Ban ‘em, sack ‘em, kick ‘em out. Those are our natural reflexes when footballers take drugs. Yet none of those punishments seems to be a solution. Not when a previously banned player claims the problem is “rife” within the game.
But one thing we can do is cleanse the individual. Another is to educate and warn young players. It’s in that spirit that Shane Nicholson is offering to help Jose Baxter.
Nicholson is a former left back of eight clubs, coincidentally including Sheffield United, who once received a lifetime ban from the FA and who now admits to having taken “every drug known to man.”
Baxter is the Blades player who is suspended by his club after failing a drugs test – for the second time. Nicholson, at Derby County and then West Brom, had the same experience.
Without prejudging the Baxter case, yet to be heard, Nicholson believes he has a vital message for the 24-year-old midfielder. He tells me: “I haven’t spoken to Jose but I would love to. I believe that, going through what I’ve gone through, I could help him.”
Baxter claimed his drink had been spiked after failing for the first time last year.
He was banned for five months with three of those suspended. Nicholson says if Baxter is found guilty again, “the first thing he has to do is help himself and put his hands up, accepting that he probably does have a problem.”
The ex defender, who was rehabilitated in the first of two spells with Chesterfield and then spent the 2000-2001 season at Bramall Lane, added: “Jose might not think he’s got a problem. But the results might tell us something different.
“If you’ve failed one test you are playing Russian Roulette. If you get caught a second time that’s insane. And that’s what I did.
“That’s the insanity of drug taking. You never think you’re going to get caught.”
We are not talking one player here.
“I think it’s rife in the game,” is Nicholson’s chilling message. “At every club I think there’ll be one.”
Which is why he voluntarily tours the country talking to young players in academies on behalf of the Sporting Chance clinic. And why he argues there has to be another chance of redemption for Baxter.
“He’s 24 and it really isn’t the end of the world, even though he might think it is,” says Nicholson who was in his late twenties when he was detected. “But whatever happens, he has to take it on the chin. If he doesn’t think he has a problem then that’s a problem in itself.”
Nicholson is working largely unpaid to “give something back and share my experiences.” Strikes me that, in a game awash with money, the football industry can more than afford to invest at least one extra salary in trying to combat this social ill at source.
As for Sheffield United’s current malaise (on the field but also from top to bottom), I can’t add to what’s previously been written here. Club needs to soul search some answers.