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A starry lifestyle with many temptations

Tim Rich on the so-called role models who have feet of clay

Published 03/03/2016

It was Adam Johnson's profession - as well as the 28-year-old - that was on trial at Bradford Crown Court.

In the case that led to Johnson's conviction on one count yesterday, the accusation against his former club, Sunderland, made by the player's defence counsel, Orlando Pownall QC, was that its Armagh-born chief executive, Margaret Byrne, knew the player had kissed the 15-year-old shortly after Johnson's arrest in March last year.

Mr Pownall claimed Ms Byrne was told Johnson admitted kissing and texting the girl, but Sunderland continued to select him. "Whether for commercial considerations or in the knowledge they were facing relegation… they allowed him to play."

The club issued a statement last night saying Johnson had not told management that he was intending to plead guilty to any offence. But when he was arrested, Sunderland were fourth from bottom in the Premier League, one point and one place above the relegation zone. The cost of going down has been estimated as up to £60m - and Sunderland had just lost 4-0 at home. Johnson was one of their prime assets. He took part in eight of Sunderland's final nine matches, although he started only two. His contribution to their survival was minimal; the damage to Sunderland's reputation was potentially enormous.

Football's attitude to sexual misconduct by employees has altered dramatically. In 1977 Manchester United sacked manager Tommy Docherty for having an affair with Mary Brown, the wife of the club physiotherapist.

The fact that Docherty had just won the FA Cup, Manchester United's first trophy in nine years, swayed their judgment not at all. Tommy and Mary Docherty are still together. Yet the case is not the first time football has apparently worn blinkers when confronted by wider issues.

When asked about Sheffield United allowing unsigned convicted rapist Ched Evans to train there, manager Nigel Clough seemed to imply his main object was to enable the striker to return to match fitness and have the opportunity to "resume his career" after 30 months out of the game.

The potential for controversies is arguably exacerbated by the working pattern of the game's stars. Once they finish training, usually around noon, a professional footballer has an ocean of time to fill and reservoirs of money with which to do it.

Drink, gambling and sex were once the three pillars of misbehaviour.

Tobacco was tolerated until recently, when Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny was fined £20,000 for lighting up after a defeat by Southampton.

Sir Alex Ferguson, architect of the modern Manchester United, was always more concerned with alcohol because it directly affected players and recovery times from injuries.

When the Sunderland full-back, Phil Bardsley, was pictured on his back in a casino surrounded by £50 notes, he was immediately dropped from a game against Tottenham.

Sex is the last thrill on offer, a vice undetectable in a post-match urine sample and which has no impact on their performance.

Being a WAG - a wife or girlfriend of a footballer - is seen by a small minority of girls as a career option. Some may try to take advantage of the stars but it can end in situations where they are the ones who are being used.

For a 15-year-old, a chance meeting with a footballer, and a couple of Johnson's signed shirts, must have seemed an invitation to an unimaginable kingdom. Only later would she find out how warped the laws of the kingdom had become.

Belfast Telegraph

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