Monday 11 December 2017

'10 years a pro, hundreds of games, thousands of training sessions... tested twice'

Padraig Amond in action for Grimsby with whom he has 27 goals this season. Photo: Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images
Padraig Amond in action for Grimsby with whom he has 27 goals this season. Photo: Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Around the time that Maria Sharapova was revealing her inability to check her own emails last Monday night, the Twitter feed of Curtis Woodhouse made for interesting reading.

Woodhouse is a former England U-21 international who played over 300 games in the lower leagues of English football before retiring to pursue a career in professional boxing and isn't afraid to have an opinion. It would all make for a good book which, thankfully, is due out in August.

"At one of the clubs I played for, the gaffa used to come in the dressing-room and say the drug squad are in today, if you're on anything, go home!" revealed Woodhouse. "I'm not gunna (sic) lie, a good few of the lads went home!!! #TrueStory."

He added: "reason athletes (sic) favourite drug is cocaine is because it stays in your system for 48 hours, Monday morning was Russian roulette for some."

Padraig Amond was among Woodhouse's 51,000 followers who saw the series of tweets and, using a fine choice of words, reckons "there's some substance to them".


Amond, like Woodhouse, represented his country at U-21 level and has spent the majority of his career in England's lower leagues - the Carlow-born striker is now plying his trade at Grimsby, with whom he has an impressive 27 goals this season.

He is now approaching 10 years as a professional footballer with over 350 games in Ireland, Portugal and England. Taking an average of four training sessions a week across 42 weeks of a year and Amond has probably clocked up around 1,600 training sessions which, including games, would make roughly 2000 opportunities for him to have been drug-tested. In that period, he has been tested just twice.

Both occasions, he recalls, came after scoring the game's winning goal - once for Shamrock Rovers and once for Morecambe - and although both tests came back clean, there is always a little worry.

"It's like going through airport security," he says. "You know you've done nothing wrong but until you get the letter saying that you've passed there's always a tiny little concern."

Two tests in 10 years is an extremely low number but could be explained by Amond's name just not cropping up in the random nature of the testing. More worryingly, however, is that he struggles to remember seeing the testers at any of his clubs on more than five or six occasions.

With a half dozen professional clubs by the age of 27, Amond is far more typical of the average pro than those earning millions every season in the upper echelons of the Premier League. It's not taking too much of a leap to think that the level of testing he has been subjected to is equally typical.

"From my experience lower league players have to do more for themselves so they'd be more inclined to check whether something was on the banned list or not," he says. "You get a wallet-sized card with what you can and can't take and it's easy to check it online but some of the bigger fish live in a bubble in the way that somebody like Sharapova would."

It's acknowledged that testing increases as players progress up the football food-chain but given the rewards on offer for a Premier League player by comparison to, say, a League One player, the temptation to get there through unscrupulous means must be enormous.

"Ten years ago, I could get an edge by spending time in the gym but if everyone is doing that, what next?" wrote Stephen Hunt in The Sunday Independent last year. "I worry that . . . players need something to make them stand out. We've seen it in cycling, athletics, rugby and other sports where that can take you. Football isn't a special case."

Players like Kolo Toure and Paddy Kenny have been suspended for failing drugs tests - neither was deemed to have deliberately attempted to improve their performance - while Gerard Kinsella was banned for two years in 2013 after testing positive for a steroid given to him in an injection by a relative who believed it was simply a painkiller to help him with a catalogue of injuries. Such "stupidity", to use the word Kinsella put on his own situation, isn't uncommon.

"Sometimes in a dressing-room, a lad could come in with a new supplement," adds Amond. "Somebody would ask them if they'd checked and most of the time they would but you get the odd person who hasn't and there taking a huge risk.

"There might not be anything illegal in it and they wouldn't have been deliberately trying to cheat but they might have already taken it five or six times and they don't know if they're leaving themselves open."

Woodhouse's description of players using recreational drugs is difficult to prove for obvious reasons but Amond believes that there are some players "risking their career for the sake of a good Saturday night".

"If people knew that there would be testers at grounds every Monday morning, there'd be no positive tests because nobody would take the chance," he believes. "But, as it is, some are willing to take the risk because they don't believe that they're going to get caught."

Three days after Sharapova's confession, a BBC report revealed that, while the English FA had carried out 1,583 tests between April and December 2015, there had been just eight drugs tests carried out in Scottish football in the same period.

The report quoted an SFA spokesman as saying "we are proud and protective of our reputation as a clean sport" which carries the logic that, if a country's police force were disbanded, crime would immediately cease because, statistically, there would be no arrests.

It was a figure which left Amond exasperated as it should do with every professional athlete, particularly given the sporting culture which now pervades worldwide. The question is, however, like with Woodhouse's revelations or Amond being tested twice in 10 years, whether there is a real desire to do anything about it?

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