When we think of doping or steroids we think of Usain Bolt, Lance Armstrong, Chinese Swimmers, US sprinters, Body builders and the Russian Olympics teams, the beautiful game would never countenance such disgusting behaviour.
In 1954, Germany amazingly won the World Cup and it is highly likely they were given the WWII drug pervitin, a stimulant. The great Inter Milan team of the 1960s dominated Europe admitted to taking pills, diluted in their coffee.
In the 1980s a notorious Soviet doping Doctor worked with the Algerian football team (and track athletes) with terrible consequences, Toni Schumacher was open about doping in German football with their “strength chemistry”, team-mate Paul Breitner likewise admitted the Bundesliga was rotten with it.
In the 90s we had Tapie’s Marseille making sure that what worked with his cycling teams worked with football too, the drug-fueled Juve renaissance and suspicions remain over a French doctor that Glenn Hoddle brought into the English camp, which is a far more worrying scenario than Eileen Drewery.
Before the turn of the millennium, PEDs were the best part of 100 years in use, from the amphetamine-like stimulants Arsenal players took in the 1920’s to the same “pep” pills Stanley Matthews used in an FA Cup game in 1946 that left him pacing “his room frenetically all night”, all the way to the arrival in Europe of newly freed “sports science experts” who were signed up by football clubs and clinics. I got 1st hand experience of this “knowledge” in 1997.
Back from Canada and making a move from football back into boxing, I went to Germany to pick up a few fights and bits of work. It was interesting to get into a new language, and culture, and I enjoyed every minute of it. In December I was invited by a Bundesliga club to join them in a training camp in Southern Germany, or so I understood, it actually was in Austria.
I flew to Munich, was picked up and after a stop in Salzburg, we continued on to our training base in Obertauern. Obertauern was the Centre of Excellence for Austrian Sports and lots of athletes, skiers and tennis players trained there. It was a decent spot and we were to be worked like dogs for a week.
My idea was to get in peak condition and return to get a contract with the club and win an Irish title. My time was going to be cut short.
Not great with my German, I had everything explained by a kindly Ukrainian Super Heavy. Ruslan guided me through the first couple of days with the fitness tests, blood tests and different exams we’d to undergo. On the third day a balding man came into our common room and began to speak. Ruslan was told by one of our “Ossi” team-mates that we were in for it.
The man came to me last – as I was the lightest of the bunch – and spoke with me in functional English. I was to drop back down to flyweight (51kgs) and he’d give me a program to strengthen me up. Honestly, I was thrilled. He believed in me and told me that he’d make me faster and stronger.
On day four we were all to begin our programs, it was injection time. I stopped dead in my tracks and asked what we were being given. “Vitamins, minerals and what you’ll lose in training.” I refused to take anything until I knew what it was exactly. The team manager roared, the balding man smiled like a friendly uncle and, I think, told them to leave me go.
I completed the three sessions that day and in the evening at tea was told they were not going to sign me. Cutting my nose off to spite my face I packed my sweaty gear into my too full bag and left.
Like an eejit I headed off down the mountain in the general direction of Salzburg with poor Ruslan walking with me in his shorts and slippers, after half a mile of pleading he turned back. A few kilometres later I was lucky to get a lift from a van driver who pointed out where Hitler’s Berchtesgaden was off to our left. I don’t even remember if it was there to be seen in the dark or not. I got a train the next morning to Munich and flew home. I was totally demoralised and that I returned to Germany at all still has a question mark in my memory.
In January 1998, I’d given my story to a University publication – as a tale of adventure – and never knew what I’d been involved in. A year later I was working with Eintracht and having coffee with our then manager Jorg Berger. I related the story to him and he recognised the man right away.
It was later explained to me by a smiling Jorg that the uncle who had me kicked out of the camp was Bernd Pansold and that I’d a lucky escape. The man I met in Austria was an architect of one of the great crimes against humanity in helping construct the East German doping project. Jorg crossed swords with him in the former DDR and described him as “pure evil”. He’d been convicted and fined for his role in systematic doping in East Germany and ended up in Austria along with other comrades.
Jorg told me of players he’d dealt with who were trained by the man in the East and back then, in 1999, still trained by him. Ten years after his conviction he was hired by Red Bull’s Performance Centre and the is “go to guy” for skiers and athletes of all types, including US golden girl Lindsey Vonn and four-time Formula 1 Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Pansold oversees the training regimes for the Red Bull family, from the New York Red Bulls to Red Bull Salzburg to Red Bull Brasil to RB Leipzig and Red Bull Ghana in football, and their motorsport and ice hockey groups. The growth into football was overseen by two notables, former runner and PR man Olli Mintzlaff and former Liverpool boss, Gerard Houllier. Has there been a reaction to this or comment in our media? Not a chance.
How can we continue to ignore the Hippo in the room? Easy, it’s not our problem and it’s never our guys doing it. Not in our sport, our club, our country. Never those we work with and never those we admire. We just don’t need to know.