Ex-Premier League star warns of players' vulnerability to serious crime

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London, May 19 (ANI): A former Premier League player, who has just been released from prison after serving four years of an eight-year term for his involvement in a drugs ring, has said that football players in England are surrounded by gangsters who pose a threat to their reputations and tempt many towards criminality.

Mark Ward - once of Everton, West Ham and Manchester City - has claimed that players have never been more at risk from "criminal elements" than they are today.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Ward, who is still in touch with the football community and remains friendly with the families of high-profile players including Steven Gerrard and Joey Barton.

"It's obvious to me that the more money that comes into football the more of a buzz it will give the gangsters to be involved. To my knowledge there are current Premier League players who are friends with gangsters. There are certain individuals that will be getting looked after - by that I mean if players are in any trouble they know the right people to go to," he said.

"It will be a rare day that a Premier League player can go from morning to night and not be introduced to or speak to somebody who's involved in the drugs trade or some other form of criminality. That was true for me, especially growing up in Huyton [on Merseyside], where you socialise daily with people involved in crime," he added.

Ward, 46, was arrested and sentenced in 2005 after 3kg of cocaine was found at a house in Merseyside he had rented on behalf of an acquaintance. (ANI)

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