It is that time of year again: Christmas party season.  The Christmas holidays are just around the corner and the cocktail of collective excitement, free food and a night out at the company’s expense often leads to people making decisions that they may later come to regret.

Yet the after-effects of the Christmas party can sadly be more serious than the following day’s hangover, or the feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness that accompany one’s performance on the dancefloor.  There are stories every year of employees overstepping the boundary at parties and behaving in a manner that is later met with disciplinary action.

In a world where football players are often presented as living charmed lives, far-removed and protected from the quotidian drudgery experienced by the majority of the population, the Christmas party has historically represented an opportunity for players to bond and to let off steam in the middle of a period where, at the top level, the games come thick and fast.  It is therefore unsurprising that the Christmas party has also proved perilous for a number of football players over the years, with fines, disciplinary action and controversy a relatively common occurrence.

  • In 2009, then Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp prohibited his players from having a Christmas party, stating that the players “would never take the liberty” of holding one without his permission. However, Redknapp would be proved wrong.  16 of his players were reported to have hired a private jet and travelled to Dublin for a night on the town, after having told their manager that the purpose of the trip was to play golf.  Upon Redknapp finding out about this piece of subterfuge, the players involved were each fined £20,000, such sums being contributed to the club’s charity foundation.  It was reported that, while the players considered that they had done nothing in breach of the club rulebook, they accepted that they should have perhaps been more honest with their manager.
  • In 1998, then West Ham duo Neil “Razor” Ruddock and “Tricky” Trevor Sinclair were both charged by police following the West Ham Christmas party. Ruddock was alleged to have thrown a bottle at a car (a Mini, to be specific), while Sinclair was also accused of causing damage to the vehicle.  Ruddock was charged with affray while Sinclair was charged with criminal damage.  Ruddock was later acquitted as a result of conflicting evidence while Sinclair was fined £250 and forced to pay £225 by way of compensation.
  • In 2001, Leeds United’s Christmas party was reported to involve a Wild-West themed fancy dress pub crawl. It ended with newly signed striker Robbie Fowler being arrested after an alleged melee involving a photographer. Fowler was later released without charge and Leeds United’s then Chairman, Peter Ridsdale, stated that: “I am satisfied he was a completely innocent party to whatever took place, therefore the club will be taking no action.”
  • In 2004, Joey Barton was handed a fine of six weeks’ wages after being found guilty of gross misconduct following an internal investigation into an incident at a Christmas party where he was alleged to have stubbed a lit cigar into the eye of team-mate Jamie Tandy.

The experiences of those outlined above are a salutary lesson for those indulging in festive revelry: overindulgence at the annual Christmas party is not the sole preserve of non-footballers.

It is now commonplace for employers across the land to provide clear advance written guidance to their employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events such as the Christmas party, as well as the disciplinary sanctions that may flow from any inappropriate behaviour.  Employers may also seek to engage a number of managers to monitor the activities of staff at the party, moderate their behaviour where necessary and to protect them from harassment from third parties (or one another).

Football clubs are no different.  In the incident involving Robbie Fowler noted above, Leeds United were reported to have engaged a team of security guards to accompany the players to ensure that they were hassled as little as possible by members of the general public.  In the case involving the Tottenham players, Redknapp stated that I’ve always made it clear players should only drink in moderation”.

Yet employees (and players) are only human.  Humans make mistakes.  Whatever the safeguards that are put in place, it is always likely that someone will be the talking point in the canteen the next day…