Firstly, I understand that footballers, in return for their brilliant wages, lifestyle and profile, are in turn expected to serve as suitable role models for the public. As a result, there are certain things, legal as well as illegal, they should just not be doing.
Having a try of laughing gas in a nightclub in June, however, is simply not one of them.
To break down ‘hippie crack’, as it’s known, it’s a legal and fairly easy to obtain substance which people use for a quick buzz, without breaking any laws. On the flip side, it does come with some health risks, particularly if consumed on a regular basis.
Fair enough. But have I not, in a way, also just described beer, wine and spirits? In fact, doesn’t that summary also cover junk food?
Are we going to get up in arms over an England footballer treating themselves to a McDonalds next?
I can see the story in the Daily Mail – the newspaper who splashed this all over their Monday back page with the headline ‘MY DRUG SHAME’ – now:
'ENGLAND STAR IN SUPERSIZED BIG MAC SCANDAL – A top Premier League player has brought shame upon the nation and on the sport after being photographed walking into a burger joint and not ordering the Chicken Selects.'
I realise it’s easy for the media and the public to pour scorn on these guys with their massive salaries and enviable lifestyles – especially when the national team continues to fall short – but there is such thing as giving a young lad a hard time for no good reason at all.
And that’s what Walker is. He’s 23. He wasn’t available for the England v Brazil friendly and the club season was over until August. By all accounts, he’s been offered a new, legal thing to try and gave it a go.
That sounds perfectly human to me. Would this be a back-page story had someone taken a photo of him accepting a short from a tequila waitress in the club?
Perhaps that’s how the newspapers get their big reactions for innocent events like this – by operating under the misapprehension that footballers aren’t allowed to be seen acting human.
Walker came straight out and apologised for trying the laughing gas. I don’t believe he had anything to apologise for. I have to wonder, though, if he was advised to issue a public apology by someone senior.
It kind of makes sense in one way that he and his bosses and/or agent would take such a cautious approach to the publication of this photo and this story. At the same time, though, it’s sad to see him having to go on the back foot for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
And here’s one last bleak thought on the topic: though the story broke overnight, the photo is dated from June.
What took the owner of the photo so long to offer it up to a journalist (or perhaps, what took the journalist so long to write up the piece)? Oh, that’s right – there’s a hugely important game for England on Tuesday, against the Ukraine.
Less than week after new FA chairman Greg Dyke delivered a very ambitious state address regarding the problems with the national sport and set much-maligned targets for 2020 and 2022, we now have an example of one of our biggest obstacles if we are to win the World Cup in Qatar.
Something that Mr. Dyke did not touch upon all that much, likely for political reasons, was England’s tendency to shoot themselves in the foot – not just via clubs de-prioritising international competitions, but via the media’s motives and ability to exploit most fans’ disdain for modern footballers and the lives they live.
A shade over 24 hours away from a high-stakes qualifier, one of the shining English stars of the start of the season is dealing with this false outrage after doing nothing wrong.
It’s all just a sad state of affairs, really.