EMPICS Sport Richie Sadlier pictured playing at the World Youth Championships in 1999.

'I wasn’t brought up with any education in this area... Sex was rarely discussed'

In an extract from his award-winning book ‘Recovering,’ Richie Sadlier discusses the culture that existed among footballers as he was coming through the ranks.

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from ’Recovering’ by Richie Sadlier.

I had no idea what was involved in hosting a housewarming. I had just bought a townhouse, a three-storey terraced home half a mile from Millwall’s training ground in Bromley. It had four bedrooms and the plan from the first time I saw it was to fill those rooms with visitors from Dublin. I was delighted with it. I’d saved for the deposit and secured the mortgage myself by the age of 19.

It needed work, but there would be plenty of time for that. I didn’t know much about home ownership, I just knew you threw a party when you bought one. I figured that, once there was enough alcohol and some decent CDs, my job was done.

We were short of glasses so my mates from Dublin went to the pub to nick some. There
was no place for Champagne or charcuterie boards at this party. We were all set with crates of Stella and the odd bag of peanuts.

Apart from my Irish mates, most people there were older than me. And since most of my mates in London were Millwall players themselves, a lot of the squad were at the house that night.

Once the pubs closed, the house all of a sudden became packed. There were plenty of people there I had never met before, but that didn’t matter to me in the slightest. A party is nothing without guests, so the more the merrier.

I walked up the stairs and saw a couple of lads outside the toilet.

‘Alright, lads, everything OK?’

‘Yeah, Sads, great party, mate.’

‘Cheers. How long have you been waiting to get in there?’

‘We can wait all night, mate.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Seb is in there with a girl. She told us it’s our turn next. She’s up for it.’

I nodded as if this was nothing I hadn’t experienced before, even if it was nothing like anything I’d experienced before.

Was this an English thing? A football thing? Or was the party now out of control?

I thought it might be a combination of all three. Certainly, I felt the difference between Ireland and England may well have been as vast as the difference between the real world and the football world. Especially as I had no experience of the real world.

As the night went on, the stories kept coming about what various men and this woman were doing together. It was like keeping track of contestants’ behaviour over a series of Love Island, except it was all playing out in one night, in my home. Every hour or so, a new name would be mentioned.

‘She’s in a room with Lefty now.’

‘I think Alec was involved in some way.’

‘I just shagged Jeff in your bedroom, Sads. Hope you don’t mind.’

From a distance of 20 years and with a new perspective, I’m not going to wag my finger at the people involved, or even at my younger self.

England was a very different place from Ireland. If sex was something people were ashamed of in Ireland — and we’ve seen how well that worked out — in England men and women were more comfortable in saying what they wanted. The woman at my housewarming party was entirely happy and comfortable with how the night unfolded.

soccer-nationwide-league-division-one-stoke-city-v-millwall Neal Simpson Richie Sadlier pictured during his Millwall days. Neal Simpson

I wasn’t brought up with any education in this area, nor were any of my Irish mates. Sex was rarely discussed, and when it was, the idea that a woman could enjoy sex or speak about it comfortably would have been used against her.

Women taking agency in this area wasn’t presented as a positive. In most cases, it would be cited as a reason to keep your distance. As far as we were led to believe in Ireland in the ’90s, a woman who enjoyed sex had baggage, whereas arguably, she may have had less baggage than the rest of us put together.

In the classes I have taught on sexual health in the last few years, one of my primary tasks is to remove shame from the equation at the outset.

I grew up in a world that said guilt and regret should follow almost any sexual encounter. If we are going to have honest conversations about what sex and consent involve, we’ll have to embrace the idea that men and women both enjoy sex. The shame we bring to these conversations is useful to nobody.

But during that housewarming party, I genuinely didn’t have a clue what I was meant to think. Everyone left the house having had a good time, but it did feel like throwing a party while your parents were away and realising pretty quickly you weren’t the one in charge. If this had happened in a house in Dublin, I’m sure I would have considered it extreme, but in my new environment, nothing seemed off limits. The abnormal, especially when it came to sex, was entirely normal.

It was in this world that I would learn about sex and, more important, relationships, which wasn’t always healthy. Sex was transactional, approached by women and men with the same disconnection.

The culture was one of instant gratification. You didn’t work on relationships, building trust over time before being intimate. Within hours of meeting one another, sex was on the cards. And women, just as much as men, were the ones proposing it. Safe sex or monogamy didn’t seem important to many people either. I have no trouble
understanding now why I became so cynical and untrusting about relationships, or why I became adamant I would never be so foolish as to ever get married.

Recovering by Richie Sadlier, with Dion Fanning is published by Gill Books (€24.99)

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