Footballers Who Have Been to Prison: The Dark Side of Football

Footballers Who Have Been to Prison: The Dark Side of Football

Being a professional sportsperson, regardless of how famous (or good) you are, doesn’t automatically exempt you from making poor judgement calls.

And while in the world of football, there’s rarely a moment free of controversy and scandal, some players have gotten into more serious trouble than others– like footballers who have been to prison. 

If you’re wondering who made our list and why they ended up behind bars, read on.

10 Footballers Who Went to Prison 

Mason Greenwood

The Machester United striker’s career was put on hold in January 2022 when the professional footballer was arrested on suspicion of rape, assault, and making threats to kill. His arrest came after his accuser shared photographs and audio online detailing her claims. 

Greenwood spent three days in police custody, after which he was released on bail. 

Following the allegations, the young football star said he would not play for the team until the legal proceedings are over, Nike suspended its sponsorship deals with him, and TeamViewer (United’s shirt sponsor) said it will closely monitor the developments regarding his case. 

Greenwood recently made an appearance in court and further extended his bail. The maximum sentence he can face is a lifetime in prison.

Benjamin Mendy

In August of that year, the professional French player was charged with one count of sexual assault and four counts of rape relating to alleged offences against two women and one 17-year-old girl. Later that year, he faced two more counts of rape. 

Mendy denied all allegations against him and was granted bail on January 22, after having unsuccessfully applied for bail three times since his arrest.

In June 2022, a new alleged victim came forward, adding one more count of rape against the French national.

In the meantime, the 27-year-old served prison time in the HMP Altcourse prison located in Liverpool and spent some time in HMP Manchester or Strangeways, where he was transferred due to security reasons.

Ian Wright

Arsenal’s second-highest scorer (to this day) and one of the best-retired players, who currently works as a BBC Sport and ITV Sport pundit, is one of the footballers who went to jail before lifting the Premier League title. 

Wright was arrested when he was only 19 years old, in 1982, for failing to pay taxes for his two cars and insurance. He ended up spending two weeks in Chelmsford Prison.

In an interview with Red magazine, the former Premier League star said that the jail sentence encouraged him to seriously reconsider his behaviour and changed his life for the better.

Related: Most decorated football players

Marlon King  

The Jamaican footballer has gotten in trouble with the law on multiple occasions.

He has received a rehabilitation order, community service sentences, driving bans, fines, and orders to pay compensation for convictions on criminal damage, fraudulent use of vehicle licence, speeding, driving without insurance, theft (from a car and a person), drunk driving, and driving without insurance. 

So far, King has served three prison sentences.

The English footballer was sacked from Wigan Athletics after being jailed for assaulting a woman who rejected his advances in a Soho bar in 2008 and spent 18 months in prison. He also served five months in prison in 2002 for stealing a £30,000 BMW.

In 2013, King was sentenced to another 18 months after a hit-and-run accident that left a motorist with a broken arm. 

After his release from prison, the footballer moved to Zambia. 

Lee Hughes 

The Stourport Swifts striker was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 after being found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving

His trial at Coventry crown court lasted only six days, and the jury took only 90 minutes to deliver a verdict.

The case stemmed from an accident that took place in November 2003 near his home. The then 28-year-old was driving his four friends home after visiting two pubs when Hughes ploughed his supercharged Mercedes coupe into another car, killing a father of four and fleeing the scene on foot.

He was eventually released on parole and ended up spending only 3 years behind bars.

Hughes had previously pleaded guilty to not reporting an accident and failing to stop after an accident.

Joey Barton

Barton, who currently works as the manager of the Bristol Rovers, is one of the most popular footballers who has served in prison as his private life has been marked by numerous disciplinary incidents and controversies

The Football Association has charged him with violent conduct three times: for attacking three players in the 2011-2012 season, for punching Morten Gamst Pedersen in the stomach, and for assaulting Ousmane Dabo at Manchester City in 2008 during a training-ground dispute and causing him actual bodily harm.

The assault on Dabo earned him a six-month ban by the Football Association and a four-month suspended jail sentence, which effectively ended his career at the club.

That same year, Barton was sentenced to six months in prison for affray and common assault after CCTV footage showed he punched a man 20 times in Liverpool city centre in 2007, which caused him to lose consciousness.

The footballer served 74 days of his prison term before he was released.

Tony Adams

Adams, who spent his entire career playing as a centre-back for one of the best London clubs, Arsenal, spent 58 days behind bars in Chelmsford prison back in 1990 after crashing his Ford Sierra into a wall in Rayleigh while driving four times the legal drink-drive limit

He was sentenced to four months in prison following that incident after being found guilty of driving under the influence. Adams ended up serving only half of his sentence.

In addition to being one of the footballers who had spent time in jail and prison, Adams is also one of the most high-profile recovering alcoholics in the UK

He has written a book about his battle with alcohol addiction and started a charity, the Sporting Chance Clinic, that provides counselling, treatment, and support for sportsmen and women that suffer from similar addictions. 

The former Arsenal captain has said that spending time in prison did not divert him away from alcohol. Adams has admitted that he had driven drunk since his release from prison on numerous occasions. 

Adam Johnson 

Johnson, who made his debut at 17 years old in a UEFA Cup match, had a promising career ahead of him. He made 120 appearances for Middlesbrough, played for Manchester City and Sunderland, and earned 12 caps during his career.

Johnson’s career effectively ended in 2016 when he was sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty of sexual activity with a child

The former England winger was jailed following his admission that he kissed and groomed a 15-year-old who was a fan of his and his former club Sunderland. The girl, who reportedly had a replica shirt with his name and number 11, met him several times before his arrest. 

After making the list of footballers who have been to prison following his sentencing, it was revealed that the former football player had been previously arrested on suspicion of possessing extreme animal pornography.

Following his release from prison, Johson got back with his ex (who left him during the trial) and had a new baby boy with her.

Related: Who is the fastest football player?


Ronaldo de Assis Moreira is one of the most popular football players in his generation and in the history of the sport. He made strides during his days with Barcelona and is one of the few players who had received a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans during his time with the Barça club.

The Brazil star was jailed in March 2020, in Paraguayan, for entering the country with false passports. The passports, according to the ex-Barcelona star, were a gift from Brazilian businessman Wilmondes Sousa Lira. 

After spending 32 days in the Agrupacion Especializada prison, he and his brother were placed under house arrest at a luxury hotel in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital. 

It was reported that the Brazillian and his brother paid $800,000 each (a total of around £1.3 million) for their bail. 

The case was closed after a judge accepted a plea deal that involved a guilty plea and fines of £71,600 and £87,500, respectively, for Ronaldinho and Roberto.

Ronaldinho was one of the best players, and he ranks among some of the best free-kick takers of all time.

Patrick Kluivert

Partick Kluivert is a retired Dutch football legend and coach who served as a director of Barcelona’s La Masia academy and Paris Saint-Germain.

Kluivert enjoyed great success both as a football player and as a coach. 

His (seemingly) only run-in with the law was a driving accident that took place on 9 September 1995. The Dutch footballer, who was 19 years old at the time and was driving a borrowed BMW, crashed the vehicle into another car in Amsterdam.

The crash killed the driver of that car and seriously injured a female passenger. Kluivert admitted that he was speeding before the crash and was found guilty and convicted of death by dangerous driving.

Still, he wasn’t given a prison sentence. Instead, he received 240 hours of community service.

Similar: Who has the most assists in football history?

Bottom Line

Celebrities and professional sportsmen (and women) certainly enjoy a lot of perks that come with fame– but being above the law is not one of them (at least in most cases), and footballers who have been to prison are proof of that.

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