Some of the Best World Cup Winners Have Been Smokers, So Why Did Arsenal's Wilshere Apologise?

Some of the Best World Cup Winners Have Been Smokers, So Why Did Arsenal's Wilshere Apologise?

Just as the new Premier League season is about to kick off, Arsenal’s midfielder Jack Wilshere has been ‘caught’ smoking a cigarette outside a club in Las Vegas. He was caught in December last year too, and both times felt it necessary to apologise for his “unacceptable” behaviour. 

He said: “People make mistakes. I’m young, I’ll learn from it. I realise the consequences it has and the effect on kids growing up. I have kids and I don’t want them growing up to think their dad smokes and it’s OK for a footballer to smoke because it’s not.”

But as responsible adults, some people may wonder why Wilshere needs to grovel like this. It is not as if he is the first or the last professional footballer to like the “evil” weed. Surely footballers just reflect society, and there are more smokers in the UK than you might think. The targeting of him as some sort of social pariah makes no sense, since around 1 in 3 of us will have a smoke at some point in 2014, according to the data.

Effectively, this whole episode is just another part of the war on smoking, and therefore, the war on freedom.

Around 21 percent of us smoke cigarettes, another 6 percent cigars and pipes, and according to Sainsbury’s Life another three million (7.5 percent) of us are “secret smokers.” The latter tend to tick the non-smoking box but have a crafty cigarette or puff down the pub or on holiday. 

And here are some World Cup winners who smoked at the time they played: Sir Bobby Charlton during the Mexico 1970 World Cup, his brother and fellow World Cup winner JackFrance’s 1998 winning side can boast Zinedine Zidane and Fabien BartezBrazilian World Cup winners include Rivelino (1970) and Ronaldo de Lima (2002), while Argentina’s Osvaldo Ardiles had a forty a day habit even when he won in 1978. These are by no means the only examples.

Former Arsenal player Ray Parlour explained that in 1997, on a pre season tour, his manager Arsene Wenger allowed the team a night out socialising. The British players including Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams and Steve Bould (now Arsenal’s Assistant Manager) bought “thirty five pints,” only for French teammates Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Gilles to be “in the coffee shop and sitting around smoking.” They went on in 1998 to win the league and FA Cup. I may now need to add Vieira and Petit to French World Cup winners who smoked, if Parlour is right.

With Tony Adams, who became a recovering alcoholic, it seems that drinking is a far worse addiction to highly paid footballers. George Best effectively died of alcoholism at the age of 59, Paul Gascoigne (also a smoker), Paul Merson, Jimmy Greaves (smoker too), all succumbed to the bottle, as did Garrincha who won World Cups for Brazil in 1958 and 1962, and died of liver disease.

Drug taking by footballers seems to be rare with the notable exceptions of Diego Maradona and ex-Chelsea player Adrian Mutu, who both tested positive for cocaine. However, it does seem a finger-wagging press may be better off stigmatising drinking rather than tobacco.

Jack Wilshere is one England’s most talented players whose habit seems not to impair his performances, and he is not alone in being in the current crop of current and recent Premier League smokers. Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Mario Balotelli, Ashley Cole and the recently retired Wayne Bridge, and further back David James and David Ginola meet the standard.

No one pretends smoking is good for you, but as adults, professional footballers can make their own decisions that should be free of patronising criticism from others. Certainly, when alcohol could be a worse vice.