Few cheers for the booze detectives

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The Independent Online
IT WOULD have been better for the equilibrium of the nation, not to mention the Catholic church, if the captain of Arsenal had run off with a divorcee and the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles had declared himself an alcoholic. Since celibacy has never been required of footballers any more than temperance has been demanded of bishops, neither disclosure would have been greeted with the hullabaloo that has dominated our headlines and television screens over the past week.

At it was, the pair were at one time running neck and neck on the moral indignation track. On Thursday, however, the Bishop accelerated sharply into the lead with the news of the son he begat in secret 15 years ago. There were rumours that Tony Adams had a bottle of 15-year-old Scotch but by then the Bishop was well past the post and doing a lap of dishonour.

I defend any flippancy displayed in the foregoing on the grounds that it is in keeping with the tenor of last week's developments. But, in deference to the more serious of these occurrences, I will make no further reference to celibacy other than to suggest that if there was an instrument capable of discovering breaches of it - some sort of hot breathalyser - the Football Association would no doubt install one in every dressing room so as to extend their control over what their players do when they are not footballing.

It is difficult to decide which was the more ludicrous aspect of the Adams problem; the furore that greeted its revelation or the news that followed it about the decision to impose random breath tests after matches and training sessions. The FA insist that they had planned to introduce the tests in any case, which is even more extraordinary. Although it would have been a silly over-reaction, I can understand them making a public gesture of concern in the wake of the Adams business but why volunteer a system of control over a problem that didn't exist and even now is far from a major threat to the game?

A number of footballers drink, some of them to excess, but that has been so since the game first began and the same applies to players in other team games. We might wish that they drank less enthusiastically at times but unless they are conspicuously affected during a match - and recorded convictions for being drunk in charge of a ball are mercifully rare - surely it is a matter for them and their clubs to regulate.

As a part of our society, professional players are going to suffer their share of physical and mental illnesses of which alcoholism is one. In the absence of statistical evidence, I venture that footballers would be nowhere the top of any topers' league table. Doctors, however, could well challenge for the championship but I can't recall any demand for random breath tests before evening surgery.

If the FA's booze detectors find a culprit - and if there is any alcohol left in the bloodstream after the exertions of a match we must be told the name of it - they do not intend to take any action unless he had been guilty of a serious offence during play. It would be interesting to know whether a foul committed under the influence of drink would be regarded as more serious than if it was done when cold sober.

We could offer the FA more sympathy if their breath test policy was part of a determination to use their game as a front line weapon against the evils of drink and that the next stage is the rejection of all further sponsorship from brewers and distillers. The danger of that happening is not great. The links go back to the very beginning. I have been at pains to point out previously that all our major sports were founded on licensed premises and that the great achievement of the British is that the games we gave the world are still being played to rules and regulations framed by men who were probably half-pissed at the time.

Considering this likelihood, it is possible that breath tests for players would be more acceptable if all FA officials were tested before an important meeting. After all, a man can do more lasting damage in a committee room than ever he could on a football field. And why stop at football? It would be particularly interesting to learn the results of breathalyser tests taken at the entrance to the lobbies on a vital vote after a late night sitting of the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, Tony Adams attempts to continue with his career after being man enough to admit the burden he carries. The point that appears to have escaped most of the moralisers is that, as a self-confessed alcoholic, he is no longer taking a drink and that his liver would compare favourably with anyone's on or off the field.

As the Bible so aptly puts it: Let him who is without sin cast the first can of Stones.

REGRET was expressed that so few turned up to a grand farewell concert in the Welsh National Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park last weekend to mark the demise of the world's most famous rugby ground which is shortly to be demolished to make way for a larger version on the same site but turned 90 degrees to the present hallowed pitch.

The show was called "Farewell to Arms" and the reason that not many attended was that no-one wants to say farewell to the hallowed place. The Arms Park is becoming a victim of the rush to pour the lottery proceeds into vast edifices that politicians can point to with pride.

I fear that the proposed Academy of Sport will be another useless palace but there's still time for the various sports bodies to talk the Government out of that particular folly and to put the Lottery cash into the flesh and blood of our sporting future.

The Arms Park may be beyond saving but even at this last stage many Welshmen are praying for a reprieve. The new stadium, which will have a retractable roof, will hold another 10,000 or so spectators and be ready for the 1999 World Cup. It will cost around pounds 110m, half of which will come from the Lottery but the other half from a game already struggling to keep pace with professionalism.

Yet the Welsh Rugby Union are determined to press on with plans that will force the demolition of Cardiff's Empire Pool and cause the Welsh team, who need every scrap of the famed Arms Park support they can get, to play their "home" matches at places like Wembley over the next two years.

I haven't met anyone, players past and present, or fans, who agree with what is happening. But, once again, we are faced with a sporting organisation on a march towards folly and no-one can stop them.

BEFORE the spat between Gary Lineker and Vinnie Jones reached playground level I felt that old jellyfish jaws had delivered the most penetrating insult when he said that the best way to watch Wimbledon play football was on Ceefax. It was a cruel jibe because, whatever you might think about Wimbledon's style, they go about their business a lot quicker than Ceefax or ITV's Teletext. Like many who don't have satellite television, I tend to follow the progress of many sporting events during the day via Teletext and there are times when the service is painfully slow and often seems to be getting slower. Perhaps Vinnie and the boys should pay them a visit.

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