Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

In his book Football, The Golden Age, John Tennant collects "extraordinary images from 1900 to 1985". One of them, photographer unknown, shows Ipswich Town players in January 1939 relaxing in the team bath after losing 2-1 at home to Aston Villa in an FA Cup third round replay. Of the nine pictured, three have cigarettes hanging from their mouths.

Fast forward to our current sporting times. Footballers, among other sportsmen, are still to be pictured with cigarettes in their mouths. But these images find their way onto the pages or websites of newspapers and magazines under headlines with – apparently – shocked responses.

Some professional athletes still smoke; but the culture in which they do so has been transformed.

Back in 1939, a cigarette was not automatically linked in most people's minds with health risks such as lung cancer or heart disease. Scientific studies in the intervening period have made this link abundantly clear.

The foreword to The Cigarette Century by Professor Allan M Brandt summarises the broad movement of opinion on cigarettes in the course of the last 80 or 90 years. 

It emphasises how newspapers and films in the mid 20th century tied smoking to ideas of glamour and sex appeal. 

Think of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall signalling to each other amidst the repartee, their eyes crinkled by wreaths of trailing smoke. A miasma of appeal…

"No product has been so heavily promoted or has become so deeply entrenched in American consciousness," the foreword maintains.

"And no product has received such sustained scientific scrutiny. The development of new medical knowledge demonstrating the dire harms of smoking ultimately shaped the evolution of evidence-based medicine.

Ipswich Town players enjoying a well-earned cigarette after a 1939 FA Cup match against Aston Villa ©Bounty Books
Ipswich Town players enjoying a well-earned cigarette after a 1939 FA Cup match against Aston Villa ©Bounty Books

"In response, the tobacco industry engineered a campaign of scientific disinformation seeking to delay, disrupt and suppress these studies."

In the years when this argument was at its height, the discussion was taken to its extreme by tobacco companies. 

Witness an American advert with a white-coated physician holding a cigarette as if it were a syringe, alongside the words: "According to repeated nationwide surveys, More Doctors smoke CAMELS than any other cigarette!"

The notion of doctors smoking seems quintessentially irrational; and yet my local GP when I was a child, a marvellous and fondly remembered practitioner, was a chain smoker.

The time of debate over the physical harm which smoking can inflict is long gone – a fact underlined within sport by the widespread absence of the cigarette advertising which has for so long been intrinsic to its economies.

For those who earn their living by, centrally, their physical prowess, smoking is increasingly seen as being irrational and aberrational, and a bad example to young people. But, as a welter of paparazzi offerings attest, the power of the crafty fag abides.

In recent years a succession of top-level footballers have been discovered, and often pictured, smoking in a variety of settings.

In 2015, Arsenal's Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was caught smoking in the showers after a 2-0 defeat at Southampton on New Year's Day and reportedly fined £20,000 ($26,000/€22,000).

A month later, it was the turn of his team-mate Jack Wilshere to find himself in a similar position.

These two may not be household names, but many others within the game – such as Mario Balotelli, Fabien Barthez, Zinedine Zidane and Dimitar Berbatov – have found themselves under similar scrutiny.

England's Wayne Rooney was pictured smoking on more than one occasion during his time at Manchester United, and much was made of it in the popular prints.

Down the years the tobacco industry has found a range of different approaches to sell its products ©StrangeCosmos
Down the years the tobacco industry has found a range of different approaches to sell its products ©StrangeCosmos

On one occasion The People newspaper printed a piece by Jimmy Greaves, one of the greatest goalscorers of all time who retired from the game in the mid 1970s, in which he swam against the tide and defended Rooney's actions.

Greaves was characteristically honest in describing the prevailing culture within football towards smoking in the days when he was in his pomp.

"Well now we know that Wayne Rooney's at it, Ashley Cole's at it and even that nice Peter Crouch is at it, too," Greaves wrote. 

"So I'd better come clean and admit that I was also at it, throughout my entire footballing career. 

"Yep, just like several of England's current bad boy footballers, I was a smoker. And while many seem shocked to have seen these well-honed athletes puffing away on cigarettes, I can't honestly say that it will do them any harm.

"I started smoking on my first day as a Chelsea player when I bought a pack of five Woodbines. And I kept smoking right up until about three years ago – when it became apparent that the Government had made it so difficult to smoke anywhere that it was no longer any fun. 

"In fact, about 50 per cent of my team-mates with Chelsea, Tottenham and England used to smoke."

While Greaves did not play in the England team that won the World Cup in 1966 – he failed to get back into the side after suffering a cut to his shin in the final group match against France – he was part of the squad that had been trained to a tee under the eye of manager Alf Ramsey, who threatened one small group of players who nipped away to have a pint at a local golf club with ejection from the England set-up.

And yet in this highly disciplined set-up, as a group of top sportsmen concentrated their energies on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of winning one of sport's greatest prizes on their home turf, smoking was casually admissible.

Several members of England's 1966 World Cup-winning squad were regular smokers according to Jimmy Greaves ©Getty Images
Several members of England's 1966 World Cup-winning squad were regular smokers according to Jimmy Greaves ©Getty Images

"Team meetings at the 1966 World Cup at Hendon Hall were held in smoke-filled rooms," Greaves recalled. 

"Myself, Ray Wilson, Jack Charlton and Jimmy Armfield all smoked. So did Bobby Charlton, before he collected his sainthood! 

"Alf Ramsey was a secret smoker. He would have a crafty fag well away from the prying eyes of the press and public back in the days when smoking was totally acceptable."

Twelve years later, the World Cup would pass to an Argentina side under the charge of a coach entirely happy to make his smoking public, puffing away relentlessly on the sidelines throughout every match – César Luis Menotti.

Cigarettes in the dug-out were commonplace in the 1960s and 70s.

Even in the repressive regime he encountered during his brief time as an AC Milan player, Greaves reported that smoking "was one of the few things we were allowed to do".

Greaves also smoked a pipe, and was pictured happily puffing away in the Hendon Hall Hotel during England's World Cup campaign.

Greaves was so comfortable with his pipe that in 1985 he was named Pipe Smoker of the Year – receiving his trophy from the previous winner, boxer Henry Cooper, who famously floored the fighter then known as Cassius Clay only for the bell to come to the latter's rescue.

The following year the accolade went to bowls player David Bryant, who died in August this year having won 19 world and Commonwealth gold medals on greens and rinks around the globe with, almost always, a pipe in his mouth.

There have been, and still are, despite the shifted social approvals, smokers across a wide range of sports.

Chris Chataway, who died six years ago aged 82, was one of Britain's most celebrated athletes, notably for his exploits in 1954 when he helped pace-make Roger Bannister to the first sub-four minute mile. He then set a world 5,000 metres record in beating Russia's European champion Vladimir Kuts at White City.

After that victory, his Russian rival was surprised to see him light up a large cigar at the reception.

In a 2010 interview with Simon Turnbull in The Independent, as he prepared to take part in the Great North Run aged 79, Chataway reflected on his previous track career.

"It was so painful, because the sort of training we did one realises now was totally inadequate," he said. "I never ran more than 25 miles in a week. I smoked too. So the only way in which you could do well in major races was by pushing yourself extremely hard. In my old age I don't do that. I'm there to enjoy it."

After his retirement in 1965, New Zealand's three-time Olympic gold medallist Peter Snell worked for cigarette manufacturer Rothmans for a number of years before moving to the United States, where he eventually became an associate professor and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Chris Chataway, pictured beating Russia's Vladimir Kuts and the 5,000 metres world record at White City in 1954, was a self-confessed smoker during his track career ©Getty Images
Chris Chataway, pictured beating Russia's Vladimir Kuts and the 5,000 metres world record at White City in 1954, was a self-confessed smoker during his track career ©Getty Images

Jesse Owens, the winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was a lifelong smoker who eventually died of emphysema.

When equestrian's Mark Todd won his first Olympic gold medal on Charisma in 1984, he nervously dragged on a cigarette as the competition leader, American Karen Stives, took to the showjumping ring.

In the US during the mid 20th century, the marquee sports of American football and baseball were thronged with individual and team sponsorship by cigarette manufacturers.

In baseball all the major league teams had their own sponsor, and stars of the day such as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio had their own individual deals.

During the 1950s, as increasing scientific evidence pointed towards the danger to health caused by smoking, the commissioner of baseball prohibited players from wearing their uniforms in cigarette advertisements. Hardly a draconian measure.

Meanwhile, the National Football League went further into tobacco sponsorship, freely allowing its players to advertise cigarettes and signing-up Philip Morris' Marlboro as its major television sponsor.

National Basketball Association players also had a piece of the cigarette endorsement action. Boston Celtics player Bob Cousy advertised Kent cigarettes. 

He insisted he didn't smoke, but later recalled how his team-mate Tom Heinsohn was a heavy smoker, including during half-times during games. He added that he used to persuade Heinsohn to give up temporarily during the play-offs.

In the early 1900s, tobacco companies promoted the idea that smoking was a healthy companion to an athletic lifestyle. One Lucky Strikes brand advert during this time read: "To keep a slender figure, reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet."

Over the years, that message diversified into references to relaxation, and the calming of nerves.

In 1962, the Royal College of Physicians of London published the first comprehensive report on smoking and health, presenting evidence that smoking is a major health hazard. Two years later, the US surgeon general issued a substantial report drawing similar conclusions.

In 1964, the tobacco industry began to anticipate increased federal regulation and voluntarily adopted the Cigarette Advertising Code, stating it would not "depict as a smoker any person well known as being, or having been, an athlete…[or] any person participating in, or obviously having just participated in, physical activity requiring stamina or athletic conditioning beyond that of normal recreation".

Major League Baseball now has a complete ban on tobacco as far as its players and managers are concerned, with fines for those who step out of line. 

But while a number of leading teams such as the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians allow no smoking in their stadiums, many other teams still have designated smoking areas for spectators.

From the late 1960s, Formula One became replete with tobacco advertising, with teams such as Marlboro McLaren and Williams-Rothmans flourishing. In 1998 British American Tobacco bought a majority stake in the financially ailing Tyrrell team, and began racing cars in Lucky Strike's red and white colours.

In a recent move to curb the influence of smoking in sport, the Football Association of Wales has banned touchline smoking at children's games ©FAW
In a recent move to curb the influence of smoking in sport, the Football Association of Wales has banned touchline smoking at children's games ©FAW

The European Union agreed to a gradual ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship to come into effect in 2001, with sports sponsorship outlawed by 2003.

Formula One argued that it was a global business and therefore not subject to European laws but national TV broadcasters did have to comply and so began an extended game where teams attempted to maintain connections with tobacco sponsorship by suggestive logos or car liveries.

In Australia it was reported that, in 1989, the tobacco industry put AUD$34 million (£19 million/$24 million/€21 million) a year into cricket and rugby league sponsorship. Tobacco advertising on television had been banned in 1976, but companies were still allowed to leverage attention through ground advertising and naming rights.

That ended with the Tobacco Prohibition Act in 1992, and in 2006 the loophole that still allowed some advertising in Australia for sporting events of international significance was closed.

In Britain, the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 prohibited most advertising on billboards and in printed publications and, in July 2005, tobacco sponsorship of international sports events was also banned.

All tobacco brand advertising and displays of tobacco products at the point of sale have been prohibited since April 2015.

The movement to keep tobacco and sport increasingly separate continues, and one of its latest manifestations occurred with an announcement made last week – tying in with World Heart Day – by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) which banned smoking on the touchlines at children's matches.

In the first grassroots country-wide initiative of its kind in the UK, the FAW and FAW Trust will ask for the policy to be applied during games and training sessions for 522 junior clubs, 3,159 teams and 42,232 players across the country.

The FAW and FAW Trust policy comes ahead of new regulations banning smoking in playgrounds and in the grounds of schools and hospitals as part of the Public Health (Wales) Act, that are due to come into force next March.