Tom Peck: Why shouldn’t our sports stars lead a ‘normal’ life every now and then and let their hair down with a crafty fag or a good booze-up?

We expect these young men to conduct themselves like Franciscan monks

There is a certain dignity in having to be carried out of Pandora’s Box. In the original Greek myth, after the evil spirits of greed and hatred and deceit and the gratuitous reverse sweep-shot escaped and spread themselves over the earth, it was only Elpis, the Spirit of Hope, who remained inside. And there is much of Elpis to be seen in Gary Ballance, the young left-handed England batsman who raced to a hundred in a flurry of boundaries at Lord’s today, but who had to be toplessly, horizontally removed from Nottingham’s Pandora’s Box nightclub last weekend.

Back when the Greeks mythologised, only spirits could spread themselves to all corners of the earth in an instant. That – as Ballance might have foreseen had the evil spirits of Pandora’s Box not been mixed with Red Bull in such large quantities that night – is no longer the case. And an England cricketer who takes his shirt off and declares himself “absolutely f***ed” in a disco full of smartphone snap-happy students can expect his transgression to scatter itself upon the high winds of WhatsApp and Twitter and Facebook far quicker than he can put the lid – or his top – on.

Nottingham has not been this week’s only amphitheatre of sporting vice. In equally glamorous Las Vegas, England’s World Cup heroes (and they are heroes, at least in an Aristotelian sense, their fatal flaw being a near complete lack of footballing ability) have been drinking, divebombing and in one shocking case, smoking, in the swimming pool of the MGM Grand.

Jack Wilshere in two separate pictures no doubt sold for no small fee by a fellow pool-partyer, first has what appears to be a cigarillo on the go and later a plain old cigarette, held in his mouth by a friend. And Wilshere, who once had the world at his footballing feet which now appear to have been encased in concrete, has been told before.

“I disagree completely with that behaviour,” Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said in October, when his young star was pictured with a crafty burn in his hand just days before a game. “When you are a football player you are a role model and you don’t do what damages your health.”

Ballance has received a gentle telling-off from his England coach and Wilshere will not be formally punished by Arsenal, but to push the Greek metaphor past the point of acceptability, ours are lives even more futile than the boulder-pushing Sisyphus if we imagine it possible to turbocharge these handsome young men with wealth and fame and adulation beyond all imagination and then expect them to conduct themselves like Franciscan monks.

Sporting life has changed since the days of Gatting and Botham and Bryan Robson, even since a very young John Terry micturated into a pint pot on a Romford dancefloor, and since Freddie Flintoff’s jubilant 2005 stagger along Downing Street. Transgressions are significantly fewer, but they are by turn significantly more likely to become public knowledge, and they should shock and concern us less and less.

Have these young men, on signing their multi-million dollar contracts (at least the footballers), foregone all right to a taste of normal life, to the occasional drunken night out, or the odd puff of a cigarette (as Wilshere’s probably was)?

One didn’t have to look very closely during this World Cup to see one of the countless reasons Germany were so superior to England, a football nation whom they flatter to consider rivals. The players were enjoying themselves.

All right, so it’s not hard to enjoy yourself when you’re winning the World Cup, but when the next “shocking” set of photos of a young man briefly doing what every other young man does every weekend, are made public, who is it who is genuinely shocked?

Gazza’s dentist’s chair celebration after that Euro ’96 goal won him adulation from precisely the same quarters as had earlier vilified him. But it’s not only successful sports stars that have a right to let off steam. Wilshere and the Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart, Wilshere’s fellow divebomber, have just played in a World Cup. Not the most successful one but a World Cup nonetheless. Most people, in their lives, have moments of intense pressure and scrutiny. Would we think it fair to tell students they’ll lose marks off their finals if they go out and get thoroughly shitfaced afterwards?

Pandora let Elpis escape too, in the end, as many an England football fan has also done. But if you’re not quite ready yet to buy Hope a kebab, stick it an unlicensed minicab and send it off into the Nottingham night, we must at least try to like our sporting heroes as much as we want to love and idolise them.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'