Quite a while back we made a post about the top-11 football players who were heavy drinkers in their glory days, all world class players without a doubt. But the best ones are not always the most well loved by the fans. Every football club has it’s classic cult heroes. Usually these are not the most technical players and also not the pretty boys. Most of the time there is something wrong with cult heroes that makes them human, so the fans can relate to them as if he is one of their own. A bad temper, poor eye sight or a leg that’s 5 centimeters shorter than the other, but the true cult heroes are the ones that drink like a fan, preferably with the fans and still give their all on the pitch. These are definitely not the 11 best players you’ve ever seen, but they gained a sacred status by performing both on and off the pitch.
Rinat Dasajev (Soviet Union)
With an impressive 91 international matches for the Soviet Union Rinat Dasajev can also be considered the number 12 in our list of greatest drinkers in football. This goalkeeper simply ruled in the 80’s. During the final decade of the Cold War he became a mythical idol for many young boys on the west side of the Iron Curtain. Dasajev, who played most of his career for Spartak Moscow, was a man of few words, imperturbable, but with amazing reflexes. Not an ethnic Russian but a Tatar, descendant of a tribe that used to roam the Central Asian steppes, killing and pillaging. In the Soviet football machine created by the legendary coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi he was a solid last lock on the door. However in his free time Dasajev had one hobby: vodka. He drunk so much that it caused some serious damage to his brain, which is noticable in interviews too. But maybe that’s for the best. Let Dasajev forever be that silent and mysterious super athlete from the 80’s.
Robin Friday (Reading and Cardiff City)
Quite a lower level maybe but therefor not less loved. Robin Friday, who died in 1990 at age 38 probably from a heroine overdose, is an icon for both Reading and Cardiff City. Though he was a talented football player he had a very short career in the lower English divisions, since he was also quite fond of the women, booze and drugs. The first two didn’t stop him from excelling. In the mid 70’s Friday played only 2 years at Reading (club topscorer in both years) and one at Cardiff. When he went over to Cardiff by train to sign the contract he was caught without a ticket and his new manager Jimmy Andrews had to bail him out of jail first. Andrews claimed that Friday was good enough for the English squad but a year later the striker simply retired at age 25. In 1996 the band Super Furry Animals – from Cardiff themselves – dedicated a song to him called “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck”.
Roddy Grant (St. Johnstone)
Roddy Grant was an absolute hero for the fans of the Scottish team St. Johnstone in the 80’s and 90’s. And not just because he was the striker that brought in the goals. When he was voted the biggest cult hero of the club in 2005 through the website of the BBC a fan commented: “Roddy was the slowest player ever to pull on a St Johnstone shirt. Smoked like a chimney and drunk like George Best, but would die for Saints. Despite his lack of pace, his skill was amazing. Just to show how much of a hero Roddy was, we sold him to Partick Thistle and he scored a hat-trick against us and the crowd cheered as if he was playing in Blue.”
Trifon Ivanov (Bulgaria)
The football tournament of 1994 was simply bizar, since almost every team had a superstar. Romario (Brazil), Roberto Baggio (Italy), Diego Maradona (Argentina), Gheorghe Hagi (Romania), Dennis Bergkamp (Holland) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) to name just a few. The last one became one of the stars of the tournament and the small football country of Bulgaria amazed the world by reaching the semi finals and eliminating reigning champion Germany. Imagine how shocked a reporter of the New York Times must have been when he entered the Bulgarian dressing room and caught all the players smoking and drinking heavily. The worst of all was defender Trifon Ivanov with a beard of a few days, bloodshot eyes and long greasy hair. He had all the looks of a football fan, but not your average ‘ultra type’ singing and jumping up and down. More of the kind who would drink till the point where there’s 2 fields and 44 players on them. For many all over the world Ivanov became the personification of this bunch of smoking and drinking outlaws from the Balkans who amazed the world. With Rapid Wien he also proved he wasn’t a one hit wonder and reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup.
Theo Janssen (Vitesse and FC Twente)
A classic cult hero. Theo Janssen usually carried some extra weight under his many tattoos, smoked heavily and wasn’t afraid of the booze either. Basically he was a football fan with a brilliant left leg. His technique brought FC Twente their first and only Dutch championship ever, he excelled in the Champions League and even played 5 games for the Dutch national team. And not in the 70’s but in 2011, when most people were convinced with such a lifestyle a player was doomed in modern football. Successful or not, the little rascal from Arnhem inside of him never died. In 2009 he caused a drunken driving accident, which left his friend in the passenger seat in a coma. And two years later he fell off the “champion bus” of FC Twente carrying a tray of beer cans. After that his transfer to Ajax Amsterdam personally wasn’t a big success, since in the Dutch capital everything had to be done gracefully. The working class lad who loved smoking and drinking never really felt at home. But at his first love Vitesse and FC Twente he’s a hero for life.
John Linford (Fortuna Sittard)
With 12 clubs in just 10 years we can’t escape from the fact that John Linford was a real clubhopper. However at the Dutch team Fortuna Sittard the Englishman became a living legend. In two stages he just spent 3 years at the club, but Linford made quite the impression. On the pitch he played with the enthousiasm that you can expect from a typicall English player in the 80’s, when good old kick and rush was still around. But that didn’t stop him from making an impression in the nightlife of Sittard. It wasn’t uncommon for Linford to be the last to leave the bar, ‘proper pissed’ as the English would say. Up till today his drunken adventures are passed on to younger generations. Nowadays Linford has his own bar in Norwich called Marlborough Arms.
Erik Mykland (Panathinaikos)
Coming from the country with the highest alcohol prices in the world it’s no wonder that Erik Mykland seeked for a career abroad. The Norwegian, who represented his country 78 times, left quite an impression in the 3 years he played in Greece for Panathinaikos. The midfielder made it a habbit to have late night drinking sessions and show up for practice hungover or still tipsy. Dimitris, a fan who in the late 90’s used to be a ball boy, recalls: “When Mykland would leave the pitch after the match the first thing he asked for was a six pack of beers. He would down them before even going to the dressing room. And when he entered the pitch before a match he also many times smelled of alcohol.” But despite his love for the bottle the Norwegian international still performed on the pitch with great passion. And with that he gained the love of the fans.
Ray Parlour (Arsenal)
The nickname ‘The Romford Pelé’ was a typical example of British ironic humor, but nevertheless Ray Parlour was a very skilled player. Technical and never afraid to work hard. But he was also part of the last generation of English players who would hit the pub after every game or even practice. Together with guys like Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn Parlour was part of the notorious drinkers team of Arsenal that dominated the Premier League in the mid 90’s. And when drinking parlour was behaving like the stereotype English football fan, the British tabloids were loving it. One day he sprayed a fire extinguisher on other people in a Pizza Hut, the next he pissed off a taxi driver in Hong Kong that he was chased with a wooden bat. So even with a superstar like Dennis Berkamp in the team, Parlour still remained the number one cult hero at Arsenal.
Robert Prosinecki (Croatia)
If talent was everything Robert Prosinecki could have been the biggest football star of the late 90’s. The Croatian playmaker probably just enjoyed the good life a little too much. In 1991 he was part of the legendary Red Star Belgrade team that won the Eurupa Cup I (now Champions League) and it seemed like a star was born. Both Real Madrid and later Barcelona hoped the technical mastermind would lead the club to glory, but both adventures failed. Prosinecki smoked around 40 cigarettes a day and didn’t mind to drink either. When e-cards are flooding the internet saying “On a scale from 1 to Robert Prosinecki how drunk were you planning on getting”, that basically says it all. Still this remarkable player was part of the Croatian team that took the 3rd place on the World Championships in 1998.
Fernando Ricksen (Glasgow Rangers)
Actually Fernando Ricksen wasn’t just popular at Glasgow Rangers (2000-2006). His tremendous efforts on the pitch were also highly valued by the fans of Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar and Zenith St. Petersburg. But few teams can honor a living legend like one of the two big teams from Glasgow, Celtic and Rangers. Also Ricksen’s drinking really started in Glasgow, where he was a regular at the local pubs and clubs. At a certain point it got so extreme that he checked himself into rehab. Still on the pitch ‘Fernando the Commando’ always gave his all. After Rangers he signed a lucrative deal with the Russian team Zenith St. Petersburg, where he shared a house with 4 women who were on the payrole to take care of the household and his sexual urges. Basically Ricksen enjoyed life to the fullest until in 2013 he got diagnosed with ALS, which was a huge blow for the fans of all of his former clubs. However Ricksen is determined to be the first person ever to beat this muscle disease.
Zoran Riznic (Red Star Belgrade)
And for the last one on the list we stay in the Balkans. Zoran Riznic is an absolute legend in Serbian football. He played for Red Star Belgrade in the 90’s and didn’t really make it a secret that he loved drinking. He gained such a reputation for himself that before the Belgrade derby against Partizan the fans of Red Star held up a banner saying “Cheers Rizna”. After showing up at practice drunk again Riznic was fired from Red Star and continued his career in Greece. A year ago the living legend gave an interview to Mozzart Sport in which he said he didn’t regret anything: “I have never hidden anything in my life, because when I decide to go out an relax a little, no one can stop me. I’m not like the 90% of the athletes who like to drink and it’s a public secret, cause they do it secretly. It doesn’t matter what players do in their spare time, the only thing that matters is what they do on the field, that’s my theory. Because of that I had a decent relationship with the Red Star supporters who saw that I performed, let’s say not good, but solid.”
Related links on Lords of the Drinks: