Saturday 16 December 2017

Last night’s TV: The Truth About Drugs In Football

Diarmuid Doyle on a night of dirty revelations on TV

RTE’s Champions League coverage starts tomorrow night and one of the regular faces on the panel over the coming months will be Dubliner Richard Sadlier, a former Millwall player who retired from football in 2003 following an injury-plagued career.

Sadlier was on the panel for the Champions League semi-final second leg between Manchester Utd and Schalke last season, writes regularly for the Sunday independent and is regarded by RTE as one of the younger generation of football experts who will eventually displace the old guard of Giles, Dunphy and Brady.

He may also, according to his own testimony, have spent an entire season under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs when he was playing for Millwall.

Sadlier featured in last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary The Truth About Drugs in Football, where he recalled being put on a strict regimen of up to 30 tablets a day.

Unbeknownst to him and his manager, one of these pills was banned and he was later taken off it - but not before he had what he described as his “best season ever”. Sadlier’s story was just one of many in the documentary which suggested that British football has a very big drug problem indeed.

The problem is two-fold. Players are taking drugs – recreational like cocaine, and performance enhancing like anabolic steroids – while the Football Association (FA) puts very little effort into catching and punishing the wrong doers.

In England, players are tested for drugs on average every three years compared to four or five times a season in other sports. (Sadlier was tested once in seven years).

When players fail to show for a test, the test is abandoned and no follow-up testing is done. When players are caught, the bans they receive are relatively small and the information for the most part is kept secret from the public, and from other clubs to whom those players might later be sold.

The Truth About Drugs In Football kicked off with the story of Kolo Toure, a key player on the hugely expensive Manchester City team favoured by many people to win this season’s Premier League.

Toure failed a drugs test in March.

At his disciplinary hearing, he explained that he hated his body shape so much that he had taken some of his wife’s diet pills. Unfortunately for him, these pills were banned as they are effective in disguising the presence of other illegal drugs.

He received a six month ban, but was allowed to return to training before the suspension ran out.

He was a substitute for Man City’s premier league game against Wigan on Saturday and may well be one of the players Richard Sadlier analyses during tomorrow’s Champions League coverage.

For most anti-drugs campaigners, this kind of punishment is meaningless, highly unlikely to scare other players away from taking drugs, and many of them are getting very impatient with the Football Association.

This may have consequences. One even raised the possibility of raiding Premier League clubs to look for signs of illicit drug-taking.

Antony Barnett, the reporter who presented last night’s programme, came armed with secret documents showing the FA in a less than flattering light.

Most seriously, he had information about three former England internationals – all unnamed – who had tested positively for very high-levels of testosterone in their blood. This suggests they could have been taking anabolic steroids.

They were never called on the FA to explain themselves or their testosterone levels. They continued to play, for their clubs and for England, at the highest level of the game.

The FA, it seems, would do anything to avoid a major drugs controversy and is failing football and its fans as a result.

Fianna Fail, of course, let down an entire country fuelled by nothing more than arrogance and pints of Bass, and last night the second-part of TV3’s The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fail looked at what presenter Ursula Halligan called “the chief suspects” for the crash – Charlie McCreevy, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen.

Cowen came across as passive and hapless, a decent man utterly unqualified to assess and undo the damage that had been caused by the other two.

Halligan’s way of doing things is to let history and its observers do the talking and then see if the accused want to say anything in response.

McCreevy – “in the moral sense, he was corrupted by the money”, said the Irish Independent’s Brian Keenan – apparently had nothing to say for himself, while Ahern, as we know from the last few weeks, is only too happy to tell his side of the story currently.

“Everybody was bought off in some shape or form”, Labour’s Ruairi Quinn said, a partisan point promptly backed up by people who had worked closely with Ahern.

“He probably gave everybody a bit too much of what they wanted”, said Martin Mansergh.

“There was something for everyone in the audience”, said Eamon O’Cuiv.

Ahern wasn’t having it. Only a fraction of people ever got what they wanted from him, he said, and anyway it was those same ministers who are complaining now who were looking for all the money back then.

He was probably right. Ireland’s decline was a team effort. Those watching TV3 at Fianna Fail’s think-in last night must have despaired.

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