Hillier did not suggest, incidentally, that he thought the bag was a gift and, in any case, he intended to give it back at a later date

ON SATURDAY

One piece of football news was buried this week under the pile of old baggage which surrounded Terry Venables' decision to hang up his England tracksuit. David Hillier, the Arsenal midfield player, admitted in court that he had stolen a briefcase belonging to a Danish businessman.

It seems that on their return from a holiday, Hillier, along with Wayne Burnett of Bolton Wanderers, spotted the case apparently abandoned in a bus stop at Gatwick Airport and decided to liberate it. In fact, its owner had merely left it there while he went to retrieve his car.

The case contained pounds 3,000-worth of clothes and computer equipment, which might be considered a disappointingly small haul compared to the amounts other former Arsenal employees have found in bags left lying around by Scandinavian businessmen. Hillier did not suggest, incidentally, that he thought the bag was a gift and that, in any case, he intended to give it back at a later date.

Instead, the player threw himself at the magistrate's mercy, saying that he was distraught at his stupidity and that his form had dipped to such a degree since the incident, what with all the guilt and worrying, that he was now on the transfer list. The magistrate accepted his plea, although a closer observer of the game would have pointed out that it wasn't necessarily the crime: anybody's form would suffer if they were obliged to share the midfield with John Jensen and Martin Keown.

And a more astute legal process might have asked questions about the Arsenal youth system which helped develop Hillier's talent. He is a graduate of an operation which also produced Ray "Pizza" Parlour, who got into trouble in Hong Kong after a Dennis Wise-style altercation with a taxi driver. There is also Paul Merson, whose all-round personal problems led to a near-breakdown and Kevin Dennis, who never made it into the first team, not so much because he wasn't talented but because in September 1993 he was sentenced to 30 months for manslaughter.

At Dennis's initial hearing, the north London club, showing admirable loyalty to an employee, asked the magistrate if the case could be brought forward as they had a car waiting outside to take the player down to a reserve match. And we must not forget the Arsenal youth system's most decorated old boy, Tony Adams, who served 56 days of a four-month sentence for drink- driving in December 1990. An intriguing roll-call.

Luckily for Hillier, the magistrate decided not to delve too closely and simply to fine him pounds 750. Thus the player missed the chance to join football's most exclusive squad: those who have served time. Bring them together, and the British Lags XI would make quite a handy team.

The spine would have been constructed from the Sheffield Wednesday trio, Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David "Bronco" Layne, jailed for four months in 1965 for match- rigging. They might be getting on a bit now, but once would have been handy for helping the lads secure a result.

Alongside them would be yet another product of the marble halls of Highbury, Peter Storey, a Double winner with the Gunners and a double time-server too: he was given two years in 1980 for plotting to counterfeit gold half- sovereigns and then 28 days in 1990 for smuggling pornographic videos.

Ricky Otto of Birmingham (three years for robbery in 1987) and Jamie Lawrence of Doncaster (26 months for robbery in 1992) might have been useful additions to the team when it required some kit in a hurry, and endless injections of enthusiasm could be provided by Mickey Thomas, the evergreen Wrexham winger who was given 18 months in 1993 for passing forged banknotes (although it might be advisable to check his match fee carefully before accepting it).

You wouldn't let any of the rest of the squad anywhere near the wheel of the team bus without sniffing the air first: George Best (1984), Mick Quinn (1987), Jan Molby (1988), skipper Tony Adams (1990) and Terry Fenwick (1991) were all sent down for offences involving driving while over-refreshed. Or, indeed, to let the team's latest cap, Duncan Ferguson, anywhere near the opposition.

Hillier, although he would have made a fine contribution in a selfless fetching and carrying role, probably won't be losing much sleep about not being picked for the side. A pounds 750 fine, public humiliation and a criminal record might be regarded as serious enough recompense for his moment of stupidity, but things could have been much worse.

Judging by the way in which the leading contenders are running away from it as if from a man possessed by a terminal case of halitosis, if the magistrate had really wanted to punish the player he would have given him the sentence everyone in football fears: the job of England manager.

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own