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Ben Hayward

Footballers who went to prison

Dani Alves in action for Brazil at the 2022 World Cup.

Life away from football should be comfortable for the top players, but that is not always the case.

Many elite footballers do not know how to replace the thrill and adrenaline of playing professionally and some fall into bad habits.

That can lead to poor investments, ill-advised and risky pursuits, addiction and sometimes, even criminal activity.

Here, a look at some of the more famous footballers who ended up in prison – either during or after their careers – and how they got there...

33. Adam Chapman

Adam Chapman of Oxford United makes a point to referee Mark Brown in a game against Northampton Town in April 2012. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Adam Chapman was at Sheffield United as a youth player and the striker represented Northern Ireland at Under-21 level.

But during a spell at Oxford United, he caused the death of another man through reckless driving and was sentenced to 30 months in a Young Offenders institute. On his release from prison, he rejoined Oxford until the end of the 2011/12 season.

32. Gavin Grant

Wycombe Wanderers' Gavin Grant (right) chases Birmingham City's David Murphy in a Carling Cup clash in August 2008. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Gavin Grant played as a winger or a striker for the likes of Gillingham, Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers and Bradford City between 2005 and 2010.

But Grant was hiding a dark secret. Cleared of killing one man, he was convicted of the murder of another in a crime which took place in 2004. He received a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 25 years in prison.

31. Marlon King

Marlon King in action for Birmingham City. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Marlon King played in the Premier League for Watford, Wigan and Hull City and represented Jamaica at international level.

King has served three prison sentences: the first for receiving stolen goods in relation to a BMW convertible he was driving; the second for sexual assault and causing actual bodily harm after groping a university student and punching her in the face when she rejected him; and the third for a hit-and-run driving incident which left a man injured.

30. Tomas Repka

Tomas Repka on the ball for West Ham in the 2005/06 season. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Tomas Repka was capped 46 times by the Czech Republic between 1994 and 2001 and had spells at Banik Ostrava, Sparta Prague, Fiorentina and West Ham at club level.

Repka was sentenced to 15 months in jail for fraud in 2019 for selling a luxury car he did not own. Later, he was also sentenced to nine months in jail as two previous suspended sentences for drink driving were converted into jail terms due to his other convictions.

29. Fabrizio Miccoli

Fabrizio Miccoli looks dejected in a match for Palermo. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Fabrizio Miccoli played for some of Italy's top clubs, including Juventus and Fiorentina, and also had a spell at Benfica in the 2000s.

The striker, who won 10 caps for Italy and scored two goals, was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for Mafia-aggravated extortion. It was confirmed on appeal and he went to jail in 2020, but was released in May 2022 after agreeing to do community service for the remainder of his sentence.

28. Gary Charles

Gary Charles in action for Nottingham Forest. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Gary Charles played for Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Aston Villa in the 1990s and won two caps for England in 1991.

Best remembered for being on the wrong end of Paul Gascoigne's reckless lunge in the 1991 FA Cup final, Charles had problems with alcohol. He was charged with drink driving, then got in trouble for removing an electronic tag to go on holiday. Following an assault charge, he was told another offence could land him in prison and was finally handed a 12-month sentence in 2012 after threatening a bouncer.

27. Ched Evans

Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Ched Evans started his career at Manchester City but played his best football for Sheffield United between 2009 and 2012 and won 11 caps for Wales in that time.

But the striker's life was turned upside down after he was convicted for rape in 2012. Maintaining his innocence, Evans served half of his five-year sentence and was later acquitted. He resumed his playing career in 2016. 

26. Graham Rix

Graham Rix in action for England against France at the 1982 World Cup. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Graham Rix played 464 games for Arsenal between 1975 and 1988 and the midfielder was capped 17 times by England.

Later, he worked as a youth team coach at Chelsea and in 1999, he was convicted of having underage sex with a 15-year-old girl. Rix was sentenced to 12 months in prison and served six.

25. Stig Tofting

Stig Tofting in action for Denmark. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Stog Tofting joined Bolton Wanderers from Hamburg in 2002 and secured a place in the Denmark squad for the World Cup in Japan and Korea that year.

But in a celebration with his international team-mates after the tournament, Tofting headbutted the owner of a café in Copenhagen and was jailed for four months.

24. Tony Vairelles

Tony Vairelles in action for Lyon against Ajax in the Champions League in September 2002. (Image credit: Alamy)

Tony Vairelles won eight caps for France between 1998 and 2000 and played as a forward for a number of French teams – including Nancy, Lens and Lyon.

Shortly after his retirement in 2011, Vairelles and three of his brothers were held in pre-trial detention in Nancy after a shooting in a nightclub. He was later charged with attempted murder and was eventually sentenced to three years in prison for his part in the attack.

23. Peter Swan

Peter Swan at Sheffield Wednesday in 1959. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Peter Swan was one of the best defenders in England in the early 1960s and was capped 19 times for his country before he was banned for eight years for his involvement in a betting scandal.

Swan was one of three Sheffield Wednesday players found to have bet on the Owls losing their last match of the 1961/62 season to Ipswich Town. Although he claimed they lost "fair and square", he received a life ban when the scandal was uncovered (which was lifted in 1972). He also spent four months in prison and missed out on England's World Cup win in 1966.

22. Peter Storey

Peter Storey in action for Arsenal against Everton circa 1970. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Peter Storey won a league and cup double with Arsenal in 1970/71 and played 19 times for England between 1971 and 1973.

A full-back or defensive midfielder, Storey was sentenced to three years in prison in 1980 after financing a plot to forge gold coins. A decade after that, he was given another 28 days in jail for attempting to import pornographic videos.

21. Lee Hughes

Lee Hughes celebrates a goal for Coventry City against Stockport County in 2001. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Best known for his two spells at West Bromwich Albion either side of a season at Coventry City, Lee Hughes played for numerous clubs in a long career.

In 2004, Hughes crashed his Mercedes into another car, killing the driver of the other vehicle. He was convicted of death by dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2007 after serving three years.

20. Mickey Thomas

Wrexham goalscorers Steve Watkin and Mickey Thomas celebrate after their FA Cup win over Arsenal in January 1992. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Mickey Thomas spent six years at Wrexham at the beginning of his career, before going on to play for the likes of Manchester United, Everton and Brighton.

Capped 51 times by Wales, the winger got involved in a counterfeit currency scam in his second spell at Wrexham in the early 1990s, which saw him launder money through the club's trainees. He was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

19. Nizar Trabelsi

Nizar Trabelsi in action for Tunisian team Sfax in 1989. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Nizar Trabelsi is a former professional footballer from Tunisia who played one season for Fortuna Dusseldorf – but that's not what he is famous for.

Trabelsi made only one appearance for the German club and scored one goal. Shortly after that match, he was arrested for having connections to Al-Qaeda and convicted of plotting an attack against American soldiers stationed at a Belgian airbase. Also suspected of plotting the Paris Embassy Terrorist Plot, it was alleged that he was due to be the suicide bomber who would carry out the attack. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003.

18. Jermaine Pennant

Jermaine Pennant in action for England's Under-21 side against Switzerland in 2002. (Image credit: Getty Images)

A talented winger who represented England at Under-21 level and played for Arsenal and Liverpool among a host of clubs, Jermaine Pennant's career was blighted by controversy.

During his time at Birmingham City, Pennant pleaded guilty to drink-driving and driving while disqualified, and was sentenced to 90 days in prison. He was released after 30 days on parole and returned to action, but had to wear an electronic tag at all times, including while on the pitch. During a spell in Spain in 2011, his Porsche was found abandoned in Zaragoza with 11 parking tickets. According to reports at the time, he had forgotten he owned the car.

17. Bruno Fernandes de Souza

Bruno Fernandes de Souza presented as a new BOA Esporte player at a press conference in 2017. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Bruno Fernandes de Souza enjoyed a successful spell with Flamengo, winning the Brazilian championship among other titles, and attracted interest from AC Milan.

But the goalkeeper was charged with the assault, torture and murder of his extramarital girlfriend and the mother of his youngest child. Found guilty of ordering her murder, hiding the body and kidnapping his baby son, Bruno was sentenced to 22 years in jail in 2013. He was released in 2017, imprisoned again later that year and then allowed to serve partial arrest and resume his career in 2019.

16. Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson in action for Sunderland. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Adam Johnson played for Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Sunderland as a midfielder in the 2000s and 2010s and won 12 caps for England between 2010 and 2012.

In 2016, Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison for grooming and sexual activity with a girl aged 15. He served three years and was released in 2016.

15. Freddy Rincon

Freddy Rincon on the ball for Colombia up against England and Graeme Le Saux at the 1998 World Cup. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Freddy Rincon is one of the most emblematic players from Colombia's memorable generation of footballers in the 1990s.

The former Napoli, Palmeiras and Real Madrid midfielder was jailed in Brazil and wanted in Panama for drug-related charges in 2015, but escaped extradition to the Central American nation. He passed away in 2022.

14. Omar Ortiz

Jaguares de Chiapas goalkeeper Omar Ortiz puts on a mask to celebrate a goal against Pumas in 2006. (Image credit: Alamy)

One of the best Mexican goalkeepers of his generation, Omar Ortiz played for Monterrey, Jaguares de Chiapas and Necaxa – and won one cap for his national team.

Banned from playing for two years after consuming illegal substances, Ortiz was later found guilty of being involved in at least three kidnappings and was sentenced to 75 years in prison in 2019.

13. Breno

Breno at Bayern Munich in January 2012. (Image credit: Getty Images)

A talented defender who represented Brazil at Under-23 level, Breno moved from Sao Paulo to Bayern Munich in 2008.

But the centre-back made just 33 appearances for the Bavarians in a difficult spell and was jailed for 13 months after burning down his Munich villa. Later, he was given a coaching job by Bayern and played football with several clubs back in his homeland.

12. Ian Wright

Ian Wright celebrates a goal for Arsenal against West Ham in 1997. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Ian Wright is a legend at Arsenal, where he scored 185 goals, and the former England striker has become a popular pundit since his retirement from football in 2000.

Wright owned two cars early in his career and spent 32 days in prison for failing to pay tax or insurance on the vehicles. He has said that during his time inside, he vowed to make it as a player.

11. Duncan Ferguson

Duncan Ferguson in action for Rangers against Kilmarnock in April 1994. (Image credit: Getty Images)

A cult hero at Everton where he spent two spells either side of a short stint at Newcastle United, Duncan Ferguson was a powerful centre-forward who was known as much for his aggression as his goals.

Off the pitch, the Scottish striker was hit with four assault charges, but the one which brought a prison sentence happened on the field itself. Playing for Rangers in 1994, Ferguson headbutted Raith Rovers defender John McStay and was sentenced to three months in prison.

10. Ruben Semedo

Ruben Semedo at Villarreal. (Image credit: Getty Images)

A former Portuguese international who has played for Sporting CP, Villarreal, Olympiacos and later moved to Qatar, Ruben Semedo is best known for controversies off the pitch.

Semedo was arrested in Spain for allegedly tying up and torturing a man in his home alongside two others, then going to the victim's house to burgle it. Released in July 2018, he pleaded guilty to kidnap, robbery, wounding and illegal firearm possession and was fined €46,000. During his time in Greece in 2021, he was arrested following an accusation of gang rape filed by a 17-year-old, but was released after paying a €10,000 bond.

9. Edmundo

Edmundo in action for Brazil. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Edmundo was known as O Animal and the former Brazil forward never seemed to spend very long at any of his clubs in a colourful and often controversial career.

The ex-Vasco da Gama, Fiorentina and Flamengo attacker was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in 1999 after being involved in a fatal traffic accident, but spent only one night behind bars.

8. Joey Barton

Joey Barton in action for QPR against Newcastle in 2011. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Joey Barton was one of football's more violent players on the pitch and off it, the former midfielder also had problems controlling his temper.

Barton was convicted of assault and served 77 days in prison in 2008 after driving his car into a pedestrian in Liverpool. While inside, he also received a four-month suspended sentence after admitting assault occasioning actual body harm against former Manchester City team-mate Ousame Dobo. 

7. George Best

George Best in action for Manchester United against Leeds in 1969. (Image credit: Getty Images)

George Best's career was as colourful as it was controversial and it would be surprising if the Northern Irish legend hadn't spent time in jail at some point.

Best's problems with alcohol were well documented and the brilliant former Manchester United attacker received a three-month prison sentence in 1984 for drink driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail.

6. Jan Molby

Jan Molby of Liverpool runs with the ball in a game against Leeds United in April 1991. (Image credit: Getty Images)

A fan favourite at Liverpool in the 1980s and early 1990s, Jan Molby made 281 appearances for the Reds, winning three league titles and two FA Cups.

The former Denmark midfielder missed three months of the 1988/89 season after he was imprisoned for reckless driving, having crashed his car outside a Liverpool nightclub.

5. Tony Adams

Tony Adams in action for Arsenal against Liverpool in 1987. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Tony Adams is a legend at Arsenal, where he spent his entire club career, and the former England centre-back was an inspirational captain for the Gunners.

But off the pitch, he fought his demons and took time out to recover from alcohol addiction. In May 1990, Adams crashed his car into a wall and was found to be 27 times over the legal limit. He was sentenced to four months in jail that December, but was released in February.

4. Robinho

Robinho in action for Brazil. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Robinho's career never quite lived up to its enormous potential – despite some good moments at Santos, Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan.

The former Brazil forward was accused of gang raping an Albanian woman in Italy in 2013 and was finally sentenced to nine years in prison in his homeland in March 2024.

3. Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho celebrates a goal for Barcelona against Athletic Club in 2006. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Even though his peak did not last too long, Ronaldinho is considered one of the greatest players of all time.

A World Cup winner with Brazil and an icon at Barcelona, the legendary number 10 went to prison in Paraguay for the alleged use of a fake Paraguayan passport in March 2020. He spent almost six months behind bars.

2. Rene Higuita

Rene Higuita in action for Colombia against Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Rene Higuita is best known for his famous "scorpion" save against England and for changing the position of goalkeeper in the 1990s – coming out of his area and even scoring goals.

But in 1993, Higuita was caught up in a kidnapping case involving drug baron Pablo Escobar. The goalkeeper handed over the ransom money in the release of an 11-year-old girl and went to jail because he profited from his action. He spent seven months in prison and was later released without charge.

1. Dani Alves

Dani Alves celebrates after scoring for Barcelona against Athletic Club in November 2009. (Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the best right-backs in the history of the game, Dani Alves won it all at Barcelona and was football's most decorated player by the end of his playing career.

But that career was cut short due to accusations of rape in December 2022 and the Brazilian was convicted to four years and six months in prison. He was released in March 2024 after paying €1 million in bail, having spent 14 months inside.

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