The camel-coated brigade


There have been a few yarns on BookieBusters lately involving the significant contribution to our lives, played by the ‘demon drink’. We’ve heard over recent months of scraps, foolish bets, tomfoolery, and even skirmishes involving minor celebrities, all caused by an over indulgence in life’s great liquor. 

Indeed, the passing away of Canadian Snooker legend ‘Big’ Bill Werbeniuk, a drinker of epic proportions, has even prompted many observers to herald the ‘death of drink’. 

Amid an age of multi million pound contracts, product endorsements, and a constant battle to maintain an acceptable media image, the claim goes that a happy marriage of hard core alcohol consumption and sporting greatness can be no more. 

I feel it my obligation, neigh my duty, to point out that drink is to sport, what Yoko was to Lennon, Keane is to United, and religion is to life, a necessary evil. Alcohol and sporting greatness were, are, and always will be beautifully intertwined. 

Look at the evidence, where would snooker be without the perennial drinkers of White and Higgins? They alone could fill a library with tales of drink related antics. 

My favorite regarding White was when he turned up to a qualifying match in the early 80’s totally inebriated, made a 70 odd break and promptly fell over and had to withdraw because he could hardly see the balls! 

Higgins drank to the extent that his liver begged for a day off, but without the alcohol would we have seen the spectacle, the shot selection, the charisma and magic. People may say ‘look at them now’, but Jimmy can still mix it, and who are we to call dozens of titles and millions of pounds in the bank ‘underachieving’? 

In golf, John Daley’s drinking would have killed lesser men. Yet again, he’s banked millions, won majors and reached the pinnacle his chosen sport has to offer. The fact that he’s done it with the help of a bottle of whisky, rather than an array of shrinks, hypnotherapists and other ‘gurus’, holds him in even higher esteem in my book. 

In darts, the crafty cockneys ‘dartitis’ may well be construed by some as a fancy term for the D.T’s which undoubtedly destroyed his career. But show me the darts fan who wouldn’t swop a lifetime of ‘Part versus Taylor’ for the chance of one last hurrah between Bristow and Jockey Wilson. Again, drink was as much a glorious factor in making Bristow the legend he was, as it was in finishing him as a force in the sport. 


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Games Room

And so to football. A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of drink related brilliance.

Best, Merson, Champagne Charlie, Bowles to name but a few. Ask any Reading fan about Robin Friday and you’ll learn of drink related genius that will edge even George Best into the background. Friday would often turn up for training totally wasted. He clutched Martini bottles close to his chest like a mother cradles a baby.

True Friday never reached the pinnacle of his sport, but he played the game, like he lived his life. With a smile on his face. Thus, it is with football that we arrive at the defenses major argument for the perpetual existence of drink related sporting genius. 

Alcohol has fuelled what remains, in my opinion, the single most individual display of footballing brilliance ever witnessed in the history of the game. 

Flashes of genius are frequent and to place one above another is difficult due to the many goals, passes, and saves available. However, performances of genius sustained for the entire 90 minutes, without so much as a bad pass, stray shot or slack first touch are few and far between. 

Football fans have fairly narrow memories regarding such incidences. A display where one man has controlled the game with such aplomb that it has bordered on the embarrassing, happen barely once a decade. Even now you’re probably thinking Best scoring six against Northampton, Maradonna being hunted like a gazelle by the Koreans in 86, maybe even Beckham’s comic book heroics against Greece. 

All good, don’t get me wrong, but I have yet to witness a display to surpass the antics of a young Paul Gascoigne against Hartlepool at White Hart Lane in September of 1990. 

Gazza scored four that night, every time he picked up the ball you could literally hear the anticipation from the crowd. He teased, tricked and tantalized the Hartlepool defenders so much so that if it was a boxing match the towel would have been in within minutes of the opening bell. What Paul Gascoigne did with a football that night wasn’t just good, it wasn’t just great, it certainly wasn’t just about sport, it was magical, it was poetic, it was art. 

It wasn’t an isolated incident either. Reports of Gazza entering the VIP bar (in full kit of boots, pads, etc) shortly before the Scottish cup final, downing a double whiskey, winking at the chairman and promptly scoring a hat trick merely cement the legend. 

Gascoigne, by his own admission, was and forever will be an alcoholic. The critics may well point to a tackle in a cup final that stopped was becoming the next Maradonna, they may well be right. But it beggars the question, without drink would Gazza have even been the player he was? Would he have had the self belief, the swagger, the sheer audacity that enabled him to ghost around defenders? 

Like Best, White, Higgins, Daley and Bristow before him, Gascoigne’s on field cockiness paralleled the exact symptoms of a drunk in full flow. The glint in the eye, the confidence that stops just shy of arrogance, the belief, the ability to play to the crowd, all synonymous with drinking, and all qualities possessed by the afore mentioned sporting stars. 

We all long for a ‘gambling Gascoigne’, a ‘punting Pele’, or a ‘betting Bestie’, to come to this site and help us finally put the camels to bed. It’s unlikely that the true gambling genius is going to come from an office in the city, or from the London school of economics. 

Conventional gamblers are often too held back by the shackles and constraints of statistics, procedure and protocol. Too wrapped up in form guides and analysis. Too afraid to be a bit more of a drink fueled maverick, like a Gascoigne or a Higgins. 

When we find our gambling Mozart (and I don’t doubt we will) don’t be surprised if he comes carrying a crate of Stella or a bottle of Jim Bean. True genius and drink go, quite literally, hand in hand. I’m off down the pub. Cheers. 
Dave Riddle. 


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