Theo Walcott injury shows what football is missing

Lawrence Gray-Hodson September 9, 2010 51

Every week Lawrence Gray-Hodson, a man who made his name in the upper reaches of Division 2 in the 1970s and 80s as well as being a former Scotland and England international, writes a column exclusively for Three and in.

This week it’s footballers and doping.

How sad was it to see young Theo Walcott carted off on a stretcher like some kind of victim of war to which we send our young men to fight and die? Theo Walcott might not have died but inside a part of me did. Don’t get me wrong, I like Walcott, despite what Alan Hansen says about him not having a football brain. I think he’s one of the brightest talents in England right now.

Alan Hansen

Hansen – hideously deformed

Arsene Wenger is an intelligent man and he simply wouldn’t choose a player who didn’t have a brain, even if Emmanuel Eboue must skirt the boundaries of that particular criticism from time to time. I’d take Wenger’s judgement over a man who earns £1m a year from the BBC but still hasn’t had that ghastly line down the middle of his forehead sorted out. Where is the man’s personal pride?

When I talk about a part of me dying, I look at how Walcott sustained his injury and I feel that footballers these days are just too brittle. I know many Arsenal fans will agree with me having seen Robin van Persie ruled out for the best part of two months after a nothing challenge in the game against Blackburn. I know, I know, too many youngsters these days don’t want to hear about how things were ‘back in the day’, and if that’s the case feel free to click over to the Faceblog or Twinker, but back in the day Walcott and van Persie would be playing for their clubs this weekend.

I remember playing a game against West Brom in the late 70s. One of those muddy, heavy pitches which was made all the worse by torrential rain. It was like trying to play football in a swamp but the game went on. Early in the 2nd half I nicked the ball away from Jeff Blockley who, in a desperate attempt to regain possession, hacked at my legs like a rabid mule. One only needs to remember the classic David Attenborough films to know how hard they kicked. Immediately my ankle swelled up like a balloon and when Blockley landed his foot got caught in the mud, his knee twisted and there was a sound like styrofoam being scraped against a wall.

I can vividly remember his screams. I can only liken it to the noise made by a cat in heat when the male cat withdraws his heavily barbed penis from her cat flap. However, the physios came on, had at both of us with the magic spray, some deep heat and, in Blockley’s case, a couple of Anadin and we got up, picked ourselves off and played the rest of the game. We played the rest of the season in fact. Nowadays that kind of injury would keep a player out for months because apparently it’s important to have a non-torn cruciate ligament. We just didn’t know any better. Pain was part and parcel of the game.

There’s little doubt though that footballers when I played were tougher. They’d run off sprains and twists whereas in this era they get carried off on a stretcher to generous applause. You would have had to have been paralysed from the neck down not to be barracked for coming off on a stretcher when I played. Football needs a change, and fast.

We can’t make the players change their attitude, so what can we do? Well, my dear old dad was a big cycling buff. He lived for the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and all that. He’d tell me stories of cyclists like Tom Simpson, a great English man, whose desire to win was so great he died during the race. A post-mortem showed Simpson had a belly full of amphetamines and whiskey on Mont Ventoux. Yet cycling didn’t crawl into a ball and weep. No, recent years have shown us that cycling has made huge leaps forward. Now the drugs are almost undetectable to the point where a bloke with only ball (and no, the other’s not in the Albert Hall!) can win in time and time again.

Cycling has the right idea. Let the performers get hopped up on goofballs and just go for it. Times are faster, races are more exciting, they climb the mountains quicker than ever and, even if you don’t like it, you have to admit they’re pushing the boundaries of science forward, creating ever more crafty ways to stop the drugs being detected.

So, let the same thing apply to football. Theo Walcott could play for Arsenal this weekend if he was injected with some kind of synthetic painkiller which also helped cure strained ligaments faster. Spurs will be without Jermaine Defoe for 8 weeks. Don’t you think they’d like to get him some good, good stuff and back out on the pitch quicker? Would Michael Owen be the pathetic wreck of a player he is these days if he had fresh stem cells mixed with quaaludes injected into his hamstrings for the last few years? Of course not and it’s to the detriment of football that we maintain this medieval attitude towards drugs.

Even the very best need a helping hand

Look, I’m not talking about players who do lines of charlie. They all do it. It was common in my day and from what I hear it’s common now. You can hardly call it performance enhancing though, can you? Standing around talking shite as if you’re the most important person in the world will hardly win you cup finals. And if a player wants to have a joint or a bit of heroin during his summer holidays then by all means punish him because that’s no example to set to youngster. They’re not sophisticated drugs like coke. You must have some standards.

I just can’t believe though that clubs aren’t following the lead of cycling. Where are the secret dope labs? Why aren’t players taking steroids which are designed so they don’t show up in the random dope tests? They would be bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic and more resistant to injury. When you’re paying a guy £100,000 to see him go off with a girly sprained ankle must be immensely frustrating. Why shouldn’t clubs insist their players are better able to cope with the rigors of professional football?

Sure, you might increase the risk of the occasional heart attack on the pitch and very few of us enjoy seeing that, but isn’t the odd death a reasonable price to pay to see the best players week in, week out? Fans deserve to see the best possible quality when you consider how much their tickets cost. The clubs have a duty to them to find their way around these antiquated rules and ensure the rise of the super-athlete. A sprained ankle will no longer mean six weeks out, it means you might miss the rest of the game, at most. Who’s to say these treatments can’t be applied on the sly on the pitch?

I would prefer to see a fit Theo Walcott than the spindly, breakable one we have now. What do any of us care what he takes to make himself better? In the end it wouldn’t replace training and working hard, it’d just give him a little help along the way.

And heaven knows we all need that from time to time.


  1. Edwina Deets May 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm -

    Is there any way for me to optin your site using other means instead of via RSS? I can’t load it on any readers though I can view it on chrome.

  2. Brett September 11, 2010 at 7:13 am -

    It’s just a matter of time before these prostitute using footballers who seem to be spending time in toilet cubicles with coke whores are outed for their coke use isnt it?

  3. Kata September 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm -

    Ray is not a seasoned ticket holder — so ignore him, he doesnot know the pain of not seeing a player for weeks. I love the debate with the real football fans — not whinners*

  4. Mark (Calgary) September 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm -

    Jaysus Larry, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head there. I’m sick of hearing about niggly this and strained that, which will keep such and such out for 4-6 weeks. WTF!!?? These pussies are being paid in the millions every year and we don’t even get to see them because they’re getting a rub down with a happy ending in some freaking spa in Switzerland or something in a fooking oxygen tent.
    FFS, bring back the real players, they may not have the lightening pace of the modern player, but at least they’d play every week!!!

  5. ScotchEggsRule September 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm -

    ….just needs a scarf over his head!

  6. ScotchEggsRule September 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm -

    Does anyone think that picture of Alan “pace and power” Hansen shows him getting ready to be married off in the sub continent somewhere?

  7. ScotchEggsRule September 10, 2010 at 2:21 pm -

    Deen your preggers again mate, aslong as you don’t get any cake urges the baby will be fine!

  8. Deen September 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm -

    Are you saying that players that are more resistant to injury lose something in terms of their talent? Like a trade-off?


    No such thing sir. Why do I have a craving for scotch eggs all of a sudden? You can never find those in America! Gah!

  9. Lawrence Gray-Hodson September 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm -

    Thank you for all your kind comments. It’s so good to reconnect with real football fans again.

  10. ScotchEggsRule September 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm -

    Ray, so your team didn’t win then?

  11. ScotchEggsRule September 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm -

    I heard John Terry’s old man could get hold of some decent cake….

  12. monkfish September 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm -

    Hey!!! Ray Johnson is a big fat liar!! He said he would not be returning but then he did. How can we take this man’s word’s seriously? Is there no honour left in this wicked world wide web of internet access?

    Disgusting! I will not be not returning.

    Ps. I will be sure and drop by the next time I visit these parts. In spite of the weather I have really enjoyed my stay on this site and even my wife, try as she might, could not find any fault with the facilities.

  13. Dave September 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm -

    Ray Johnson – so you did visit the site again? Or did you leave your browser open for 7 hours?

  14. Jack September 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm -

    Absolutely brilliant article old chap. Funniest thing i’ve read in ages.

  15. Jumbulaya September 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm -

    I am appalled by this article. I have been taken brain enhancing drugs for years now to help me to detect sarcasm and wit and it has done me no good whatsoever. I for one will not be visiting this webpage until the day I die. I will then visit it, but just once, to inform you that I have infact died and that I did not visit the page in the intervening years.

    Good day to you.

  16. m1staj0n3sy September 10, 2010 at 11:53 am -

    I’m glad the ones that get the sarcasm, ok, irony, outnumber the outraged….! i figure some chump will get this dude shut down if an england starlet gets caught with a few grams of cake in a suitcase, placenta in his ankle & coke sprinkles on his noggin.
    You walk a fine line my friend, but we all walk alongside you!!
    Quality read!

  17. Maddy September 10, 2010 at 11:02 am -

    Isaac you knob. EVERYONE knows a syringefull of Sheep Placenta is a cure for Alopecia and goes into the temples!!

    Horses are what you need to be working with. Say Neigh to Sheep.

  18. Ray Johnson September 10, 2010 at 10:22 am -

    Disgusting reply.

  19. Isaac Hunt September 10, 2010 at 8:38 am -

    I don’t agree with this argument, I’ve been using Coke and injecting sheep placentas into my ankles for 18 months now and I still run like a lady.

  20. Chris Kiwomya September 10, 2010 at 8:14 am -

    This is fantastic, i think this is now my favourite site brilliant.

    Also I once took Cake, it felt like my head had spent a fortnight in a bad baloon. My shatner’s bassoon was f*cked i even threw up my own pelvis bone.

  21. Herr Doktor September 10, 2010 at 8:05 am -

    I’m appallingly appalled by this article. You never played second div footer, Lawrence. Lower reaches of conference was your limit. And all you can get down there, as everyone knows, is low-grade speed.

  22. bharat September 10, 2010 at 4:12 am -

    you need help.

  23. Getmehome September 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm -


  24. Keith O'Connell September 9, 2010 at 5:20 pm -

    I’m loving this balance between craziness and real debate!

  25. Johnny Deigh September 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm -

    I’m a little surprised more people aren’t caught.

    Actually I’m not because I knew a diver at university and she did cocaine one weekend and failed a drug test the following Monday.

    Instead of getting suspended, she got off with a warning. Then they gave her a paper listing the various drugs they are tested for, and how long each of them stays in your system. She was also told that the next time she would be alerted in advance if she was to be tested again.

  26. Jacquoranda September 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm -

    Capital idea, LGH. Perhaps Phil Brown’s charming son could supply the aforementioned gear?

  27. Tom September 9, 2010 at 4:40 pm -

    Lawrence G-H: I think you mean you saw it on BrassEye. Like you, I was deeply concerned with the various routes that Cake was entering the country from mainland Europe.

  28. Sidney Awesometrousers September 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm -

    They already get pain-killing injections, so why not? Although it appears an element of the Engerland team are more fond of hot beef injections.

  29. Lawrence Gray-Hodson September 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm -

    Cake is the most powerful drug of them all. I remember seeing it on Panorama.

  30. Chambo September 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm -

    Sorry to hear of your tragic tale Ray Johnson.

    A similar thing happened to a team mate of mine a few years ago. Turns out he had been taking Cake at half time

  31. Lawrence Gray-Hodson September 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm -

    Johnny, I think you’re right. Just before the 1984 European Championship final I was told that Didier Six was so high he should have been called Didier Sept.

    Gimme, I am truly sorry for your lots.

  32. Keith O'Connell September 9, 2010 at 4:11 pm -

    Damn this internet!

  33. Gimme September 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm -

    I had a friend die of cycling. He was off his face on a combination of acid and football punditry when he rode straight into a tree. It was very traumatic.

    I won’t be visiting this internet again.

  34. Keith O'Connell September 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm -

    I wanna know if they won. I need closure. Like Ray.

  35. Johnny Deigh September 9, 2010 at 3:52 pm -

    I’m pretty sure some players are using performance enhancing drugs and getting away with it.

  36. Martin September 9, 2010 at 3:51 pm -

    Pmsl… its a shame Ray wont be visiting the site again.

  37. Lawrence Gray-Hodson September 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm -

    Are you saying that players that are more resistant to injury lose something in terms of their talent? Like a trade-off?

    Tough as old boots = slightly special and a bit thick.

    Brittle as anything = likely to be a more skillful player?

  38. Deen September 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm -

    In general, players are just much fitter and most injuries that limit a player on the field will be exposed and exploited instantly. The distance between an injured player and healthy player back in day is much less than it is now. They’re essentially machines today. I’m not sure that Arsenal or any other club can afford to play a limited player, bravery, toughness or otherwise.

  39. Lawrence Gray-Hodson September 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm -

    Ray, that’s a terrible thing to happen to anyone. Did you win the game at least?

    Kyle – a man after my own heart.

  40. Keith O'Connell September 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm -

    I worry about the intelligence of some of those that respond with their outraged comments. Are you seriously telling me that you cannot tell that this is tongue in cheek.

    I-R-O-N-Y. It’s in the dictionary under I. Quite different from sarcasm I think you will find.

    Absolutely brilliant piece, and way to stretch your wings…

  41. Kyle September 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm -

    Love the idea, wrote about it myself on August 18th.

    Are Arsenal the Only Team NOT Using Steroids?

  42. Jamie September 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm -

    Hang on, what’s the joke here? I thought it was the article, now I think it’s the people writing in, saying that they are outraged.

  43. Ray Johnson September 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm -

    I simply can’t believe this. two years ago a player on my Sunday league team dropped dead on the pitch in the middle of the game. We discovered later that he had been taking cocaine and drinking the night before. It was as you might imagine a traumatic event for every player on that pitch. I just can’t get my head around a former so-called professional advocating the use of drugs when we all know the effects are horrendous. The cycling comparison is also totally false. Many professional and semi-professional riders have died because they’ve been forced to take drugs simply to compete.

    I won’t be visiting this site again.

  44. rosicknote September 9, 2010 at 3:14 pm -

    Seriously, I cannot get the sarcasm, and judging by the previous comments on your previous posts, a lot of people can’t too.

  45. marcus September 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm -

    You forget that today’s footballers use much lighter shoes than ever before, in your day your feet/ankles were much better protected. Also, today’s footballers run far more – at far greater speeds. The game is much more intense and quicker now. That puts a lot more burden on the body.

  46. akag9 September 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm -

    @Al S: Umm, I think it’s called sarcasm.

  47. John September 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm -

    Yeah, I’m sure the family of Marc Vivian Foe would love more heart attacks on the pitch. What sort of a moron are you?

  48. Jamie September 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm -

    Quite bloody right. I think there should also be an Olympics for dopers and a ‘clean’ one run along side it. We’d pretty soon find out that people want to watch fast races not fair ones. Let’s see these guys full of drugs week in week out, not trying to shake off a sniffle for a fortnight.

  49. Kolo September 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm -

    For fuck’s sake after so long people still don’t get that it’s not a serious article. Jesus Christ it’s satire you morons!

  50. Al S September 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm -

    Your actually saying footballers should use drugs? Idiot! And it’s not allowed or embraced in cycling at all. They’re trying to clean up the sport not make it worse.

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