From Allison to Eriksson: why sex has always been high on football's agenda

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Here, in the throes of this month's scandal, are some random but deeply shocking examples of the way football's sex drive has down the years created a hedonistic bout of self-destruction unknown since the last days of the Roman Empire.

A famous coach, brilliantly innovative, sought by the most powerful man in European football, Agnelli of Juventus, is photographed walking down a main thoroughfare of Turin in the small hours of the morning in the company of a Hungarian striptease artiste and her chihuahua, which has a large bow tied round its neck.

Earlier the chihuahua had joined them for dinner and had eaten Chateaubriand. In a belated stab at discretion, the coach drank milk - after lacing it with rare and delicate brandy. The waiter was both bewildered and appalled.

This reckless behaviour, however, did not prevent Juventus making the coach a breathtaking offer, £20,000 a year, tax-free, and a private plane to fly in his old friends every weekend - though, considering the appeal of new ones he had made in Torino, this seemed somewhat superfluous.

This was Malcolm Allison in 1968, soon after adding the FA Cup to the First Division title in the first phase of a brilliant sojourn at Manchester City. Eventually, Allison was fired at Crystal Palace and one of the reasons was that he invited the sex queen Fiona Richmond into the communal shower. Terry Venables, a Palace player at the time, recalls, "I don't think I've moved out of somewhere faster in all my life." The point here is that it was inconceivable that the great coach would have been fired for his many indiscretions when his coaching talent was on fire. But then he began to lose.

He now lives in a retirement home in Cheshire and shakes his head at the way another coach's sex drive now receives so much more critical attention than his ability, or not, to do the job. "I look at it but I don't understand it," he confides. "Nothing changes in men chasing women, what's different is the way people are judged. In my time performance was everything. The trick was to do your work as well as you could in public and your pleasure in private - and try not to hurt anyone."

Eriksson's failures may have been spectacular on both counts and there is no doubt that David Beckham's involvement with Rebecca Loos heaped extra pressure beyond his own dwindling performance for both Real Madrid and England, but the truth is that the only change in football is vast wealth and a corresponding exposure.

If the young Allison had been operating today he would, if a proper value system was in place, be on twice Eriksson's money - and twice his scrutiny. Outcome: better results and more uplifting kiss-and-tell stories. Big Mal, after all, did have a tryst or two with Christine Keeler, who brought down a government.

Shift forward a few years and we have George Best going through his paces, including a session with a girl he had brought into Manchester United's team hotel on the afternoon before their FA Cup semi-final with Leeds United. The word had leaked out and the Leeds players, notably John Giles, gave Best a terrible time. "Call yourself a professional, shagging a bird before a big game?" Giles taunted the great hope of football, who would eventually disenchant his devoted manager, Sir Matt Busby, by hiding away in the London home of an actress when he should have been in Manchester training.

Now, Best, as he reflects on the wages of his wild times, from time to time unearths the sad and curled up apocryphal story of when the waiter came into his hotel room with champagne and saw a reigning Miss World reclining on the bed alongside a great mound of cash. "What went wrong, George?" the waiter is alleged to have asked.

What went wrong for Best was the failings of his own nature. The question now is what has gone wrong with football? Why has it become sex-crazed? The fact is it hasn't. It is just vastly wealthier and when it "pulls" it does so in late-night, high-profile West End watering holes and five-star hotel bars, where the action is increasingly monitored (just ask James Hewitt) so closely by so many who know serious money lies at the other end of a phone call to a tabloid.

In the Seventies the editor of one such paper summoned an experienced football writer and told him that he was planning to run a regular football gossip column. What did the veteran think of the idea? "Not much," he said. "Apart from Malcolm Allison and George Best, you'll never have anyone to put in it. You'll find most of the other guys pushing a trolley around Sainsbury's."

In fact, a substantial minority did get out at nights and, being young and fit and somewhat celebrated, they were never short of female company. Indeed, there was a time when Dave Sexton, a superb football man who had grown up with a professional ethos laid down by his boxing champion father, despaired of controlling the social lives of his talented Chelsea players as they swept along the King's Road. One of them was called "The Sponge" for the amount of lager he could drink. The Leeds manager Don Revie had private eyes monitoring the nocturnal habits of some of his young players. The difference between now and then can be summarised easily enough: disposable income.

Bobby Moore, his West Ham team-mates, and Venables, when he was at Chelsea, were caught in controversy after late-night incidents. One leading commentator declared, "It is time for football to clean up its act. It's time to grow up, time for footballers to take the flowers from their hair." The crimes were less than orgiastic. They had failed to beat the curfew laid down for their stays in Blackpool team hotels.

Now the top players do not have to sneak to provincial drinking dives. They can book themselves into five-star West End hotels and devote several nights a week to the good life which is so comfortably within their means. This, it has been noted, sometimes includes the lighting of cigars with £50 notes. One consequence is the presentation of themselves as prime candidates for the kiss-and-tell industry.

It means that while Eriksson - and Beckham - imperil their professional standing and heap huge pressure on themselves with fleeting relationships, and the FA chief executive Mark Palios is obliged to fall on his sword, football is gripped by the terror of fresh and potentially sordid revelation. Stories - and rumours - of "roasting" and videoed sex sessions are now part of the culture of the game. But it isn't football that has changed. It is life.

There is still a little evidence to suggest it is possible to be a hugely rewarded footballer and have the game as your priority. Peter Beardsley and Paul Scholes have been outstanding exhibits as the image of football has changed so drastically over the last decade or so. During the recent European Championship Scholes was telling awestruck reporters of his daily routine: morning training, lunch with wife, pick up kids from school, play with them for a while, and perhaps a little shopping at the local Tesco's. "It's the way I want to live and it's the way I do it. Maybe it would not be so easy if I was better looking," Scholes said with a small but happy smile.

Once a restaurant owner spotted Beardsley taking a soft drink while having an anniversary dinner with his wife. A bottle of champagne was rushed over to the player's table. He declined with thanks, saying, "What do I need with champagne? I have a career in football and a beautiful wife." What price a Beardsley - and a score of Scholeses - in the oversexed and overpaid football of today?

Maybe what is needed most, however, is a certain perspective - and an understanding that the game is besieged not by an overheated sexuality but a stone-cold sense of the responsibilities which come with vast rewards. Eriksson's affairs have made him a figure of ridicule. But why? It is because they have not been accompanied by the sense of a man with a driving desire to score as well on the field as in the bedroom. That was never Allison's problem - and nor was it football's. The real crisis of today's game is too much money and not enough commitment to the source of it. The problem is in the heart - not the loins.