‘I knew it was the last chance for me – I had to get clean’

He played with greats like Gazza but Paul Ste­wart said drugs, booze and Souness ru­ined his ca­reer. The for­mer Sun­der­land player has penned a new book, Dam­aged, and in this ex­cerpt he tells how child­hood abuse led him down a dark path

The Chronicle - - News -

TO mil­lions of foot­ball fans, it must have looked like I had it all.

Play­ing along­side leg­ends like Gary Lineker, Paul Gas­coigne, and Chris Wad­dle, I had just been picked for Eng­land.

Scor­ing a goal in an FA Cup fi­nal to cap a man-of-the-match dis­play was the stuff dreams are made of.

Yet I was start­ing to self-de­struct due to the pain of child­hood abuse, tak­ing drink and drugs to block out the past.

Liver­pool forked out £2.5mil­lion to buy me. At 27, they should have been get­ting a man at the peak of his pow­ers. An in­ter­na­tional with a proven track record; a mid­fielder with a bound­less work-rate and an eye for goals.

At cur­rent prices, the trans­fer value would be in the re­gion of £19m. But I sold them short. I sold my­self short.

At Spurs, you were not sup­posed to be on the booze 48 hours be­fore a game – I never quite man­aged to abide by that.

By the time Liver­pool manager Graeme Souness came in with an of­fer which Spurs could not refuse, drugs had be­come a reg­u­lar habit. Even the week­end I agreed the deal, the temp­ta­tion of an­other ben­der proved too much.

We were on tour when Terry Ven­ables told me Liver­pool’s bid had been ac­cepted. I al­ready knew – word reached you back then, as it so of­ten does now.

Liver­pool were one of the big­gest clubs in the world and I would have crawled over bro­ken glass to play in that red shirt.

I met Souness in an air­port ho­tel and, be­cause I did not have an agent, did all the ne­go­ti­a­tions my­self. When I’d got to Heathrow, I’d gone straight to the ho­tel bar. By the time Graeme turned up, I had a ta­ble full of empty Hol­sten Pils bot­tles.

Many months later he told me: “You have a rep­u­ta­tion as a bit of a drinker.” I was think­ing: “When you signed me I had about 10 empty lager bot­tles on the ta­ble. Didn’t you no­tice?”

They even­tu­ally agreed to pay me £10,000 a week with a £100,000 sign­ing-on fee spread over 12 months, though Souness was as tough in ne­go­ti­a­tions as he had been in the tackle dur­ing his play­ing days.

Spurs were mak­ing a clear £800,000 profit – big money in those days. As I had not asked for a trans­fer they agreed to pay up my con­tract, which amounted to about £200,000 af­ter tax.

In­stead of head­ing home to Black­pool af­ter meet­ing Souness, I went straight into old Lon­don town. A few drinks turned into yet an­other all-night ben­der – I was booz­ing heav­ily un­til the early hours, and tak­ing Ec­stasy and co­caine.

I re­mem­ber fall­ing out of a club as dawn broke, the first light hit­ting my eyes as I emerged from the dark­ness of yet an­other cav­ernous dance-floor.

Drink and drugs left me stag­ger­ing through the West End, past Covent Gar­den, past Char­ing Cross Sta­tion, right in the heart of Lon­don.

It was as quiet as you are ever likely to see it, its taxi ranks empty save for a few pi­geons, no-one around the en­trance to the sta­tion or the ho­tel.

It wasn’t long af­ter 5am when I saw a tramp who said to me: “Aren’t you Paul Ste­wart?” News of the £2.5m move to Liver­pool was al­ready out. I re­call a Lon­don bill­board pro­claim­ing: ‘Ste­wart set for Liver­pool.’

There was a sec­ond’s hes­i­ta­tion but there was no point in deny­ing it so I an­swered: “Yes I am, mate.” Per­haps the news­pa­per hoard­ing had made him won­der if it re­ally could be me.

It was a far bet­ter story than the trans­fer – the down-and-out on the streets of Lon­don. The Eng­land foot­baller, the cup-fi­nal hero, high on drugs and booze, wan­der­ing around at dawn in the midst of a £2.5m trans­fer. Even the tramp must have thought: “Why is he still out drink­ing at this hour of the morn­ing?”

But be­yond that look of as­ton­ish­ment he never said an­other word. I can still see him there, shak­ing his head.

It was not a great start to the big­gest move of my foot­balling ca­reer, but a sign of things to come. I should have known bet­ter but I was be­com­ing gripped by ad­dic­tion and I hadn’t learned lessons from all those near-misses in the past.

Like the cops find­ing me in a club with co­caine but let­ting me go. Like the PFA din­ner when the Eng­land coach pulled up as we fell out of a cab. And like nu­mer­ous ran­dom drug tests at the Spurs train­ing ground when my name did not come out of the hat. I was push­ing my luck. I knew that when I was asked to travel north for the med­i­cal. It all went fine un­til they asked for a urine sam­ple. In a panic about the drugs in my sys­tem, I had to say to the Liver­pool club doc­tor: “I’m re­ally sorry but I can­not seem to pee.” Sud­denly it hit home. I could get caught. The drugs will show up. What have I done? It was a rare mo­ment of doubt for me. I could feel the hairs stand­ing up on the back of my neck as I thought I was fi­nally go­ing to get caught. To my as­ton­ish­ment, the doc­tor said ‘no trou­ble at all’ and just asked me to come back at a later date. There fol­lowed two hard days of train­ing back in Black­pool to sweat as much out of my sys­tem as pos­si­ble be­fore I re­turned to An­field. I lost about seven or eight pounds in a cou­ple of days, work­ing like a slave with long runs on the beach. Even 48 hours later, there was still that nag­ging worry some­thing might show up. A pos­i­tive drugs test could mean an all-out ban from foot­ball. When I re­turned to An­field, they dipped a cou­ple of sticks into the urine sam­ple. The Liver­pool doc­tor ex­plained they were look­ing for di­a­betes and test­ing kid­ney func­tion. And noth­ing else. I am not a fan of Souness be­cause of the way he was with me. I found him ar­ro­gant, ig­no­rant even. I did not think he was a very good man-manager. But there is no-one but my­self to blame for my lack of suc­cess at Liver­pool. It re­mains the big­gest re­gret of my foot­balling ca­reer. Af­ter watch­ing the great Liver­pool teams in the past, I knew noth­ing but con­stant strug­gle with Souness. We had a thing called ‘weigh-in day’ when he used to check play­ers were not over-eat­ing.

There were some char­ac­ters in the squad and play­ers like Ian Rush, Steve Ni­col, and John Barnes did not al­ways take too kindly to be­ing treated like school­boys. Graeme did not seem to get that at times. Nei­ther he, nor any of the play­ers, knew about my drugs habit. When I look back, I was tak­ing so many risks, even af­ter what I thought was a close call when I signed for Liver­pool.

I never took drugs in front of any­one but I could not stop. I was ad­dicted. I man­aged just one league goal for Liver­pool, against Sh­effield United on my dream An­field de­but.

The roar of the Kop as it went in stays with me still, as does the noise as you lined up in the tun­nel with that fa­mous ‘This is An­field’ sign right in front of you. You could see fear in the eyes of the op­po­si­tion.

Liver­pool of course had been in their pomp in the late 80s, dom­i­nat­ing the league, win­ning the Dou­ble.

But that de­but goal was to be my last for 24 league games.

When Souness clashed with me in front of all the play­ers, I knew the writ­ing was on the wall in big let­ters.

It was around 1993, about a year into my time at the club, and it was al­ready be­com­ing clear that I was not in the manager’s plans.

There was no coach­ing for me. There were some bril­liant young play­ers com­ing through, the so-called Spice Boys of Rob­bie Fowler, Don Hutchi­son, Steve McMana­man and Jamie Red­knapp.

The staff all knew they had a big fu­ture and so they would be work­ing on their game all the time. With me, they just used to throw me a shirt.

I played for the re­serves at South­port on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and there would be a crowd of 500 shout­ing all kinds of abuse. Un­like in the big games at An­field with the buzz from the stands, you could hear ev­ery word of crit­i­cism.

It was the low­est point of my foot­ball ca­reer. The only re­lease was go­ing out, drink­ing and tak­ing more drugs. It was a vi­cious spi­ral. I came off the coke and I was more de­pressed than ever.

Come the 1995-96 sea­son, when Peter Reid came in for me at Sun­der­land, I could not wait to get away from An­field. I knew it was the last chance for me.

I had to get clean, stay fit, and stop tak­ing drugs.

This first ap­peared on www.mir­ror.co.uk

Paul Ste­wart dur­ing his time at Sun­der­land

Paul Ste­wart dur­ing his time at Liver­pool FC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.