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RIO FERDINAND was "shopped" by an anonymous tipster, it was claimed yesterday.

Officials at the FA and UK Sport, who oversee drug testing, have received calls, emails and letters accusing footballers of taking recreational drugs.

And the Sunday Mirror understands that Ferdinand was anonymously named BEFORE he missed his drug test on September 23.

The call may have been malicious and there is no suggestion that Ferdinand has ever taken drugs. And he did pass a drug test 36 hours later.

If Ferdinand is banned at an FA hearing later this month it will only be because he missed a compulsory test.

Depending on the outcome of that hearing, he could now be barred for the rest of the Premiership season and even miss England's Euro 2004 campaign in Portugal next summer.

But it emerged last night that the decision to test at Manchester United could be among a number of special tests ordered as the result of tip-offs from within the game.

The football authorities are anxious about the widespread use of recreational drugs by players.

More than 80 per cent of all positive drug tests in British football have been for cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and other social drugs, rather than performance-enhancers such as anabolic steroids.

The FA can order target tests of any club or player under suspicion, and officials admit that they have used this to act on information received.

"We have received phone calls, some letters, and we get e-mails from anonymous hotmail accounts," a UK Sport official told the Sunday Mirror.

"We take every call very seriously and pass it on for possible action."

The FA has at least five Premiership stars, four of them England internationals, on a testing hit-list following tip-offs about cocaine use after a court case in Cardiff this week.

A UK Sport official, who also confirmed that similar tip-offs are regularly passed to football's governing body, said: "We have treated this information seriously and in the utmost confidence."

And the FA's Adrian Bevington admitted that where information is received, tests can be targeted at clubs and players.

"No current England players have tested positive for any recreational drug or performance-enhancing drug," Bevington said.

"Any accusations we receive, we give full consideration to before deciding, in conjunction with UK Sport and the PFA, on whether it is a serious allegation or not, and what action to take. We have an extensive drug-testing programme, part of which includes target testing."

Officials at Soho Square and at several top clubs are worried that Premiership players - many earning tens of thousands of pounds every week - are living the lifestyles of rock stars instead of sport stars.

Boozy nights out at bars and night clubs see players mixing in glamorous circles where addictive drugs such as cocaine are easily available. …