Get the stock replies ready before a night out
It’s easy to look at the recent actions of Aston Villa’s James Collins, Fabian Delph and Chris Herd as three more footballers in a nightclub, drinking too much and behaving badly. While some or all of that may well be true, I am willing to bet that in the background there lurks another protagonist.
The simple truth is that I expect there to be trouble on a night out because people tend to have a fair amount to drink and, as a result, they suddenly become very brave, or stupid. Being a professional footballer, it is easy to divide the opinion of a room full of people without speaking to any of them. Personally, I try to avoid nights out with big groups of lads. For years, I even managed to skip the Christmas party until, strangely, it became a fine if you didn’t attend.
When I started out in football, I had no idea the lengths people would go to either to talk to me, argue with me, or try to engage me in a fight. After a while it simply became too much aggravation to step out of the front door. It isn’t the nights out that are the problem for me because, on the whole, they are easily sidestepped. It is the day-to-day things that fill me with dread. At one point, shopping for groceries became a bizarre experience as people followed me around looking at what I put in my basket. I even saw someone copying me, which makes me think I’m responsible for a mini-boom in the sales of Frosted Shreddies (other Shreddies are available).
Much of what I encounter is harmless, but I’m always on my toes these days because I’ve learned people will ask for anything and everything. The first time it happened, I thought the guy concerned was taking the piss when he asked if I could get him a trial at my club. He looked like he was closing in on 40 and something told me (the size of his waist was a clue) that there was a reason he had slipped through the net.
But before I knew it, I was in possession of his mobile phone number, his home address and his place of work. In other words, he was deadly serious. I remember talking to the older professionals about it when I went into training and they were laughing at me. The captain said: “You need to develop your stock answers, lad.” I had no idea what he was on about but today my responses are well and truly honed.
The trick is to reply instantly and never waiver. “Write to the club, they’ll tell you everything you need to know about that,” in response to a dad asking if I can recommend his kid for a trial. “I’m sorry, it says in our contract that we can’t do that,” in reply to a group of lads asking if I can play in their five-a-side team or turn out for a game on Sunday morning for the Dog and Duck.
Most of what I get on the nights out I can’t wriggle out of is earache from lads that make me feel too old to be there in the first place. And I make sure I always leave before the fighting starts. But almost every time I go out, I can guarantee that a young bloke will, at some point, shout something along the lines of “This geezer is going to be the next Wayne Rooney, Crewe have just offered him an apprenticeship” in my ear.
This comes from the boy wonder’s best mate, while Crewe’s latest academy recruit stands next to him with a bottle of Corona in each hand, dressed as an extra from Footballers’ Wives and pretending that he doesn’t know who I am or what his friend is talking about.
You never know when these people will strike so it pays to have a solid, non-offensive stock answer to fall back on, in part so you don’t find yourself tripping over your words and agreeing to something you can’t get out of. I am always firm but I make sure that I’m never rude. “Good luck at Crewe, it’s a great club, go easy on the beers.” And then, for reasons I don’t understand, I’ll buy them each a drink.
As my career has progressed, I have adopted a pretty severe solution to avoiding the people that want my time. I have stopped going out. In five years at one of my clubs, my girlfriend and I had no more than a dozen nights out and they were always for something to eat, and usually for someone’s birthday.
It’s just that I am very wary of people today. I don’t like getting into conversations because I am hugely paranoid that I am being recorded – after all, the technology on mobile phones means that everyone is a journalist now (as the three Villa lads have just discovered).
I can’t even do big crowds at shopping centres because they make me feel anxious (pretty embarrassing really, although I get enough shit on a Saturday, so the idea of being abused outside Starbucks isn’t particularly appealing) and I don’t like going anywhere I think I may end up getting involved in a conversation where I end up fending off questions like: “Is so-and-so a prick? How much money is he on? And can you get me two tickets?”
It’s quite a turnaround, really, because I used to be a very outgoing person and had more than my fair share of nights out but if I have learned only one thing in more than 10 years of professional football, it’s that football and nightclubbing are like Baileys and Lucozade. In short, they don’t mix.