HOW much fun is there at the higher levels of professional sport these days? Now there's something to ponder early on a Sunday morning - or before you head off for the cricket Sixes, weather and Ken Catton permitting. What put me on this particular track was a decidedly lengthy lunch the other day, where one of the guest speakers was former Australian Test cricketer Bruce Yardley. And let it be said straightaway that there would never be any problem having a laugh and a bit of sport with that lad in the side. While cricket is his game and not entirely mine, one of the points made might seem to be applicable in most major sports. Nowadays youngsters attempting to make the grade in Australian cricket are put through a harrowing process that leaves them as fit as Superman but so totally intent on achieving success that little time is left for the lighter side. Or, as Yardley put it: 'Mate, blokes like Marshy [Rodney Marsh] and me wouldn't have survived the preliminaries.' Discipline and dedication are vital to achieving success in any professional sport - but there is still room for enjoying the fruits of achievement . . . or obliterating the sad taste of defeat. Let's face it, there always has to be a loser. Remember the East Germans? They were robotic super-achievers, churning out records in the swimming pool and dominating the field sports. But it really did look so mechanical and there was the knowledge that their sportsmen and women were taken as children and regimented through adolescence to attain international success. There was just a joylessness about it all. Of course, there is a major difference between having a good time and behaving in a manner that brings condemnation to clubs, individuals or the sport they represent. It wasn't exactly pleasant to read that Tony Adams is an alcoholic, and that he went on a 16-hour binge before an important match. We are now getting into the darker side of the game. Paul Merson was addicted to drugs, drink and gambling, which doesn't leave a lot, but one hopes that is behind him. Arsenal teammate Ray Parlour wound up in court in Hong Kong, which demonstrated that he could certainly do more with a ball than a bottle. For a club with the highest traditions, the Gunners have certainly had more than their share of recent public relation disasters - but we also had Chelsea's Dennis Wise thumping a 60-plus taxi driver. Loutish behaviour like this definitely does not fall into the category of post-match enjoyment. A considerable time after that particular lunch ended the other day, it was a pleasure to run into Gerry Armstrong, the former Spurs and Northern Ireland striker, who was playing for an HK Football Club Select side at the official opening of the new club yesterday. Armstrong is currently assistant coach to Bryan Hamilton with Northern Ireland, and achieved undying fame in 1982 when his goal sank host nation Spain in the World Cup. Anyone in Valencia that night will never forget it. Northern Ireland, reduced to 10 men for most of the second half, hung onto a one-goal lead while the referee played seven minutes stoppage time. Armstrong was voted best British player in the World Cup, an accolade richly deserved. The result of that match, officially listed as one of the shocks of world football in the 110-year strong News of the World Football Annual, led to the father and mother of a party. And there certainly was something to celebrate. Armstrong, and so many of his era, knew how to do the job - and enjoy it.