Armstrong scandal: Cycling is not the only sport with a drugs problem says top footballer

Drugs in big money sports like football & baseball? “It’s there; all you have to do is look,” says Joey Barton

by Simon_MacMichael   October 15, 2012  

Joey Barton (source - Olympique de Marseille website)

Footballer Joey Barton has acknowledged that football has a drugs problem with both recreational and performance enhancing substances.

The admission comes in a surprisingly insightful article on the Lance Armstrong affair from a top player in another sport who is also often in the headlines for the wrong reasons, and coincides with The Sun reporting that more than 100 former footballers are currently serving prison sentences due to their involvement with drugs cartels operating out of Latin America and Continental Europe.

Barton’s piece, called ‘Armstrong: The Fall of an Iconic Sporting Superstar?’ gives food for thought on several levels. First, that it was written by Barton, a player who polarises opinion, much as Armstrong has done.

The former Manchester City, Newcastle United and QPR player is undoubtedly a gifted footballer, but his career to date is better known for the regular episodes of thuggery both against opponents on the pitch and team mates away from it than rather than thoughtful comment pieces on the big issues of the day.

Barton, who currently plies his trade at Olympique de Marseille’s Stade du Velodrome, reflects in his piece about how he had been inspired by Armstrong’s story of his recovery from cancer to win the Tour de France, and speculates over what might have pushed him to take performance enhancing drugs.

Nothing new there, and he does make some statements with which knowledgeable cycling fans could take issue, but most would agree with his assertion that while “wider usage [of drugs within the peloton] gives Armstrong some mitigation… it cannot make [it] correct, ethical or in the true spirit of fair play.

“There is a dark side to cycling,” he says, but moving onto the mot revelatory part of his post, he adds, “I believe that there’s a dark side to sport, a side that people neither want to believe or choose to ignore” – and that includes football.

According to Barton, where there is big money involved there will always be rule bending cheating and doping. He links doping to the financial gains to be made in high profile sports such as “baseball, boxing, athletics, NFL, horse racing,” and of course football, citing instances of players being involved in drugs scandals, whether recreational or performance enhancing.

“It’s there; all you have to do is look,” he insists.

“For example, have you ever wondered how some of the top Italian league players have played at such a high level for so long, this is a bunch of players at the top who are (or were, when playing) fast heading towards 40 and running around like someone in their early 30s, and playing up to 80 games each season.

“Nobody, me included, can say that the club or the players are using illegal substance to enhance performance, but it does pose an interesting question, don’t you think?

“An England international told me about ‘vitamin’ injections that the England team were administered during the 1998 World Cup,” adds Barton.

“This guy took one before the Argentina game and describes the feeling as though he couldn’t run out of energy. Vitamin C, maybe?

“I am not suggesting ‘foul play’ – but I do think it’s important to ask the question. Where there’s big money people will bend, manipulate or simply break the rules out of greed.

“My personal experience of drugs tests, as a professional athlete, is that they have only ever taken a urine sample from me. Only urine, in numerous tests over 10+ years of competing at elite level sport,” he continues, contrasting his experience with what he has learnt about cycling, “where they frequently test by taking blood from the athletes. Sometimes storing that blood for years.

“I have never had blood taken during my whole career! Although, I would think my urine and that of lots of other footballers, well be stored somewhere.”

Adding that “I have never had a hair sample taken,” he asks, “Surely, in the most watched sport in the world, where hundreds of millions of pounds exchanged hands ever few months, ‘Is taking only urine, literally taking the piss?’”

“The business of sport is no different,” he asserts, to what he sees as cheating in other walks of life, whether blatant, such as the actions of some bankers during the financial crisis, the MPs expenses scandal, or more nuanced and arguably within the rules, for example the actions of estate agents, mobile phone companies and energy suppliers.

“The few will always spoil it for the many,” he insists.

He goes on to take Nike to task for what he calls its "arrogance to stick by a man whose whole career appears to be built on lies and fraudulent actions. What does this say about one of the world’s leading brands? What kind of example does this set the youngsters of today?”

He concludes by noting that donations to Armstrong’s Livestrong charity have soared since USADA banned him for life, adding: “I for one though still believe in the inspirational Armstrong story of cancer survivor to battling competitor, a hero of character and hard graft, you can’t take that amount of effort away from him. Drugs alone don’t make you world champion, you still have to put the work in.”

Meanwhile, The Sun reports that according to the charity Xpro, which helps former professional footballers, at least 126 British former footballers – nearly all of them under the age of 25 and men who failed to make the grade in the sport – are serving prison sentences, mostly for drug-related offences including trafficking.

According to Xpro chief executive Geoff Scott, “Drugs are far and away the biggest reason why so many ex-players are now in gaol.

“Some have been dealing drugs worth millions and have connections with drug cartels in Colombia and Holland.

“When one ex-player was arrested police discovered a machine gun and a bag full of more than £100,000 in cash. It’s that serious," he said.

According to Xpro, those most vulnerable to succumbing to the temptation of the money offered by drug organisations are players who failed to break through to the top level – and the rewards it brings – after being rejected by their clubs.

The charity says that they are attracted by the promises of easy money and wealth similar to that they may have found through football, while there are also cases of retired players looking to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed while in the sport.

“We are trying to contact all the ex-players in prison to see if we can help them during their sentences and also when they are released,” said Scott.

“As far as we are aware there are 126. But that’s the ones we know about and we fear there may be even more."

A report published by the World Anti Doping Agency in 2007 established clear links between criminal organisations and the supply of performance enhancing drugs, and since then both Interpol and national law enforcement agencies have highlighted that the problem is increasing.

The 2004 doping scandal at Cofidis that resulted in David Millar, among others, being banned for EPO use, also had links to recreational drugs, with four riders and a physio being arrested for possession of cocaine.

When the same team’s rider Remy di Gregorio was arrested during this year’s Tour de France for alleged doping, French press speculation also linked him to a police investigation of a Marseille-based cocaine and performance enhancing drugs trafficking ring.

26 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

It would be extremely surprising if footballers weren't being given performance enhancing drugs. They need to be able to run long distances twice a week, sprint and recover quickly, and play even when injured.

There are huge amounts of money involved at the top level.

The football authorities are if anything even less competent than the cycling ones.


posted by Edgeley [236 posts]
15th October 2012 - 14:08


What a silly headline. Of course drugs use is rife in other sports. We've all known that for years. If anything, cycling should be commended for adopting such rigorous testing regimes - lord knows who'd be exposed if other sports were so diligent.

And if you bothered following Joey Barton on Twitter, you'd realise that for all the discipline problems, he actually does come across as an intelligent and insightful chap.

This site, meanwhile, is turning into a great example of churnalism. Less stories, less spurious reviews, more quality writing please!

posted by Yennings [232 posts]
15th October 2012 - 14:46


With Sir Alex banning journalists for just frowning in press conferences and everyone at the FA and the clubs with Bentleys to upkeep I can't see an in depth investigation of football's pharmaceutical secrets anytime soon.

Joey Barton? Last I'd heard he was beating people up outside McDonalds in Liverpool. Pleased to hear he's apparently turned into an angry version of Stephen Fry and is going after The Premiership. He has more money than Kimmage so he might be able to weather the court writs.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1195 posts]
15th October 2012 - 15:10


Care to point out a "spurious review" Yennings?

As for the headline? You clearly don't understand what headlines are for

Actually one of us does follow him on Twitter

Less know-it-all posturing and more serious commenting please

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
15th October 2012 - 15:11


Barton is proper scum and I just wish media outlets would cease giving him a platform.

posted by belgravedave [253 posts]
15th October 2012 - 15:42


Violent footballer in 'says-something-useful' shocker.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3707 posts]
15th October 2012 - 15:50


Regardless of my comments above I believe in second chances.

Anonymous web commentator in "Let's-be-fair... " shocker. Big Grin

Maybe we could send John Terry and Ryan Giggs to play for Olympique de Marseille as well. They could come back reading Proust and writing poetry..

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1195 posts]
15th October 2012 - 16:32


Yennings wrote:
Less stories, less spurious reviews, more quality writing please!

That would be 'fewer stories' I feel obliged to point out to someone who cares for writing quality. Nerd

Having said that I've learned some time ago that critics of anything on this site are always wrong.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [685 posts]
15th October 2012 - 17:50


Fishing boats, seagulls...

Football's own Floyd Landis? I wonder if his outbursts could be put down to steroids?

jaunty angle: bikes and communications

ragtag's picture

posted by ragtag [182 posts]
15th October 2012 - 18:03


Joey Barton is a jumped up buffoon who has wasted what can only be described as a god given gift.

My son, aged 9, plays for Whitley Bay and is in a league with literally over 300 players. Times that by every league in every area and you have 100,000's + 9yr olds playing football and probably only 1% will ever become professional and only 1% of that 1% will reach premiership level.

Thats why he wasted his talent and for me whatever he says goes in one ear and out of the other cos its usually crap Angry

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

posted by stumps [3199 posts]
15th October 2012 - 18:18


tell us something we don't know, stupid footballers!

posted by Karbon Kev [683 posts]
15th October 2012 - 18:51


Schurely schome mishtake:

Olympique de Marseille’s Stade du *VelOdrome*

This is a cycling site, after all. Wink

(There are a few other typos if you're interested.)

ColT's picture

posted by ColT [265 posts]
15th October 2012 - 20:00


'Top' footballer? Really?
Don't make me laugh. This guy was washed up years ago and is a disgrace to humanity not just football and has no place to make comment on cycling. Should have left him locked up.

Chris D

posted by wingsofspeed68 [59 posts]
15th October 2012 - 20:01


Imagine Joey Barton comparing you to bankers MPs and estate agents. As if poor Lance hasn't suffered enough already.

posted by nadsta [54 posts]
15th October 2012 - 20:06


Less stories, less spurious reviews, more quality writing please!

This is a great informative, analytical piece of writing.

Thanks,, keep it up.

Big Grin

Sir Velo

Raleigh's picture

posted by Raleigh [1734 posts]
15th October 2012 - 20:49


Barton is a thug, yes.

But he doesn't always appear to be as stupid as many in the media would have us believe.

Brummmie's picture

posted by Brummmie [56 posts]
15th October 2012 - 21:20


Brummmie wrote:
Barton is a thug, yes.

But he doesn't always appear to be as stupid as many in the media would have us believe.

Yes and yes. And yes, I expect football is rife with drug use.


posted by OldRidgeback [2553 posts]
15th October 2012 - 21:26


MercuryOne wrote:
an angry version of Stephen Fry

I'd love to be able to dismiss Barton as a thug but then he does say some interesting things.

Surely, though, drugs will make much more of a difference in some sports than others. If I took PEDs it would almost certainly make me a better cyclist. But I could dope myself up to the eyeballs and never be able to kick a football like Lionel Messi.

Noli porcum linguere

captain_slog's picture

posted by captain_slog [307 posts]
15th October 2012 - 21:46


Cycling has one major problem - doping, which is why it stands out so much. Football has loads of problems - cheating on the pitch (diving and play-acting) financial corruption and match fixing. Doping may well be prevalent but it doesn't have the same resonance or importance as it does within cycling or athletics.

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [205 posts]
15th October 2012 - 23:24

1 Like

I like the moral compass of Merseyside, Jimmy Corkhill's take on him...

posted by mcj78 [21 posts]
16th October 2012 - 11:37

1 Like

Had to laugh at this quote from his blog

"One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Its better to be a lion for a day, then a rat for a lifetime.’"

Well he can keep aspiring for that day as a lion but for now he remains a rat

posted by bikingscot [46 posts]
16th October 2012 - 11:41

1 Like

Aside from the personal attacks (which may or may not be deserved), what he does say is interesting reading - there is obviously a culture of "omerta" in sports where big money is involved. At least cycling is making very public efforts to clean up, and I am inclined to think that the Bradley Wiggins win in TdF is probably indicative of the progress made. Some in the peloton may still be doing stupid things, but the numbers must be in serious decline.
If only some other sports were as open and thorough with their testing and results, what a difference to many things that might make. Sadly, can't see this happening unless huge police pressure and crimilisation of sports doping is introduced.


posted by doc [167 posts]
16th October 2012 - 17:44


huh, there is a major difference between football and cycling, one is a sport which consumes your whole and pushes the body to the limits, the other is football. I would imagine the drugs problem in football is more the recreational side of drugs, football still has a 'beers with da lads' culture. Demanding sports require that your whole life is committed to the sport, eat, sleep, train, that's it and no room for anything like the leisure time footballers seem to have.

posted by surreyxc [49 posts]
17th October 2012 - 10:27


what's with ye olde spelling of gaol?

posted by craa22uk [7 posts]
18th October 2012 - 8:29


craa22uk wrote:
what's with ye olde spelling of gaol?

One knoweth not. Verily 'tis so in ye original.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9378 posts]
18th October 2012 - 9:02


Hard to believe nobody has commented on the 'mot revelatory' part of Barton's post. Thinking

posted by Ian Turnedge [13 posts]
18th October 2012 - 15:43