he was the owner of the stash.

Prosecuting barrister Henry Riding claimed Ward played "an active role" in the preparation and distribution of the drugs.

He told the court a text message had been found on the defendant's mobile phone stating: "Mark, come here and give me a line. I'm pissed and need it now."

Sentencing him, Judge John Phipps said: "It is indeed regrettable to see a former professional footballer of your ability reduced to this.

"Since your retirement from professional football 10 years or so ago life has been difficult for you and you have very much fallen on hard times but you have got yourself involved in drugs trafficking."

Mr Johnson added: "It is a matter of very great regret to Mark Ward that things have come to this.

"His has been a spectacular fall from grace."

Ward began his career at the age of 16 as an apprentice for Everton but was released at 18.

He joined Northwich Victoria and at the age of 20 signed for Oldham Athletic.

Ward joined West Ham three years later before transferring to Manchester City in 1989.

In 1991 he returned to Everton where he remained for three years before joining Birmingham at the age of 32.

He retired in the spring of 1996.