David James has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. It’s clear that Portsmouth would have accumulated far less points (and probably be out of the FA Cup) if it weren’t for the current England number one’s outstanding form since the beginning of the season. However, in his Observer column, the former Liverpool keeper reveals that a 15-year cigarette habit could have brought his playing career to an abrupt end.
As the face of Portsmouth’s anti-smoking campaign last week, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t confess my own 15-year 20-a-day habit. As ludicrous as it now seems, I spent most of my career puffing away on fags: after training, before matches and even on the team coach. It makes me feel ill just thinking about it.
By the time I joined Liverpool, I was quite open about my habit. I’d sit on a step with team-mates after training and puff away. I smoked in the players’ lounge and on the team bus – I got away with it because the chairman did. If my team-mates complained, I argued that they visited nightclubs without a problem so what was the difference? According to the Zeitgeist , smoking was acceptable, so I told them to like it or lump it. In hindsight it was disgraceful behaviour on my part.
I decided to quit for the new millennium. Problem was we had a game on New Year’s Day and there was my pre-match ritual to think of. Sod it, I thought, I always have a cigarette before a match. Well, that was it, 12 hours into what I’d thought would be me giving up and I’d scuppered it. I gave up a couple of weeks later and the change it made to my life was incredible. For the first time I started endurance running – and enjoyed it. At Villa they told me I had acquired the stamina of a midfield player. I discovered a whole new body at 30.
It’s typical of James’ refreshing honesty that he makes the above admission although there’s nothing wrong if a footballer wants to have a crafty fag is there? Or should players instead be contractually obliged not to touch cigarettes due to the detrimental effect on their health?