LONDON — It was, said Southampton striker James Beattie, “a moment of madness.”
In the early hours on Sept. 4, Beattie came out of a night club and drove his car about 20 meters to a kebab shop. It was, indeed “stupid” as Beattie later described his actions because the player was three times over the legal drinking limit and there were three police cars stationed outside the club.
Beattie spent the night behind bars — rather different to the ones he had been frequenting — and the following week was banned from driving for 30 months, given 100 hours of community service and fined two weeks wages by his club Southampton — about £30,000.
To anyone who thinks the punishment is excessive, drunk driving kills 500 people a year in England alone. In fairness to Beattie he has never complained and after being given the mother of all rollickings by manager Gordon Strachan the striker set about making amends.
Four goals in Southampton’s last two games is “the response his teammates were looking for” according to Strachan. Beattie slotted home the winning penalty in the 1-0 victory at Aston Villa while his first senior hat trick helped the Saints to a 4-2 win over Fulham last Sunday.
“I thought I was mentally strong and that what happened would not affect me,” said Beattie. “But it did. I was stupid and what I did was wrong but I’ll never do anything like it again.”
Strachan is doing his best to ensure none of his players ever do anything like it — ever.
It came to Strachan’s attention that certain other players had been refueling to excess at all hours in the city’s pubs and clubs. So on his day off, Strachan and his wife trawled the bars of Southampton, ending at a place called the Lizard Lounge.
“It shocked a few people when I walked in,” said Strachan, probably understating the customers’ feelings. “I had heard a few stories about players going out and wanted to make sure they were behaving.
“Club rules state that no one is allowed to drink alcohol 24 hours before a game or even before training. Some might find this a bit hard but football is not a hobby for these boys. It’s a profession and they should look after their bodies. Fans pay a lot of money to get into games and the last thing they want to see is a drunk footballer.
“We are gradually getting rid of the old dinosaurs who drag youngsters into bad habits. We are doing as much as we can to stamp out this culture for the benefit for the younger players. There is no alcohol in the players’ lounge after games and the players have the best possible back-up there.”
Strachan praised Beattie, whom he called “the barometer for our character and fitness level.” Goals tend to come in bunches for Beattie — two years ago he scored 10 in 10 games, last year it was five in five and now it’s four in two.
However, Strachan’s statement that “he has these goal sprees and goes on these daft binges” was, while well-intended, not the most tactful summing up of the player.
If Beattie and perhaps one or two others have had a wake-up call in their career, Wayne Bridge, the Southampton left-back, is a perfect example of the modern day player who knows how to get the best out of himself.
Bridge completed his 100th consecutive 90-minute Premiership match against Fulham, a remarkable achievement at a time when players complain or tiredness and managers call for a mid-season break.
Wayne’s world of 9,000 minutes of non-stop Premiership football started on March 4, 2000, against Middlesbrough. Since then Bridge, 22, has not missed a second of league action, which is a testament to his consistency, professionalism and condition. No other player in the Premiership comes anywhere near this non-stop record.
In all competitions Bridge has appeared in 112 consecutive games for Saints, his “perfect” run spoiled only against Mansfield in September 2000 in the second leg of the Worthington Cup second round when, with Saints leading 2-0 from the first leg, Bridge started the match on the bench, coming on for Ryan Ashford in the 21st minute.
All in all, with an extra-time Worthinghton Cup tie against Bolton in 2001, Bridge has played 9,999 minutes of first team football out of a possible 10,020.
Strachan knows a thing or two about longevity — the Scot was 40 when he played his last game for Coventry five years ago.
Yet there is no secret to Bridge’s Premiership 100 not out according to Strachan — just a good upbringing and common sense.
Strachan said: “While some footballers are messing around in night clubs pretending to be celebrities Wayne is a real footballer.
“Whoever’s brought him up has done a good job and should be very pleased with themselves. In this day and age when young people can disappoint you, he’s managed to stay away from the yob culture.
“If you look after your body, your body looks after you and Wayne realizes that.
“He looks after himself and lives the life a footballer should live.
“I didn’t realize how good he was until I came here. He has pace, ability and there is no problem with his temperament.”
When Bridge went off for treatment after only six minutes against Fulham the run looked in danger but he returned after three minutes treatment.
“Wayne was excellent,” said Strachan. “He showed mental strength to play on after the knock. I kept him away from the medics at half time because they’ll have you off for a sniffle.”
All good things must come to an end, but whenever Bridge’s unbroken 90-minute Premiership appearances sequence is finally halted it will be a long time before another player from English football’s most demanding division, especially an outfield player, emulates his feat.