As you might imagine, when I walk into a bar I am invariably clambered upon by scores of gorgeous women. This makes getting a drink quite difficult but, otherwise, doesn't present too many problems. OK, so maybe I'm hamming it up a little, but I do generally need a stick with which to beat them off. Fine, I'll be honest: if anyone ever approaches me it's usually the only middle-aged man in the room, wearing dirty trainers and a rugby shirt. Happy now?
Things might be different, though, had I managed to gain another 50 or so England caps and to hang on to a bit more of what used to be my hair. The one mangled, generally bleeding cauliflower ear doesn't help either, though I suppose if I were a sporting superstar the girls might find a way to love it. I remember walking into a nightclub in St Helens in my England Under-21s blazer (we had just played, I wasn't wearing it casually) and seeing girls flock towards us, like the Rolling Stones had arrived.
"Tonight, we are kings," I told a team-mate. "Let's enjoy it while it lasts." It lasted about three minutes. Some idiot obviously panicked when spoken to by an actual female and forgot the party line; he revealed that were weren't in fact local rugby league players but union ones. And predominantly southern at that. Away they jogged, and with them went all our hopes of a night reaping the benefits of being falsely famous.
I make no apologies for this; I was young and we had just won a very hard match and we wanted to celebrate together. The feeling of relief and the sense of achievement among a group of victorious rugby players is something that, whatever your age or level, needs to be embraced.
Sometimes this means sitting in the team bath until it goes cold, recounting this tackle or that. Sometimes it means getting showered and changed as quickly as possible, slipping away, leaving the obligatory bowl of post-match pasta for the others and finding somewhere luxurious to eat. And sometimes it means getting to the boozer, finding a table in the corner and sinking a few with the blokes you regard as brothers.
Unless you play for England – then you're not allowed. Or at least in the minds of some, you're not allowed. I'll concede, when I first saw the headline about a certain English, bald, bent-nosed centre, my stomach dropped. I thought he might have had another one of his bar bills nicked and published for all to see. But actually, as I read it through, my stomach resumed its original position and my face took on that blank, confused look normally reserved for a prop forward caught accidentally in a backs' meeting. Here's the news: there was no news.
Now please allow me to clarify the school of thought in which I sit. Starting fights, driving while drunk and other illegal, dangerous activities are plainly unacceptable and this goes for everyone, not just athletes. But having a few pints and letting one or two inhibitions drop a little? Well, who doesn't do that?
I'll be honest, if I'd had a few pints and was given the chance to toss a dwarf – a consenting one, obviously – I know I would say yes. As long as the tossee is as happy with the arrangement as the tosser, it would probably be the highlight of the night. Of course the worst bit is that one of the players actually talked to a girl. Can you imagine? I met my wife eight years ago and haven't even spoken to my mum since then. Can't risk it.
On reading last week's papers, and seeing Martin Johnson's expression, I felt abhorrence for those who thought this newsworthy and sympathetic for the professional journalists whose genuine efforts are undermined every time something like this is printed. It gives the good guys a bad name. Our rugby heroes, along with all the honest key-tappers, deserve more.