There are days when being part of the footballing family fills you full of wonderment, when we all can come together to remember those who graced our game, those who injury and illness have cut short their glittering careers, when irrespective of the colours they wore in battle we can stand shoulder to shoulder in admiration for their talents and what they gave to our beautiful game. And then there are those days where the name of this game we hold so precious and tenderly in our hands is dragged through the dirt, mired in corruption or bribery or a drugs scandal: I am sorry to report that this is one of those sad sad days. The news will be officially released to the blood hounds of the press in the coming hours but the ruling body has kindly agreed to me sharing this with you in advance: they were after all our team mates, our peers.
It is hard to believe, hard to swallow, but both Big John and Little Joe have failed both the first and subsequent random drugs testing following recent game and now face lengthy bans, should their appeals fail.
The Whites’ club lawyers are already preparing their defence: will it be the usual cough remedy, or slimming pills, or something they both ate at the family dinner table (although I have it on good authority that John’s personal chef, sorry wife, is an excellent cook and unlikely to make such a ‘school boy’ error): but they were seen partying hard that week in the presence of Prince Harry and Maradona, the paparazzi certainly made some money catching them both falling out of that swanky night club in the early hours accompanied by the Saturdays and the Crankies, Joe shouting back to his father “I don’t fancy yours much”. Fame can be an unforgiving mistress.
It is difficult to gauge what this will do to their careers: Joe, young Joe, with all his playing years ahead of him, will he be able to pick up his glittering rise to prominence from where it will be left off. He is, was, such a bright star of the future, our own slicked haired, poster boy, our very own Ronaldo (that’s Christiano not the fat and faded Brazilian one). Then Big John, with age certainly not on his side, but in such a rich seam of form that has seen him transform himself from an agricultural old fashioned centre half to the defensive kingpin he is now, will he be able to recover that turn of pace after two years on the side lines. And how will their club respond? Will the Whites stand by them, allow them still to train with them, albeit forced to be to one side, will they still honour their contract with them, send them to train with Fleetwood or abandon them to the footballing scrapheap. If it is the latter it is debatable whether Big John will ever kick a ball or indeed kick me again.
Until the hearing, set for later in the year, both are still free to play but if found guilty, the least they can expect is a two year ban, possibly reduced if they agree to rigorous doping tests and attending the Aunt Betty clinic for rehabilitation. If they also commit to throwing their voice behind the anti-drugs in sport messaging then they may receive further leniency. If however the samples reveal something more performance enhancing then they must expect the book to be thrown at them, and not Big John’s favourite Jilly Cooper at that.
So, in a sombre mood I ask, who is playing this week?
*ps you must agree that this is far more interesting than the real reason that we are shortly to lose them from our regular ranks.