When you look at many of football’s top talents, both past and present, many of them were/are gifted athletes, blessed with natural gifts that enable them to live the dream, to be idolized, immortalized, and imitated.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they don’t like to partake in activities that aren’t necessarily good for those physical gifts. We see or hear about footballers and their nights out on the town, which is no real surprise. But along with a good drink, quite a few footballers enjoy a smoke as well.
Many would say that the relationship between footballers and cigarettes is one that should be limited to minimal contact, at most, but old habits do die hard, and for better or worse, smoking has long had its connections to football.
Football: A History of Smoke
For more than a century, football and smoking have been closely linked, even through players who didn’t even care for the habit.
Starting in the late 1890s, packs of cigarettes began to include cards with images of footballers of that time, and it was only inevitable that footballers would begin to advertise cigarettes. In the 1930s, Everton star Dixie Dean promoted Carreras Clubs, a budget cigarette brand. Two decades later, the great Stanley Matthews, who wasn’t even a smoker, promoted Craven A cigarettes.
It’s understandable why a tobacco company would want to employ a footballer to advertise their products, due to the obvious target audience at the time. If a star footballer, the epitome of a manly man, smoked (or looked like he did), then that’d make it all the more likely the average man would follow suit or begin to smoke that specific brand of cigarettes.
Around the time that Matthews got into cigarette promotion, research was coming out that linked smoking to cancer, but that didn’t affect the habits of many, as the below section indicates. However, even before those studies, there were some managers who didn’t care for smoking to be around their teams.
For example, Herbert Chapman, who managed Huddersfield Town and Arsenal to great success in the 1920s and 30s, asked potential signing Eddie Hapgood whether or not he drank or smoke prior to signing him for Arsenal in 1927.
Also, Frank Buckley, who managed Wolves from 1927-44, gave his players a pocketbook that included a code of conduct, with a couple of his expectations being for his players to not smoke and to not socialize for at least two days before a match.
There is a long, long list of past footballers who smoked during their careers. Here are some of the most notable examples.
In his autobiography, Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn revealed that, prior to the 1951 FA Cup final against Blackpool, he went to the bathroom at Wembley to have a smoke, and he found four of his teammates already there smoking. He promptly went out and scored both goals in a 2-0 Newcastle win.
Leeds legend Jack Charlton, who won the World Cup with England in 1966 and later managed the Republic of Ireland to its greatest successes in the 1980s and 90s, smoked prolifically as a player, and he was actually photographed with a cigarette in his mouth while at training with Leeds.
Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day, but he was forced to give it up in 1991 when he had double heart bypass surgery. Since then, he’s been the face of an anti-smoking campaign that was sponsored by the Catalan Department of Health.
Argentine star Ossie Ardiles, who played for Tottenham for a decade and has managed Spurs and Newcastle, among many others, reportedly smoked 40 cigarettes a day during his career.
The late Brazilian legend Socrates drank like a fish, and he smoked like a chimney, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day during his playing career.
Former Real Madrid/Barcelona/Portsmouth/Croatia star Robert Prosinecki, who helped lead Red Star Belgrade to a famous European Cup triumph in 1991 and now manages the club, smoked more than 40 cigarettes a day during the height of his playing career, though it’s reported that he’d cut down to 20 by the time he went to Portsmouth in 2001.
Gianluca Vialli, who starred for Sampdoria, Juventus, and Chelsea and recorded almost 60 caps for Italy, was a regular smoker during his playing career, and he continued to do so when he managed Chelsea and Watford.
Former France and Manchester United #1 Fabien Barthez smoked throughout his career, a fact that wasn’t unknown to Sir Alex Ferguson. Barthez wasn’t the only member of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side that enjoyed or enjoys smoking, as Zinedine Zidane – who was part of an anti-smoking campaign in 2002 – was seen casually smoking a cigarette prior to a 2006 World Cup semifinal against Portugal.
While it’s not nearly as prevalent as it once was, for numerous reasons, there are still quite a few well-known current footballers who enjoy a puff or three.
Manchester United strikers Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, and Federico Macheda have all been spotted with cigarettes at various locales. In fact, if there was a current footballer who’d fit right into one of the smoking advertisements of the past, it’d be Berbatov, without a doubt.
Macheda isn’t the only Italian footballer who’s been known to light up. Eccentric Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli enjoys ‘maybe five or six a day’, according to manager Roberto Mancini, who’s not too pleased about the habit. Also, Gianluigi Buffon, Vincenzo Iaquinta, and Alessandro Nesta, all members of the Italy squad that won the 2006 World Cup, have all been snapped smoking.
After fronting Portsmouth’s anti-smoking campaign in 2008, former England keeper David James confessed in his column for The Observer that he smoked 20 cigarettes a day from when he was 15 until he was 30, when he dropped the habit. The change was for the better, as 51 of the 53 England caps he picked up from 1997-2010 came from 2001-10, and he’s still going strong as Bristol City’s #1 at the age of 41.
Former Mexico and Costa Rica coach Ricardo Lavolpe received a warning from FIFA in regards to his smoking on the touchline during the 2006 World Cup with Mexico.
If Lavolpe had been a manager a few decades earlier, he’d have been in the clear. In 1978, Argentina hosted and won the World Cup for the first time, and leading the triumph was manager and chain smoker extraordinaire Cesar Luis Menotti, who smoked as much as he pleased on the touchline.
In 1982, another smoke-loving manager, Enzo Bearzot, led Italy to World Cup glory. However, unlike many others, his preference was for the pipe, which was a fixture in his mouth during Italy’s World Cup run.
Croatian manager Slaven Bilic smoked cigarettes before games during his playing days, according to former West Ham teammate Frank Lampard, and he has carried on with the habit as a manager.
On the club scene, a smoking legend of yesteryear was Malcolm Allison, who was assistant manager on the last Manchester City side to win a top-division title and later had two spells as City manager. Allison, who also led Crystal Palace to the FA Cup semis in 1976 and Sporting Lisbon to a league title in 1982, loved his fedoras, his women, his drink, and last but not least, his cigars.
Smoking in Football Stadiums
For any smoker who plans to take a trip to see football in the UK, it’s important to note the smoking ban that’s been in place since July 2007. Since that time, smoking has been banned at any Football League ground. However, if you’re a fan of a non-league side, you might still be in luck, as smoking is still permitted in grounds that don’t have a roof.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can automatically light up, because specific grounds can have their own (non)smoking policies in place.