No Smoke Without Ire
I cannot believe Tommy Doherty is still smoking. For a start, it's just about the only thing he's not managed to kick this season.
But more importantly, he is thumbing his nose at the fans, many of whom idolize him. After all, Tommy, why bother doing everything you can to be as good as you can, when you can keep smoking and just be good enough to keep your place in the starting line-up? I appreciate that (like most of us) Tommy does not possess a Nobel Prize for advancing rocket science, but surely such international acclaim is not required to know that smoking impairs a sportsman's ability to perform. It's not even as if Tommy can claim that he is immune to the effects. Apart from killing you, smoking causes shortness of breath. And where have fans been complaining Tommy's weakness lies? How often have we moaned that he tires easily and runs out of puff well before the end of a game? Does he seriously think smoking has nothing to do with that?
Our (non-smoking!) Chairman was asked for his views on the issue of players smoking on the official forum. He stated: “ There is freedom of choice in this country and if a footballer wants to smoke he can. All our players are closely monitored e.g. heart, lungs etc. and if their performance suffered and they smoked I would expect them to do something about it i.e. give up. Under their contracts they are obliged to keep healthy but if they abuse themselves then they must expect to suffer the consequences, which could mean losing out on a contract.”
I accept that legally speaking, it is Tommy's right to pursue a legal activity. But how would the club deal with a player who chose to slash open one of his legs at home every week, then turn up to training limping but proclaiming it's his right to do what he wants in his spare time, provided it is legal. It's the same thing. In both cases, players are choosing to do something legal outside of training which they know is impairing their ability to play football.
I understand it is hard for the club, since even while smoking Tommy is an asset we would hate to lose. Let's face it, even The Incider chose him for our El Motor T-shirts this season. But is the best way for Tommy to repay fans for their loyalty really to carry on smoking when he must know he would be a better player by quitting? And to the club, I say: What sort of message does it send to the youngsters coming up through the ranks? Many may be players who may have careers ahead of them at the Gate but who may never make the grade if they start smoking or follow other City players by drinking heavily. Maybe they think they can get away with not being in top condition, seeing as the club don't seem to take any action against first teamers abusing their bodies. What does it say about the discipline of the players and the regime in charge of them? In the days when TV ran ads proclaiming “Guinness is good for you” and cigarette companies did their best to convince people that smoking had health benefits, there was an excuse for players to have a fag at half time. But times have changed. Unlike those old boys, City players are on the sort of salaries which mean they are obliged to follow a lifestyle. Football is not a nine-to-five job. There are sacrifices that every player should be expected to make which go along with those bulging bank accounts (which, by the pay, I do not begrudge the players provided they do everything they can to earn them). No athlete who truly values their body, their employer or their fans smokes.
As Steve Lansdown says: “If they abuse themselves then they must expect to suffer the consequences.” Well, it's time for the club to get tough. In my opinion the club should lay down a strict no smoking policy for all playing staff. The club should give smoking players every assistance in kicking the weed, offering patches, counselling or whatever it takes. But those who then flout the rule should be fined heavily if they are caught smoking in or out of training. If Tommy insists on puffing away, he should pay a heavy price and refund some of the money he is being paid by the club to keep himself in top notch condition. And maybe the cash could go into repaying some of the ticket prices forked out by fans who are being cheated by not seeing the best he has to offer.