Ex-Birmingham City footballer Mark Ward was yesterday jailed for eight years for drugs trafficking offences.
The 42-year-old, who also played as a midfielder for West Ham, Manchester City and Everton, was arrested after four kilos (9lbs) of cocaine with a street value of up to £645,000 was discovered in a raid at a house he rented in Prescot, Merseyside, in May.
He was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court after pleading guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to supply.
The court heard Ward had fallen on hard times since retiring from football in 1996. Ward's barrister, Nicholas Johnson, described how "the sporting hero" had become "a convicted drug trafficker". He said: "When he played professional football he earned a good living but by present-day standards the money did not bear comparison. At the height of his career with Everton he was earning £1,200-a-week. When it came to retirement he had no healthy bank balance, no business interests and no rosy career as a media pundit."
Ward coached Altrincham FC but was sacked in 1999. He worked in a relative's pub and ended up on benefits, the court heard.
In 2004 he moved to Australia to revive his career but was forced to work on a building site after failing to attract interest.
The court heard Ward was approached by an unnamed contact and asked to rent a house on his behalf for which he was paid £500-a-week.
At 11.15am on May 12, police raided the property and discovered the drugs - along with an agent used to cut pure drugs.
Ward admitted knowing drugs were on the premises but denied owning them.
Prosecuting barrister Henry Riding claimed Ward played "an active role" in preparing and distributing drugs.
He told the court a text message on the defendant's mobile phone said: "Mark, come here and give me a line. I'm pissed and need it now."
Sentencing him, Judge John Phipps said: "It is indeed regrettable to see a former professional footballer of your ability reduced to this."