This is the story of the England footballers, the second-hand car and the missing carrier bag full of readies. It hasn’t got a title, so ‘Gareth Southgate — This Is What You’re Up Against’ will have to do for now.
Our tale takes place roughly 10 years ago and concerns a player newly picked by England.
He wasn’t a big name, didn’t play for a big club, but was in excellent form and merited his selection.
When he arrived he took his place in the dressing room beside stellar performers operating at the top of their profession. Champions League regulars, elite club stalwarts, superstars and massive earners.
As sometimes happens, talk turned to material matters. Namely, what was everyone driving? The new man announced the name of a very nice car, but modest for the company.
He had just signed a new contract, however, and was thinking of getting a significant upgrade. Something more befitting his growing status as an England international.
One of the senior players said that, coincidentally, he was changing cars and was putting his old one up for sale. Nearly new, few miles, lovely condition, right up your street. A deal was struck.
A week or so later our man was the proud owner of a second-hand, but top of the range, high-performance gas guzzler. Real footballer’s wheels, at least £200,000 new.
His team-mate was right. Mint condition, drove like a dream. But when he opened the boot, he got a surprise. There, tucked away in a corner, was a plastic carrier bag, full of money.
He dislodged it gingerly, and counted: £80,000. This was going to be missed, sooner rather than later. He didn’t want any unfortunate misunderstandings to sour his England career. He was straight on the phone.
‘Er, it’s about the car…’
‘Beautiful, isn’t it? You like it, yeah?’
‘No, it’s lovely. But I’ve found something in the boot. There’s a bag.’ Pause. ‘It’s got 80 grand in it.’
There was a brief silence on the line, while the news was digested. ‘A bag? Eighty grand?’ Another silence, and then: ‘Oh, right. Yeah, I know what that is. Tell you what, next time you’re coming past our training ground, just drop it in reception, would you? Say it’s for me.’
And he did. Dropped it off like a forgotten pair of trainers and went on his way. The next time the two met, the player with the mislaid carrier bag said thanks for that and it was never mentioned again. And that is what top-end football can be like.
Eighty thousand pounds misplaced as casually as a tenner taking flight between the pub and the chip shop. Not for everybody, of course.
Not all footballers have sacks of cash floating about at home, but even the most solid of citizens can be members of the wildest card schools.
Huge gambling sums within England card schools are revealed in Kieron Dyer’s autobiography
To order a copy of Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late by Kieron Dyer with Oliver Holt for £16 (offer valid to 21/2/18; P&P free), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.
The numbers revealed in Kieron Dyer’s autobiography — £50,000, £100,000, even £500,000 potentially lost over a tournament with England — suggest the £80,000 plastic bag was not an event in isolation. For it is not just that a player could forget about the sum, but that it was in notes.
Who needs that much cash, unless it is to be laid on a table or pushed across a counter?
Dyer, in autobiography extracts serialised in this newspaper, said by the end of his era the pots for the England card schools were so enormous that cash was replaced by IOU notes, with a banker keeping records. It wasn’t practical to carry that much money around.
He said the IOUs made the pots even bigger, because losses didn’t feel real. Online gambling has a similar distance. Nothing disappears, literally, from the gambler’s pocket. Losing bets are absorbed benignly on screen.
And if a footballer-punter is now earning the cost of that Bentley each week, it is very hard for him to literally start hurting.
It would need an exceptional run of poor luck or foolishness to affect a house, or even a car. Dyer speaks of incredible debts being run up, but the only passing sense of hardship is one forlorn loser offering to pay £30,000 not £50,000 to his team-mates.
The real damage is to pride and maybe squad relationships, the fractures caused by winning and losing, the depression, the humiliation of handing over giant sums.
And while Dyer’s time is now historic, for England manager Southgate — who was also in a card school during his playing days, but not one that played for money — the potential for gambling problems within his squad remains very real. The money is as great, if not greater, but gambling’s prevalence is all-consuming.
Try to escape it: on your television, on your radio, in your newspaper, on your phone, in the streets, on your laptop.
There has never been greater pressure to have a bang on this, or that, or on anything really. And as people with too much time, and money, on their hands, footballers are particularly susceptible. So, in Southgate’s or the Football Association’s position, what to do? Ban it? How?
Once gambling is part of a culture, anything, from a game of golf to a PlayStation console to a training exercise to a cheap pack of airport cards, becomes raw material for a bet.
As Dyer explained, the biggest card schools in his time took place in individual hotel rooms, out of sight of the manager and public. Southgate, or his staff, cannot be on permanent patrol around hotel corridors, listening at doors for the noise of illicit gambling.
So much can be done in silence with the tap of a finger anyway. And he cannot confiscate mobile telephones when young men are so reliant on them for contact with family and friends. Knowing Southgate, he would not want to, either.
His instinct is to allow players freedom, but to demand common sense. He would hope this would extend to not running up six-figure debts between team-mates. He has been involved in England squads who should have achieved more.
Whether divisions caused by gambling contributed to the disappointments is impossible to quantify, but it is unlikely to have had a positive effect.
‘You’re supposed to be in the shape of your life at a tournament,’ writes Dyer. ‘But if you’re in that kind of debt your head is going to be a mess.’
Wages render cautionary messages meaningless – it was reported Australia media magnate Kerry Packer lost £13.6million playing baccarat over a three-day period in Las Vegas
Education would help, but wages render many of the cautionary messages meaningless. What is gambling responsibly to a player earning £250,000 a week? When exactly does the fun stop?
It was reported in 2000 that Kerry Packer lost £13.6million playing baccarat over a three-day period in Las Vegas.
On another occasion, he was £11m down on the blackjack tables over three weeks at Crockford casino in London. As his personal fortune was £3billion, however, it never deterred him from what he regarded as a hobby.
If footballers only bet what they can afford, it is still going to amount to more than the average man earns in a lifetime. It is not personal finances that need to be protected, so much as team unity.
The fact that Dyer’s England card schools stopped 72 hours before a game is proof that even the players acknowledged the potential for a destabilising impact on morale and focus.
And so to England’s World Cup base in Repino, a municipal settlement in the Kurortny District of St Petersburg, named after Ilya Repin, a Russian realist painter, whose most famous works include Barge Haulers on the Volga, Religious Procession in Kursk Province and Alexander III Receiving Rural District Elders in the Yard of Petrovsky Palace in Moscow. England will fit right in, obviously.
‘The gulf makes for some nice contemplative strolling, or take a picnic and enjoy the quiet, empty beaches,’ says a local tourist guide. And how many cucumber sandwiches are in that hamper? If you’re bored, fancy £80,000 on it?
With gambling so readily available at the players’ fingertips, how would Southgate stop it?
Sanchez signing has sent United off course
The signing of Alexis Sanchez was supposed, short-term, to give Manchester United distance. They may not be able to catch Manchester City, but they could put a bit of air between themselves and the other Champions League contenders.
Instead, not only has Sanchez’s role disrupted what was looking a good season for Paul Pogba, United have been sucked back into the pack.
Where once three teams were scrapping for two places, now four teams are fighting for three. Having lost to Tottenham, United’s two home games against Chelsea on February 25 and Liverpool on March 10 are now huge.
Manchester United have been dragged back into the pack since signing Alexis Sanchez
Squabbling Stoke need team players
If Jese was half the player he thinks he is, he would still be with Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, or at least in the Champions League.
If he was half the player Stoke thought he was his last start for the club wouldn’t have been October 21, at home to Bournemouth — and Stoke wouldn’t have lost that game 2-1.
And if he was the club’s penalty-taker then he, Charlie Adam and the rest of the first-team squad would have known it — because Paul Lambert would have made that clear before the game. So Jese had no right to throw the strop that may have contributed to Adam’s missed attempt against Brighton — and the sacrificing of what would surely have been a win, the penalty coming so late.
Yes, Jese won that penalty — but it is hardly much to boast about, given that it was the softest of tumbles and was awarded by the Premier League’s least convincing referee, Bobby Madley.
Jese Rodriguez threw a strop when he wasn’t given penalty duties for Stoke against Brighton
Adam scored a penalty for Stoke most recently on January 6, against Coventry in the FA Cup. His last goal before that, on December 10, 2016, at Arsenal, was also from the penalty spot. He doesn’t play enough to be Stoke’s designated penalty-taker, but he is in the mix.
Saido Berahino was also on the pitch, but as he missed his last one against Southampton, and has had one shot on target in 248 minutes since, he was overlooked.
It cannot be a pleasant feeling for a penalty-taker, though, knowing at least one member of your own team will feel personally vindicated if you miss, and while
Lambert took the row as evidence of how much his players want to win, it did not seem that way. It looked more like what happens when players put personal glory above the good of the team.
Mark Hughes had a hugely ambitious transfer policy and should not be criticised for that, but with Stoke now in crisis, too many of his signings behave as if they are doing the club a favour. If that attitude persists, they will go down.
What really made Poch so touchy?
Strange scenes at Wembley on Saturday, when Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino reacted furiously to a very innocuous question about team selection.
Asked why Davinson Sanchez had played ahead of Toby Alderweireld, Pochettino took great offence and was still complaining bitterly about it some 15 minutes later.
Now, Alderweireld, who played 90 minutes against Newport after three months out with a hamstring injury, is not travelling to Turin for tonight’s game with Juventus.
It could be that he simply needs more conditioning work. Yet as Alderweireld’s contract negotiations have stalled and clauses in his existing agreement mean he could leave for a cut-price £25million in 2019, one wonders if Pochettino’s annoyance hides a deeper frustration.
Tottenham’s policy is to sell high, and if Alderweireld won’t agree terms, the only way is to cash in this summer.
There are not so many good centre halves around now that Pochettino can afford to lose one of Alderweireld’s calibre — and certainly not to a major Premier League rival, with Manchester City and Chelsea interested.
Maybe that is what is making him tetchy.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino may be worried about losing Toby Alderweireld
BBC must cut the excuses
A lot of wind about the wind in Pyeongchang. It greatly affected the women’s slopestyle final, apparently, where the usual cheerleaders in the BBC commentary booth never stopped blaming it for Aimee Fuller of Great Britain’s 17th-place finish.
And, yes, the conditions were difficult. All 25 competitors fell on at least one of their two runs and one of the favourites, Anna Gasser of Austria, fell twice and came 15th. ‘A total lottery,’ said Jenny Jones, who won bronze in the event in 2014.
Yet the winner, Jamie Anderson of the United States, was also the Olympic gold medallist in Sochi four years ago, Laurie Blouin in silver medal place won the world title in Sierra Nevada last year, and bronze medallist Enni Rukajarvi took silver in Sochi, gold in the world championships in 2011 and won a silver in Sierra Nevada a year ago. So it wasn’t completely random, was it?
Much was made of wind affecting women’s downslope final in Pyeongchang, but defending Olympic champion Jamie Anderson (pictured) claimed gold – so the result wasn’t random
Speed skater Semen Elistratov became the first Russian to claim a medal at the Winter Olympics, and immediately dedicated it to a bunch of cheats.
He didn’t say that of course. He referenced the 200 Russians ‘unfairly excluded’ from the Games having been part of a state-sponsored doping programme.
Some would say the opposite. That Elistratov and many of the 168 competitors forming the Olympic Athletes from Russia team have been unfairly included, considering what went on in their country.
Elistratov tested positive for meldonium in 2016, but was cleared as part of a WADA amnesty for those who recorded a low dosage — because that’s how much cheating there was in Russia. If you were only doing a little bit, that was all right. Imagine what the 200 must have been up to.
Wales had 10 penalties to England’s two at Twickenham on Saturday, had three try-scoring chances and two clean line breaks. But they’re right, the reason they failed to win, indeed failed to amass more than six points all game, was because of the TMO.
Wales are right, the reason they failed to beat England was because of the TMO’s decision