Les Napsack is a former professional footballer who played as a left-back for a string of mid-table clubs throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. He represented England 12 times, mainly as a substitute. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Spain to open an Irish bar and now spends his days hosting karaoke competitions and concentrating on his art projects (which have variously been described as “inspired”, “courageous” and “baffling”). He has kindly given permission for some passages from his autobiography to be reprinted here.
This week, Les gives his thoughts on drinking in football.
In my opinion, the issue of drinking has been massively overblown in the modern game. There’s nothing wrong with having a couple of pints after a match, or before, or in some cases even during (only if you’re winning of course). In my day, it wasn’t uncommon for the opposition winger to celebrate giving you a good roasting by pulling a hip flask out of his sock and taking a triumphant swig. For many, it was a sad day when The FA was forced to clamp down and ban drinking during matches. There’s always someone who takes things too far, and in this case it was Forest centre-half Bill Tuncliffe. It caused a stir at the time, but in hindsight I agree with the decision. A quick swig is one thing, but a yard of ale really has no place on the football field.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t the odd time when things got out of hand, of course. Back when I was playing for Coventry, a few of us once got so slaughtered before a match we accidentally turned up to the wrong stadium and ended up playing for a local semi-professional team. We were half an hour into the game before the referee realised there were 27 players on the pitch. Turns out he was half -cut as well. We all had a good laugh about that one afterwards. Except the gaffer, mind. Without us Coventry had lost 6-0.
And I’ll never forget the day one of the younger lads, Barry Spiffle, was called up for his first-team debut. The excitement was too much for him, and he made the classic mistake of overdoing it the night before the match. Naturally, he ended up in no fit state to play and was subbed off mid-way through the first half. The gaffer was furious and refused to let him take a shower. Instead, he ordered him straight to the subs bench, where he promptly fell asleep. Now here's where it gets interesting: Jonesy, our sub keeper (and club practical joker), had been to see a 3D film the night before and still had the glasses with him. Given that the opposition were wearing their brand new red and green away kit, we saw the perfect opportunity for a prank. It was about 15 minutes after we'd glued the glasses to his face that the young lad woke up. To this day, I've never seen as much vomit come out of a single person.
Call me old-fashioned, but I firmly believe the modern game is a little less special for having lost moments like that.
‘Call Me Les’ is out now in all good bookshops, with a foreword by Andy Townsend.