Players Who Smoked

Like most teens in North America, that come from working or middle class backgrounds, I had a series of crappy part time jobs in Highschool to put money aside for a car and, hopefully, College, but also to have some cash to spend on things like music, trips to the movies, sports cards and magazines.

While working at a factory, dying clothes one summer, I quickly realized that the smokers got more breaks than the rest of us. So while I was sweating my balls off loading drenched sweaters into something called an 'extractor', all the guys who lived for that sweet Carolina breeze, were outside shooting the shit while having a smoke.

'Well fuck that noise," I thought to myself, "I'm taking up smoking."

So before my third shift, I promptly bought myself a pack of DuMaurier Lights and joined the smokers on their extra breaks.

Not to date myself, but this was back in the days when cigarette manufacturers were allowed to label smokes as 'lights', almost as if they were good for you and far less cancer causing. 

I never became a regular smoker, and after leaving that particular job I pretty much only had the odd smoke here and there while out drinking, so I found it relatively easy to quit.

One thing I did notice is that none of my friends that smoked regularly could run for any great distances, at least not without hacking up a lung, and it therefore has always blown my mind when I have come across pictures of professional footballers smoking.

A goalkeeper for my Sunday league side, years ago, used to enjoy a smoke during play and would scream at us defenders if he had to make a save that would cause him to drop his cigarette. But this guy would get winded when walking from his couch to the refrigerator for another beer, so there was a reason we put him in goal.

Besides the notable exceptions of Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere, most modern footballers generally refrain from smoking and with the high pace of the game these days you can understand why. 

But back in the '50s and '60s, it wasn't an uncommon thing to see a player sneaking a 'crafty dart' at half time, or even prior to a match. 

Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn even admitted sneaking to the bathroom to have a smoke before the 1951 FA Cup Final and finding four of his teammates in there doing the same. 

Smoking didn't hold Milburn back though, as he went on to score two goals as Newcastle went on to beat Blackpool 2-0. 

Speaking of Blackpool, their star winger Sir Stanley Matthews was a 'tea total', non drinking or smoking, clean living guy, who ended up playing professional football until the age of 50. This however didn't stop him from doing advertisements for Craven A. 

Jackie Milburn's famous nephews Jackie and Sir Bobby Charlton also enjoyed a few tabs themselves and the picture below of Jackie enjoying a post training smoke is more 1970's than butterfly collars and the Bee Gees.

Outside of England, stars such as the great Alfredo Di Stefano enjoyed the odd ciggie and the Dutch master Johan Cruyff used to smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day. Brazil's Socrates was another heavy smoker, but if you've ever watched footage of his leisurely pace you could almost imagine him having a puff while elegantly passing the ball around to more hurried teammates.

Despite all of the guys that did feed their nicotine habits, even as early as the 1930's managers such as Arsenal's famous Herbert Chapman and Wolves' Major Frank Buckley tried to persuade their players from smoking as they, quite rightly, believed that affected performance.

These two managers proved to be well ahead of their time though, as smoking only really began to become a no-no for professionals from the mid-1970's and onwards.

Anyhow, smoke 'em if you got 'em, here's to the weekend, and all the best to one of the writers here on Footyfair, Kon, who is in the process of quitting smoking himself and hasn't hit the psychotic or binge eating stages yet. 


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