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Lurid stories of sports stars behaving badly regularly clog up news sites and social media feeds, but you can only imagine how much more such news would dominate if today’s athletes behaved anything like those of days past.

Be it alcohol-fuelled chaos, sexual encounters from the unwise to the unforgiveable, or even breaches of Covid protocols – the stars regularly feed the public appetite for stories of fallen heroes.

The stories are more commonplace now, thanks chiefly to the rise of social media where the aggrieved speak out, witnesses post pictures, and the rights-and-wrongs are ceaselessly debated.

But more common does not mean worse, and indeed the stars of yesteryear could live a life of excess and hellraising in relative anonymity, provided a handful of journalists could be persuaded not to air the dirty linen.

As many rusted-on, older footy fans will attest to, in previous decades the off-field behaviour of footy players in particular was far more wild and brazen.

Carlton AFL legend Val Perovic is a case in point.

The Blues players in the glory years of the 1970s and 1980s were renowned for their ‘bonding sessions’ at the pub, but only on training nights, and after the game, and again on Sunday.

At Carlton you learned how to handle your drink, but they all stood in the shadow of Perovic. 

At popular Melbourne CBD pub the Duke of Wellington, there is a plaque on the wall confirming the Croatian born defender once knocked back 37 cans of Victoria Bitter in a two hour session.

The date was September 17 in 1984, with the pub licensee at the time also signing the plaque to commemorate the ‘achievement.’ 

Val Perovic won two VFL premierships with Carlton in the 1980s - but his efforts off the field involving binge drinking sees him enjoy a cult hero status with some footy fans

Val Perovic won two VFL premierships with Carlton in the 1980s - but his efforts off the field involving binge drinking sees him enjoy a cult hero status with some footy fans

Val Perovic won two VFL premierships with Carlton in the 1980s – but his efforts off the field involving binge drinking sees him enjoy a cult hero status with some footy fans

Hard nosed AFL defender Val Perovic once drank 37 beers in a two hour sitting at the Duke of Wellington Pub in Melbourne - with a plaque on the wall to toast the feat

Hard nosed AFL defender Val Perovic once drank 37 beers in a two hour sitting at the Duke of Wellington Pub in Melbourne - with a plaque on the wall to toast the feat

Hard nosed AFL defender Val Perovic once drank 37 beers in a two hour sitting at the Duke of Wellington Pub in Melbourne – with a plaque on the wall to toast the feat

Wayne Carey was a legend when on the books of North Melbourne, winning two flags in 1996 and 1999 - 'The King' was also a renowned heavy drinker in his playing days

Wayne Carey was a legend when on the books of North Melbourne, winning two flags in 1996 and 1999 - 'The King' was also a renowned heavy drinker in his playing days

Wayne Carey was a legend when on the books of North Melbourne, winning two flags in 1996 and 1999 – ‘The King’ was also a renowned heavy drinker in his playing days

Hawthorn AFL star Dermott Brereton was cut from the same cloth as Wayne Carey - a champion on the field, equally imposing off it

Hawthorn AFL star Dermott Brereton was cut from the same cloth as Wayne Carey - a champion on the field, equally imposing off it

Hawthorn AFL star Dermott Brereton was cut from the same cloth as Wayne Carey – a champion on the field, equally imposing off it

Can you imagine binge drinking being celebrated with a plaque today?

Perovic has been asked countless times if the feat was fabricated and his response only adds to the mystery – ‘boy, it was a big session… and I didn’t feel great the next day, I’ll tell you that,’ he told Inside Footy Weekly a few years ago. 

Perovic’s efforts were nearly matched by teammates like Mark Maclure and Jimmy Buckley, and many at other clubs like Essendon’s Paul van der Haar, who famously left premiership celebrations to visit a friend nearby, went to the wrong house but proceeded to settle in for a few drinks with the stunned resident family. 

The drinking mischief went international during a Western Bulldogs end-of-season trip in 1985 when the plane’s PA system was commandeered and passengers told to prepare for an imminent crash.

Other players who pushed the envelope when not chasing a Sherrin include the likes of North Melbourne Kangaroos champion forward Wayne Carey and Hawthorn’s Dermott Brereton, who was among the fixtures on Melbourne’s nightclub scene in the 1980s when star players received ‘drink cards’ that kept the free booze flowing through the night.

They were so good at their craft, their off-field slip-ups often never made the light of the day.

If anything, potential scandals were covered up by fans, or in some cases journalists who traded silence for good relations and access to the stars.

Late in his career, Carey’s conduct was called into question – but that was only after he engaged in a bombshell affair with Kelli Stevens, the wife of his then Kangaroos teammate Anthony Stevens. 

Rugby league, the greatest game of all, has also toasted its ‘loose cannons’ from previous eras, where the footy was tough and uncompromising.

Hard men such as Canterbury’s Peter Tunks, Balmain’s Steve Roach and South Sydney enforcer Les Davidson immediately spring to mind.

Throw in Manly’s David Gillespie, whose nickname was Cement, and everyone’s favourite halfback, the late Tommy Raudonikis, and you start to get the picture.

Binge drinking post game was a celebrated key aspect of the working class sport, with players who didn’t drink to excess often left out of team’s inner circles.

Some players did take things too far, with Julian O’Neill a notable example.

An outstanding junior athlete who represented the Australian Schoolboys in rugby league, cricket and tennis, sporting prowess came easy to the man born on Sydney’s north shore before moving to Brisbane.

He won two premierships with the Broncos early in his career, and appeared on a pathway to greatness.

Alcohol proved to be a demon in his career, with O’Neill ending up more infamous for his behaviour away from the paddock before he eventually retired in 2006.

The ‘human headline’ was a dream for journalists chasing a scandal.

Be it urinating under a blackjack table at a casino, diabolically pooing in teammates Jeremy Schloss’ shoe, or in 2004, when O’Neill attempted to set fire to a boy wearing a dolphin costume as part of a prank in front of his shocked Widnes teammates, O’Neill was reckless to the extreme.

And rarely apologetic. 

The youngster in the dolphin costume, on board a boat cruise at Port Macquarie on the NSW north coast, was fine – but it was the final straw in the eyes of many, who felt O’Neill had crossed a line.

Turns out potentially endangering the life of a child while intoxicated is a line the Queensland State of Origin representative shouldn’t have crossed.

Julian O'Neill was an incredibly talented rugby league player - but alcohol often got the better of him across his career

Julian O'Neill was an incredibly talented rugby league player - but alcohol often got the better of him across his career

Julian O’Neill was an incredibly talented rugby league player – but alcohol often got the better of him across his career

Tommy Raudonikis was a hard man for Western Suburbs and Newtown - and was equally imposing when pulling up a bar stool in a pub

Tommy Raudonikis was a hard man for Western Suburbs and Newtown - and was equally imposing when pulling up a bar stool in a pub

Tommy Raudonikis was a hard man for Western Suburbs and Newtown – and was equally imposing when pulling up a bar stool in a pub

Cricketer Shane Warne is Australia's best ever leg-spinner - but he is equally loved by many sports fans due to his fondness for a beer and cigarette

Cricketer Shane Warne is Australia's best ever leg-spinner - but he is equally loved by many sports fans due to his fondness for a beer and cigarette

Cricketer Shane Warne is Australia’s best ever leg-spinner – but he is equally loved by many sports fans due to his fondness for a beer and cigarette

In 2003, Matt Dunning (pictured right, playing for the Wallabies) broke the nose of NSW Waratahs teammate Des Tuiavi'i on a night out

In 2003, Matt Dunning (pictured right, playing for the Wallabies) broke the nose of NSW Waratahs teammate Des Tuiavi'i on a night out

In 2003, Matt Dunning (pictured right, playing for the Wallabies) broke the nose of NSW Waratahs teammate Des Tuiavi’i on a night out

Matty Johns created the persona of Reg Reagan when he was on Channel 9's The Footy Show - based largely on Cessnock born rugby league forward Terry Regan

Matty Johns created the persona of Reg Reagan when he was on Channel 9's The Footy Show - based largely on Cessnock born rugby league forward Terry Regan

Matty Johns created the persona of Reg Reagan when he was on Channel 9’s The Footy Show – based largely on Cessnock born rugby league forward Terry Regan

Former Balmain, Eastern Suburbs and Canberra hard-man Terry Regan is another who people happily forked out money to see in the flesh.

The Cessnock raised forward was as tough as they as they come, with media identity and fellow Newcastle boy Matthew Johns later using Regan as inspiration for his iconic TV fictional ‘star’ from yesteryear, Reg Reagan.

Immortal Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler were also ‘talented’ when not clutching a Steeden with the game on the line.

In 1999, just a day before he was named Australian captain, Fittler was handed over to police situated at Glebe in Sydney after he was picked up in a taxi.

The spooked driver hastily dropped off Fittler, who had been on a harbour cruise following a Roosters win over North Sydney.

He later described the champion five-eighth as ‘the drunkest human being… ever’.

Years later Fittler told the Sunday Telegraph the Glebe run with police made him ‘really stand back… I had to look at what was happening… as captain of my club – and Australia – it wasn’t a good look.’

Other sports have produced plenty of athletes who lived by the mantra – play hard, party harder.

Cricketer Shane Warne is unrivalled as Australia’s greatest ever leg-spinner, but his fondness for a good time with the ladies as well as his hard drinking and ongoing smoking habit made him a ‘legend’ in the eyes of many. 

His former Australian teammate David Boon set a beer-drinking record on a flight from Sydney to London to begin an Ashes tour as he downed 52 cans. 

When on the books of the NSW Waratahs playing in the Super 12 rugby union competition, teammates Matt Dunning and Des Tuavai’i once thought it was a good idea to fight each other after one schooner too many in May of 2003.

The ACT Brumbies on a tour to South Africa in 2000 also once ripped out the meter from a terrified cab driver following a big night on the sauce.

Rod Kafer, Joe Roff, Owen Finegan, Peter Ryan and Bill Young were the players in question, with furious team manager Phil Thomson stating the quintet were involved in some ‘boisterous and unacceptable behaviour’ in Cape Town.

‘We won’t make any excuses for them,’ Thomson fumed at the time via a club statement. ‘They have embarrassed themselves and injured the good reputation of the Brumbies and ACT rugby.’

And on occasion, clean cut stars such as tennis ace Pat Rafter also displayed their ‘loose side.’

With Australia 3-0 up in a Davis Cup tie against Belgium in 1997, the two-time US Open winner went out and had ‘quite a few’ beers the night before a reverse singles match.

Tennis star Pat Rafter once played a Davis Cup reverse singles match for Australia hungover in 1997 - and won

Tennis star Pat Rafter once played a Davis Cup reverse singles match for Australia hungover in 1997 - and won

Tennis star Pat Rafter once played a Davis Cup reverse singles match for Australia hungover in 1997 – and won

Nick Kyrgios is a tennis star who polarises many tennis fans - supremely talented, yet some days he doesn't look interested on court - many feel he is part of the 'modern problem' where entitled athletes aren't focused on honing their craft

Nick Kyrgios is a tennis star who polarises many tennis fans - supremely talented, yet some days he doesn't look interested on court - many feel he is part of the 'modern problem' where entitled athletes aren't focused on honing their craft

Nick Kyrgios is a tennis star who polarises many tennis fans – supremely talented, yet some days he doesn’t look interested on court – many feel he is part of the ‘modern problem’ where entitled athletes aren’t focused on honing their craft

Remarkably, Rafter won the match – while hungover – but later conceded it ‘wasn’t the best look’ for a man in his shoes.

‘It is totally my fault,’ he said at the time when quizzed by journalists.

‘I think the one regret I do have is giving children the wrong impression of using alcohol to win matches or be a good athlete. You just cannot do it.’

Soccer – or football depending on who you talk to – doesn’t have the profile of other footy codes in Australia – but pre-the introduction of the A-League in 2005, the old  National Soccer League (NSL) had its fair share of characters.

Andrew Marth from the Melbourne Knights and Matt Bingley from Newcastle are two prominent examples.

Former Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill earnt his stripes at Millwall before playing in the English Premier League for a host of clubs (pictured, playing for Everton in 2009)

Former Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill earnt his stripes at Millwall before playing in the English Premier League for a host of clubs (pictured, playing for Everton in 2009)

Former Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill earnt his stripes at Millwall before playing in the English Premier League for a host of clubs (pictured, playing for Everton in 2009)

They were prepared to bleed for their teammates from the opening whistle – and  never gave an inch to the opposition.

And once the fulltime whistle sounded, they were often front and centre in pubs and clubs across NSW and Victoria.

Fast forward to 2021 in the A-League, emerging players quickly come and go, happy to pursue other life interests if not offered long term contracts.

Many also appear totally unwilling to test themselves in better leagues overseas, leaving former Socceroos such as Lucas Neill and Robbie Slater shaking their heads in dismay.

Both men backed themselves from a young age to succeed in the world game, and did so in the brutal surroundings of Europe, where they could have been replaced at any minute.

For many youngsters, their focus also appears to be the number of Instagram followers they have accumulated, rather than improving their technique.

As a former first class footballer told Daily Mail Australia – ‘take me back to the good old days, when athletes gave their all – be it with their boots on, or on the social circuit.’

It’s hard to argue otherwise. 

Source: DailyMail

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