Trouble at every turn when there's one pint too many
'You've always gotta remember you're a Premier League player and you need to behave yourself. That's the difference."
Reflecting last week on some of the scrapes we found ourselves in as team-mates a decade ago, Steven Reid and I were very grateful for the lack of interest in anything we did away from the field. The step-up in difficulty from the Championship to the Premier League is not confined to what happens on the pitch, he said. Three players from Aston Villa are the latest to demonstrate why.
After the club's annual end-of-season awards dinner on Monday evening, James Collins, Fabian Delph and Chris Herd went to Gatecrasher nightclub with their partners and were involved in a fracas as they left at 2.45am. The full facts are yet to emerge, but someone with a mobile phone caught 30 seconds of it on camera. Obviously, it was then uploaded to the internet with newspaper websites posting the link. A relatively minor scuffle became a national news story by Thursday.
That level of attention was something I never faced but it's accepted as part of the job for footballers today. I don't know whether the Villa players were provoked or what reasons they had to be upset at the time, but I don't think anyone really cares. Even without knowing the details, the consensus seems to be that they should have known better than to be there in the first place. I have an issue with such a sweeping statement but I accept that's how most people see it. However, I do have a lot of sympathy for Delph.
He was injured so he knew he would be unavailable for selection for today's game against Spurs. He won't be back to full training until pre-season so cannot be accused of lacking focus or dedication ahead of an important fixture at such a crucial time.
"I was sober, I was in control of my actions and I did try to calm down the situation," he said. "I didn't hit out or strike anyone but I should not have been there and I was wrong to be in this position." He was guilty only of being out late on a Monday night, but I was interested that all three statements from the players mentioned their lack of judgement in being there in the first place.
The footage doesn't look great but it doesn't show a whole lot either. Both Collins and Herd accepted responsibility for how they behaved and acknowledged their wrong-doing, so don't think I'm trying to defend elements of their behaviour for which they were fined.
In the case of Delph, though, surely we haven't reached a point where simply being out in a club is cause enough to blame a player for what happens when he's there? If specific instructions from the club were ignored then fair enough, but as he was not drinking he cannot be tarnished by what Villa manager Alex McLeish described as "the culture of one pint too many".
McLeish echoed Reid's comments that social networks and mobile phones increase the likelihood of any misdemeanours becoming public, and thankfully neither were prevalent during my early 20s as a player.
Private lives (although surely it's time we stopped calling them private?) become public stories in an instant, with many fans believing they have a right to know. It is one element of professional football I do not miss, but it's one which isn't going to change any time soon.
McLeish suggested a lack of education could be the cause of behaviour like this, and had a very simple message to his players. "There's no chance of you becoming invisible when you have one pint too many." With camera phones in the hands of most passers-by, stories like this will become more frequent. Because you can bet they happen every week.
Judging by the reaction online, it appears their perilous league position made their behaviour all the more objectionable. They can use that to their advantage now, though, because all will be forgiven if they win today by anyone who cared in the first place.
Sunday Indo Sport