By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
12 September 2011
Garry O’Connor, a Scotland striker who played for Birmingham City in the Premier League, failed a drugs test for cocaine while at the club and served a secret ban as he sought and received help for drink and drug problems, Sportingintelligence can reveal.
His identity was kept secret under the terms of the anti-doping discipline process and because it was deemed that he should be given the best chance to battle his demons without the glare of publicity, sources say.
Birmingham are understood to have been praised for the pastoral care of their player at the time, and the relevant authorities and agencies, including the FA and Sporting Chance clinic, are believed to have agreed with how the case was handled. Sportingintelligence has not confirmed the length of ban O’Connor served but the UK Anti-Doping database contains details of a two-month ban for a metabolite of cocaine around the relevant time, with no name give for the offender.
O’Connor, 28, is expected to be named by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Monday night as a multi-million pound player who transferred clubs without his new club knowing about his drugs past.
O’Connor has, in the past, commanded fees of millions of pounds, for example when sold by Hibs to Lokomotiv Moscow in 2006 for £1.6m, and then when sold for a reported £2.7m to Birmingham in 2007.
But since his drugs test – which sources say was in the 2009-10 Premier League season, when O’Connor missed the majority of the season with a hip problem – the player has not changed hands for any money. He spent time on loan at Barnsley and then moved to Hibs as a free agent this summer.
Sources tell Sportingintelligence that Hibernian have been contacted by Dispatches in recent days to ask if they knew O’Connor had a failed drugs test and ban on his CV. Hibs are not commenting for the moment. The player himself is not expected to speak about his situation until after the morning after the programme at the earliest. He was arrested in May in Edinburgh on suspicion of possessing cocaine and faces legal action.
Positive drugs tests in English professional football are not uncommon, with cocaine and dope the most frequently discovered substances, as we reported in April 2010. The vast majority of cases are discovered in young teenage players, who are often banned but then assisted with education and / or rehab programmes to mend their ways. Mostly their identities are never revealed because either they don’t re-offend, or they do and are forced out of the game entirely.
Dispatches is sure to foster debate about the best way to handle players who test positive for social drugs. The FA insist privately that treatment is as significant a part of the process as punishment, especially when most players caught are teenagers making a first ‘mistake’.
O’Connor is understood to have sought help for his problems over a number of years and is continuing to receive assistance as he looks towards recovery.