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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea