Heros or villains?

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Back when Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager at Manchester United, it was widely reported that there was a drinking culture rife throughout the club.

Fergie decided to put a stop to this and slowly but surely he weeded out those who were overly fond of a few pints no matter what time of day, and began to instil his own methods of discipline in the way the players trained and rested. Fergie walked into a drinking culture at United and chief culprits allegedly were fan favourites Whiteside and McGrath. It was unpopular but to cleanse the squad and prove his iron fist selling the pair was a vital early decision.  The drinking school Fergie discovered on his arrival allegedly featured Captain Marvel. Though Whiteside and McGrath were sent packing, Robson’s commitment and performances never wavered despite off-field partying. Fergie stuck by his skipper and Robbo remained a key figure.

Now, back in the late 80’s, going out and getting mullered was seen as a manly thing to do as a sportsman, even Bobby Moore advertised a visit to your local. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s very much the opposite unless you happen to be a rugby league player.

Last year’s World Cup. England, all together as a squad with high hopes of reaching the final. Gareth Hock ignoring the coach and not only going out for a drink, but taking other unnamed players with him and he lost the chance to represent his country on the biggest stage possible for the sport, and this was AFTER his rehabilitation from a two year ban after testing positive for cocaine! Another who was due to shine was Zak Hardaker, sent home for “personal reasons” only to be fined after a Leeds Rhinos club investigation and who has been back in the news for a different reason lately. Zak made a stupid comment in the heat of a TV game that was caught on camera. Who hasn’t said something stupid in the heat of the moment? Only we’re not professional sportsmen and we didn’t have a camera on us at the time. There were even people who wanted him banned for life! Now, you go and ask anyone in the LGBT community what they think and they will tell you he’s a d**k head who made a mistake.

And things have altered a lot this season. Gareth has been in sensational form for Salford and no one hears about his off field antics, which is great, but there are others who seem to think that every Monday is Mad Monday, or that it’s OK to drink drive because you’re a local hero, or try certain substances because they are offered to you on a plate for free, because of your job.

I appreciate that players need to let off steam after a game, but the advent of social media (mainly twitter) means that everyone gets to see your indiscretions as soon as you make them.

In the past week, the Cronulla Sharks have fired Todd Carney for posting a “lewd” photo of himself and Hull KR have fired Wayne Ulugia for “repeated breaches of club discipline”. He was two months into an 18 month contract, and you’re telling me the bright lights of Hull sent him off the rails?

Come on, don’t be so naïve.

Hull KR have had their fair share of players who liked a drink and then wanted to drive home, or lash out at someone after too many pints of scotch on a Sunday night just as all clubs have. I grew up in East Hull, and the rumour mill on a Monday was always alive with who drunk what or slept with another of the local bikes after having had too many, but I’m sure other clubs were just as bad, just better at either keeping out of the papers, or had fans with a little more discretion.

I really thought those days were long gone, until 2011 and Ben Cockayne. He allegedly posted the racist remark “p*** c***” on his friend’s Facebook Wall. Ben is another who has really turned a corner in both his private life and on the field. Another from the Hull stable of bad lads turned good is Paul Cooke. In October 2006, he was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm following an altercation in Pozition nightclub in Hull, and then in 2008 a conviction for drink driving. Again, Paul has turned things around and is doing a great job at Doncaster, Josh Charnley, posting a nude photo of himself on what must have been a very, very cold day (Sorry Josh) was lucky. He just had people rib him about it. Another player who has spent time working in East Hull…

But why do rugby league players seem to think that it’s still OK to act like an idiot?

Todd Carney is claiming his mate’s brother lost his phone which led to “that” photo going viral and him being fired from his au$650,000 a year job. Whatever the reason for it getting out there, the fact is that players need to wise up when they are out socialising, and it’s up to the clubs who employ them to make certain that players coming through academies and those already on top contracts get taught what’s right and what’s wrong.

Journalists will always follow the story and when you’re an athlete in a sport as community centric as rugby league, you can bet your bottom dollar that any whiff of scandal will be plastered all over the news. Not to try and damage you, or your club, but to garner more views or sell more copies in a dog eat dog world. That’s just the way it is. Remember Gazza and the kebab night out with Danny Baker and Chris Evans? Just before a tournament, and he’s daft enough to be led astray, the golden boy of English Football as he was at the time.

Be it Hull, Leeds, Castleford, Wigan or Sydney, players will have to learn that there is no one who won’t sell their story or photo to a local paper if the money is right. Money talks and morals walk. I pride myself on keeping a confidence, and even as a journalist, I wouldn’t wilfully post a rumour that would hurt either a club or a player without checking all my facts first, or I risk losing the confidence of players, coaches and media mangers and then my job is pointless.

There has to be a sea change at club level as well. It’s OK having suites of people who look after your clubs media image, and who proudly claim to be a media manger, but who teaches the kids in the academy how to handle the press, or some of those players who may not be as tech savvy as others? Clubs need to act now to ensure that players and staff at all levels are not just aware of their responsibilities where social media is concerned, but also teach them how to use it properly, after all, it’s another tool in their bag to showcase themselves and connect with fans worldwide.

I’m very pleased to say that those I’ve mentioned here are the minority and they have all returned to the game reformed characters. You never hear of Jamie Peacock rolling out of a nightclub drunk, or Sonny Bill Williams lashing out at someone. Hell, Sonny is playing the next month without breaking his strict religious views as its Ramadan. He should be on the front pages of every paper for putting his body on the line like that. No food or fluids after 7am? Rather him than me…

Let’s celebrate the fact that on the whole, our superstars are actually decent, hardworking people who thrill us week in and week out with their skills, rather than focusing on the minority who give the rest a bad name.

 

 

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