Drunk in charge of a golf buggy: boyos will be boyos
Andy Powell latest in long line of Rugby players who have overdone the celebrations
First a pedalo, now a golf buggy. What is it with Britain's sports stars and leisurely forms of transport? Surely it's only a matter of time before there's a drunken incident involving a footballer and a hot air balloon.
For those of you who have might have missed it, the Welsh back-row forward Andy Powell was arrested at a service station near junction 33 of the M4 motorway early on Sunday morning in possession of a golf buggy. The previous afternoon the 28-year-old had been involved in Wales' stunning 31-24 victory over Scotland at the Millennium Stadium and clearly the big Welshman let the emotion of the occasion get the better of him - as well as several pints of lager, according to the policeman who breathalysed Powell.
The player's agent, Mike Burton, said that the incident happened around 6.30am when Powell drove the buggy the three miles from the Hotel, Golf and Spa Resort, where the Wales squad was staying, to the service station in search of something to eat.
Powell has since been bailed on a drink driving offence and will appear in court next month. That announcement was swiftly followed by a press release from the WRU (Welsh Rugby Union) saying Powell had been removed from the Welsh squad for the rest of the Six Nations for "behaviour contrary to the squad's code of conduct".
The incident is reminiscent of the furore that erupted during the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean three years ago when England all-rounder Freddie Flintoff fell from a pedalo while worse for wear and had to be rescued from the sea. Flintoff was sacked as team vice-captain and suspended for one match. Presumably Powell's offence is deemed more reprehensible because he is alleged to have driven the buggy on a public highway thereby endangering others.
While there may be a degree of truth in that assessment, one might argue Powell has been harshly punished for nothing more than a silly prank. However, we live in an era when professional sportsmen are expected to be 'role models' 24/7, living puritanical lives in their quest for athletic perfection, and are expected to withstand the pressures that entails. "Blowing off steam", as it was called in the old days, it strictly frowned upon, not just by the team management, but more importantly by sponsors and television companies, who as good as run sport these days.
Oh, for that bygone age when boys could be boys without fear of being cast out as social pariahs. The 1896 Lions squad that toured South Africa were well known for quaffing liberal amounts of alcohol on the morning of match days, so much so that a limit was imposed by the team captain midway through the tour – "no more than four tumblers of champagne each" before any game.
When the Lions returned to South Africa in 1968 they embarked upon what one local hotelier called "unmitigated drunken revelry". One group of players dubbed themselves "The Wreckers" and caused damage to a hotel totalling £900 after the third Test match in Cape Town. When tour manager David Brooks was presented with the bill he reportedly took one look at it and said "Huh! Couldn't have been a very good party then".
Rugby tomfoolery (or puerile idiocy, depending on one's point of view) was never greater than in the 1980s. One of the most infamous incidents involved England prop Colin Smart, his second row colleague Maurice Colclough and a bottle of aftershave, and it took place at the banquet following England's match against France in 1982.
Hearing that each player had a complimentary bottle of aftershave waiting for him on the dining table, Colclough sneaked into the banqueting room early and replaced the lotion in his bottle with wine. As the players sat down to their meal, Colclough picked up his aftershave, toasted his dinners and downed the contents. Then he challenged Smart to do the same. Never one to back down, the prop necked his bottle of (real) aftershave in one. He spent the rest of the evening in a Paris hospital having his stomach pumped but later laughed off the incident, as did his England teammate Steve Smith who said: "Colin may not have looked too good but I'm told he smelled lovely."
Colclough escaped sanction for his prank, though six years later England No 8 Dean Richards and Scotland flanker John Jeffrey were not so lucky after what they did to the century-old Calcutta Cup.
The beautiful trophy, contested by England and Scotland since 1879, when it was made from rupees left over after the Calcutta Rugby Club folded, was spirited out of the post-match banquet following the 1988 encounter between the two sides in Edinburgh. It was then taken on a drunken tour, visiting most of the city's pubs by all account, until it was drop-kicked up the Royal Mile and virtually flattened in the process.
When a member of the Scottish Rugby Union inspected the damage the following morning he was heard to say: "So we'll be playing for the Calcutta Plate from now on, will we?"
Richards got a one-match suspension and Jeffrey was banned for six months, though he later resumed his international career and helped Scotland win the 1990 Grand Slam.
Whether buggy-driver Powell is allowed to atone remains to be seen. However, the swift retribution dished out by the WRU seems at odds with the general feeling among Welsh rugby fans. Within 24 hours of his arrest, an Andy Powell Appreciation Society page had appeared on Facebook and by Monday night its membership was 40,000 and rising fast. ·
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