Not-so-Smooth Criminals: 25 Footballers and Their Rap Sheets
Ah, the life of a footballer. Money, fame, beautiful people hanging around you all the time, lavish parties. Sometimes the high-profile status can go to these guys' heads, and in some cases, lead to some serious criminal charges, ranging from reckless driving to extortion to murder, and one goalkeeper who even rubbed elbows with Colombia's most notorious drug lord.
Here are the stories of 25 footballers and their run-ins with the law, for crimes of collars blue and white and punishments which ranged from a fine and community service to life in prison. If you have any more stories of football and crime you'd like to share, as always, have at it in the comments section.
Glen Johnson and Ben May
Glen Johnson was certainly flush with embarrassment in a 2007 incident after he was busted stealing bathroom furnishings from B&Q. The England full-back, then at Portsmouth, and his accomplice, Millwall striker Ben May, were each fined £80 after being spotted by security trying to transfer a toilet seat into a a box with a cheaper price tag and smuggling a set of taps under a sink.
It's rare to see a footballer serve jail time for an occurrence actually on the pitch, but that's just what happened to amateur player Mark Chapman of Long Lawford in 2010.
Chapman's horror tackle on Wheeltappers player Terry Johnson caused his opponent to break his leg in two places, effectively ending his football career and leading Johnson to require surgery and skin grafts. He was charged with grievous bodily harm and served a six-month jail sentence.
The footballer-turned-actor was part of Wimbledon's notorious "Crazy Gang," and sometimes the Juggernaut's brand of crazy got way out of hand.
Jones was charged with assault and actual bodily harm in 1998 after an incident in which he attacked his neighbor, Timothy Gear, and received a sentence of a £300 fine plus 100 hours community service.
After Jones' retirement from football, another outburst got him in trouble, this one in 2003 on a flight from London to Tokyo.
Jones attempted to threaten a passenger on his flight and fought back when the crew attempted to intervene, threatening to have them all killed and yelling:
"I can get you murdered, I can get the whole crew murdered for £3,000."
Jones was fined £1,100 and given 80 hours of community service for air rage.
The Danish midfielder was an imposing, fearsome and effective presence on the pitch, especially as part of a dynamic duo with the equally intimidating Thomas Gravesen. But Stig Tofting's hard-man persona led to some unfortunate altercations off the pitch as well.
Tofting, who reportedly had some connections with the Hells Angels, also had a rather nasty habit of turning a joyous celebration wrong. At a 2002 team celebration at Café Ketchup in Copenhagen, Tofting head-butted one member of staff and punched another, serving a four-month sentence on assault charges. Two years later, at an AGF Aarhus Christmas lunch,Tofting punched four players after someone ripped his shirt. That's one way to get put on the naughty list.
The Men Behind "The Fix" of 1964
Match-fixing scandals have been a rather unfortunate but no longer surprising part of the footballing world. In recent history, clubs and leagues all over the world have seen the dire consequences firsthand: the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 shook up Serie A and led to relegation for Juventus, while more recently, Turkish Süper Lig champions Fenerbahçe and now Finnish club Tampere United have been accused of shady dealings.
And then there was "The Fix" of 1964. Swindon Town's Jimmy Gauld (pictured) exposed a number of players involved in a match-fixing operation, among them Sheffield Wednesday's Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David Layne. Gauld served four years as one of the leaders of the operation; the rest served four months.
Danish international Jan Mølby was a fan favorite at the Kop during his 12 years as a central midfielder for Liverpool, but he had to take a bit of a hiatus when he served a three-month prison sentence for reckless driving during the 1988-1989 season.
The club and its fans stuck by Molby, however, and the "Great Dane" returned the favor by helping support the club in the traumatic days following the traumatic Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, attending as many of the victims' funerals as he could. He also was able to play a small role in the 1989-90 title-winning season for the Reds, and stayed with the club an additional six years.
What hasn't Maradona done? For a career as long, illustrious and thoroughly insane as the Argentine legend, there was bound to be a rap sheet hidden in there somewhere.
In 1994, the Hand of God found an air rifle and fired it at reporters near his Buenos Aires estate and was given a two-year, 10 month suspended sentence.
In 2009, it was discovered Maradona still owed the Italian government €37 million in back taxes he accrued while playing for Napoli, and among his assets seized by Italian police to cover the costs were a pair of €4,000 earrings.
With all the stories about guns-and-drugs-and-mayhem-related lechery usually leading to legal troubles in the footballing world, it's easy to forget that high-profile sports figures are also capable of committing white-collar crimes.
Managerial Svengali Guus Hiddink was convicted of tax fraud in 2007 while he was serving as the manager of the Russian national team. Hiddink had evaded more than €1.4 million in taxes by claiming (falsely) to be a resident of Belgium between 2002 and 2003, listing his home in Belgium as his primary address. The Dutch government didn't buy it.
His six-month jail sentence was suspended, but he did have to pay a €45,000 fine to the government.
The Brazilian international was a rising star at then-fledgling Campeonato Serie A club CA Juventus in the early '90s, helping the team reach the state's top division, for which they earned a sizable bonus. César tipped off some pals to the bonus and helped organize a heist. He was eventually caught (as you do when you buy cars with stolen cash) and sentenced to five years and four months in prison.
He was released in 1998, signed to São Caetano and after a string of transfers, mostly in the Brazilian league and Italian Serie A, even earned a cap for the Brazilian national team in 2001.
The defender known as "Mr. Arsenal" almost lost his career to alcohol abuse, culminating in 1990, when he crashed his car into a garden wall near his Southend-on-Sea home. After the crash, Adams was breathalyzed and his blood-alcohol levels were found to be 27 times the legal limit. He served two months of a four-month sentence for drunk driving in Chelmsford Prison.
Luckily, this one has a happy ending. Adams was able to seek professional help and overcome his struggles with alcoholism, even publishing an acclaimed memoir about his path to recovery, called Addicted. Arsene Wenger brought him back into the squad, and he served as Arsenal's captain for a pair of Premiership and FA Cup doubles.
The Arsenal and Fulham man has a list of offenses as impressive and varied as his defensive skills. A hard, physical player in every sense of the word, Peter Storey had one weakness, it seems: the ladies.
In addition to serving three years in his involvement in a gold-counterfeiting plot and a 28-day suspension for cursing out a traffic warden, Storey served a six-month suspended sentence and was slapped with a £700 fine (chump change for a footballer today, no?) when it was discovered he was helping run a brothel. He later served 28 days for smuggling imported pornographic videos that he hid in the spare tire of his car.
The well-documented incident which led the Manchester United legend to serve a 24-hour prison sentence (initially intended to be two weeks) also led to one of his most famous (infamous) speeches.
During a 1995 match between United and Crystal Palace, Eric Cantona was sent off after kicking Richard Shaw (who had been pulling on Cantona's kit). Before he entered the tunnel, Cantona launched a kung-fu kick into the crowd, hitting the face of Palace fan Matthew Simmons. A totally bizarre and thoroughly iconic press conference, rife with rhetoric about sardines and seagulls, followed.
Cantona was initially sentenced to two weeks in prison for the incident, but primarily due to fan outcry, the sentence was reduced to those first 24 hours and 120 hours of community service. Just goes to show how even after kicking someone in the face, the fans still love Eric Cantona.
When he first arrived at Hearts of Midlothian, right-back Craig Thomson was hailed as the next big thing, earning two consecutive Man of the Match honors on his debut appearances in a Europa League match against Dinamo Zagreb and later in an SPL draw with St. Johnstone. The 20-year-old was set to be a fixture at the club until this past summer, when he was fined £4,000 and placed on the sex offenders' registry for five years for "lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour" towards two girls, aged 12 and 14, on the Internet.
Hearts severed ties with the defender immediately following his conviction and loaned him to Lithuanian side FBK Kaunas, a club owned by Hearts' majority shareholder, Vladimir Romanov.
The itinerant defender and England international, best known for his stints at Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Derby County, struggled with alcoholism throughout his career and led him to a string of convictions and jail sentences.
The first two came early in his career, one for drunk driving and the other for removing his monitoring alcohol tag so he could join friends on holiday in the Costa del Sol. More trouble came in 2005, when he assaulted a woman in a taxi office after she made a joke about his career. He received a suspended sentence, a fine and community service for the incident, but after threatening a bouncer with a knife in 2006, he served an additional 12-month sentence for offending while on probation.
A fixture at West Bromwich Albion in the late 1990s, striker Lee Hughes was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 on the charges of death by dangerous driving.
According to testimonies, Hughes was driving his Mercedes CL500 on the wrong side of the road when it struck Albert Frisby's Renault head-on. Passenger Douglas Graham was killed, his wife Maureen was injured and Frisby began using a wheelchair after the crash.
Hughes struggled with the guilt of the incident while incarcerated, and focused his energy on redemptive activities, organizing a charity football match and raising £5,000 for a children's hospice. He was released from prison in August 2007 and began playing football again at Oldham Athletic, and later Blackpool and now Notts County.
The Queens Parks Rangers midfielder is a skilled player and a hard man if ever there was one, but his bad boy reputation often precedes him.
Barton's streak of volatile incidents began at a 2004 Manchester City Christmas party, when he stubbed out a lit cigar in teammate Jamie Tandy's eye. Barton said the incident was an accident and began when Tandy tried to light his shirt on fire. He was charged with gross misconduct and fined £60,000 by the club.
But the altercation that landed Barton in the big house came in 2008, when Barton attacked two people outside a McDonald's in Liverpool city centre. He served 74 days of a six-month sentence. While serving time for the incident, Barton also received a four-month suspension and £100,000 fine from Manchester City for an attack on teammate Ousmane Dabo, which led to head trauma and hospitalization for Dabo.
The Everton and Rangers striker known as "Big Dunc" and "Dunc and Disorderly" got into some seriously big trouble in 1994.
A formidable, competitive striker with a classic "hard man" image to boot, Ferguson was convicted on four charges of assault throughout his career: two occurred in altercations at taxi ranks, a third in a scuffle with a fisherman at a pub. But the last, a resonant head-butt on Raith Rovers player Jock McStay, was the one that earned Big Dunc a three-month prison sentence.
A legend of the game if ever there was one, Manchester United's George Best won admirers worldwide with his dazzling performances on the pitch, but he also gained notoriety for his penchant for excess off of it.
Best's struggles with alcoholism, a disease which would eventually, tragically consume him in 2005, were well-documented, and in 1984, he served two months of a 12-week prison sentence for drunk driving and assaulting an officer and was unable to make bail. He served his sentence in Ford Open Prison in West Sussex and made some appearances, naturally, for the prison's football side. Even behind bars, Best was still Best.
Fans have, no doubt, heard countless stories of professional athletes ending up with criminal convictions well into their careers, but in one case, a criminal conviction led to a footballing career.
In 1990, Jamie Lawrence was in the middle of serving a four-year prison sentence for a bank robbery, when Isle of Wight-based club Cowes Sports F.C. took interest in him after Lawrence impressed in performances for his prison team. While at Cowes, he in turn caught the eye of Sunderland manager Terry Butcher. Lawrence went on to have a successful footballing career, most notably at Bradford City, where he helped the Bantams achieve promotion into the Premiership.
Appropriately enough, Lawrence published a memoir in 2006 titled From Prison to the Premiership, which sounds a little like it could be a Lifetime Original Movie.
The Georgian international was best known for his stints at Dinamo Tbilisi, Dyanamo Kyiv and Alania Vladivavkaz, becoming the top goal-scorer in the Russian Premier League in 1999 with the latter.
In 2010, toward the end of his career and now with Spartaki-Tshkinvali Tbilisi, he was arrested by Georgian law enforcement on extortion charges, stemming from shakedowns of people who had lost in illegal sports gambling. He was convicted in March of 2011 and sentenced to six years in prison.
Tunisian international Nizar Trabelsi was off to a promising start playing for German side Fortuna Düsseldorf, but all that changed when he got involved with the world's most notorious terrorist group.
He was arrested in 2001, just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, for his involvement with al-Qaeda and his implications in a planned attack on a Belgian air base. He was also implicated in the thwarted 2001 Paris embassy attack and has been named in reports as the planned designated bomber and allegedly had a role in the making of the bomb. Trabelsi is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in France for plotting to blow up Kleine Brogel air base in Belgium, which was housing American soldiers at the time.
The Colombian international was arguably one of the most talented, exciting goalkeepers to ever play the game, winning fans worldwide with his gravity-defying "scorpion kick."
But Higuita experienced a bout with notoriety alongside his fame, his success tainted by his relationship with drug lord Pablo Escobar, a patron of football in Higuita's hometown of Medellín. In 1993, Higuita served a seven-month jail sentence for profiting from and working as an accessory to a kidnapping. The 2010 documentary The Two Escobars provides some insight into the incident and Higuita's interactions with Pablo Escobar.
A brilliant striker with a lot of promise after a cracking breakout season at Watford, fame and excess quickly caught up with the itinerant Marlon King. A string of serious offenses followed, which have since eclipsed his successes on the pitch.
Over the course of his career, King has been charged with 14 offenses, the first of which came in 1997 while at Dulwich Hamlet when he wounded an opposing player, fracturing his cheekbone with a head-butt and a punch. He was sentenced to 80 hours of community service and had to pay a fine.
He has served jail time for two of these convictions. The first sentence came in 2002, when he served nine months of an 18-month sentence for receiving stolen goods when he was caught driving an illegally-procured £30,000 BMW. Six years later, he was convicted of sexual assault and bodily harm after he attacked a female university student at a nightclub in Soho. He was released from prison in 2010 and returned to football and he will spend seven years on the sex offenders' registry.
Perhaps even more surprising than his rap sheet is the fact that the guy is still playing. He scored his first goal for Birmingham City earlier this month.
Former Millwall striker Gavin Grant, at Bradford City at the time of his conviction, began serving a prison sentence in 2010 after being charged with the 2004 murder of 21-year-old Leon Labastide in a north-west London housing estate. Grant and his accomplices, Gareth Downie and Damian Williams, are serving life sentences but will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Grant and his friends went after Labastide in retaliation for a burglary the victim reportedly had a role in.
In 2007, Grant was cleared of another murder charge in the 2002 shooting death of 22-year-old Jahmall Moore.