The pandemic makes it harder, but footballers have always found a way to behave badly

Peter Crouch, when asked what he would have been if not a footballer, famously answered “a virgin”.

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Sex and the City player Phil Foden and Man United’s Mason Greenwood – I am still wondering about how and why it happened. Don’t say you have forgotten that while on England duty in Iceland they entertained two young women at their hotel? Tut tut, that has never happened before.

But how did they manage it? Presumably Greenwood and Foden arrived on a private plane, were escorted into their private hotel and were surrounded by guards, isolated in their room, yet they managed to arrange visitors so quickly, despite being so awfully young and naive, as we were told later. Being millionaires, that might have helped.

But who arranged it? And how? Did they ask some hotel worker to contact some likely lasses and sneak them in? Did they have an app exclusive to famous footballers which enables them, as soon as they land anywhere in the world, to hook up? Or were they in contact before they arrived?

Or did the young ladies just happen to be around, bored, and did all the fixing? They said later they did not know the young men were famous England players… oh yeah?

One of them captured the touching meeting in the bedroom on their mobile and shared it with some friends, never knowing the world would be interested. Oh yeah? (Again.)

Young players have always fancied their chances when abroad. One of the imagined attractions of being a famous footballer is that the girls will be clamouring for you. Peter Crouch, when asked what he would have been if not a footballer, famously answered “a virgin”.

When I was travelling with the Spurs team in the 1970s, we were staying once in a provincial hotel. After the game some of the players went to a dance hall, and brought two girls back. They were then passed from room to room, until they were left wandering down the hotel corridor, naked. Footballers have always been sexist bastards.

In the 19th century when the local team had a good victory, it got free tickets to the local music hall. The players were paraded on stage with all the showgirls while the audience cheered and whistled. Don’t tell me there was no linking up with the dancing girls.

Today, top clubs and famous pop groups employ lawyers to keep paternity suits or sexual assault cases at bay, denying their clients ever met the women in question, or dismissing them as groupies. Then, if there is clear evidence, they pay the women off and get them to sign a gagging order.

Greenwood is 18. Foden is 20 and looks younger with his baby face, but has had a serious girlfriend for many years and a son who will be two in January. Footballers do get married or settle down younger than the average, which is strongly encouraged by their clubs. The theory is that if they have a wife and family at home, they will be less likely to rake around the town. Foden will have had some explaining to do.

The incident had wider repercussions. First, Iceland has strict Covid quarantining in place and the England team had been given special dispensation, as long as they stayed away from locals. So the pair were pretty stupid.

They were also professionally disobedient, undermining Gareth Southgate’s authority, making him look a soft touch. They were sent home and missed the game against Denmark. Goodness knows when they will be allowed back. Gareth needs them, as England were pretty useless against Denmark.

They are both fortunate to be around at a time when there is such a lack of creative, positive talent. The England team is weighed down with lumps who pass the ball sideways or backwards. Eric Dier has got it into his head that if he puts up his hand when he is passed the ball, to indicate he is about to pass the ball sideways, we will ignore his pointless pass. Foden and Greenwood have at least got ball skills. But can Gareth afford to restore them soon, thus making himself look weak?

Moral dilemmas, eh? And we all thought football was a simple game.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 18 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Planet Covid

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