Terms and conditions apply when you're living the dream
Published 14/11/2010 | 05:00
Having fallen out with one or two of the staff during contract discussions, I decided there was only one thing to do. Head to the pub. I stayed there all day and, with the help of a couple of mates, managed to get myself into a spot of bother later that night.
The details are (rather conveniently) beyond me, but I remember the following: there were police, we were in a pub car-park, the lads were allowed off, and I was taken to spend the night in a cell. I think it stemmed from an unwillingness to accept the pub was no longer serving. I was released the following morning without charge. I was 18 years old at the time.
I was fortunate on many fronts. Firstly, the policemen were fairly sound towards me and were happy to drop the matter. Nobody at Millwall was ever informed so I escaped further punishment from them. And because I played for a team which was of little interest nationally, it was never going to appear in any newspaper.
Had any of those not been the case, I would have been immediately labelled a troublemaker and it would have been a constant and uphill battle to shake such a reputation. In football, as in many other arenas I suppose, it can be a difficult thing to do.
Andy Carroll is currently finding this out the hard way. He's had his brushes with the law in the recent past and is currently on bail on charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend on the condition he stays at a team-mate's house. It was reported initially to be the family environment he so badly needed. Then it was reported last week to be anything but.
Basically, a single 21-year-old had a night out drinking, went home, and had sex. Headline-making stuff, you'll agree. One of those present obviously sold the story of their experience that night. Having read it, I failed to identify one thing Carroll is alleged to have done which is in any way wrong. The story was written as the latest indictment of Premier League sleaze and suggested it was further evidence of Carroll's unsuitability to represent his country.
He may have only slept with one beautiful woman last weekend, or he may have indeed slept with two at the same time. And as the reports alleged, there may even have been cocaine in the house, but there is absolutely no suggestion that Carroll took cocaine or was present when anybody else took cocaine.
I know there are those who would think less of him as a result of this story, but very few of them are 21-year-old single men. In fact, I'd bet very few are men at all. Having played his part in a 5-1 victory that afternoon over their biggest rivals in front of a packed St James' Park, I'd say he pretty much had a weekend most lads often dream about.
But few will come out and say it, preferring instead to remind us how footballers are meant to behave, even when their front doors are shut. Whether Fabio Capello considers any of this when he decides on his squad to face France remains to be seen, but an England call-up is inevitable, even if it doesn't happen this week.
Joey Barton fears a 'goody-two-shoes policy' may affect Carroll's chances, but given the inclusion of certain other players on a regular basis, it is not one which is as strict as Barton would have us believe.
Some players are put forward as role models but they tend not to be the same players that lads everywhere can relate to. Carroll makes mistakes, gets caught and gets punished. He has his flaws. Maybe he will look back and regret a lot of this when he is older.
Many of those who watch him from the stands will make the same mistakes and have the same regrets. The difference is he is a talented young man living the dream. Papers and ex-players will line up to knock him for his indiscretions, but a world full of Gary Nevilles is not what any of us want.
Players like Neville are certainly not what the press want. I was talking to a former England 'B' international recently. He had just recounted many nights which were similar to that which Andy Carroll enjoyed recently, so I asked whether he had ever been the subject of a newspaper sting or a kiss-and-tell. He laughed, and said how thankful he was that he never got a full cap.
In his experience, media interest in your private life increases tenfold once you make that squad, and he seemed relieved to have avoided such scrutiny. "If that ever happened, I was fucked". If that really is the case, I can only imagine how Andy Carroll is feeling right now.