(extract from the "Faith & Football' website):
I was born and brought up in London, in the Stretford area, with my parents having come to this country from the West Indies in the 1960’s. It was a very strict upbringing, and my parents were very protective of my brother through our boyhoods, particularly of the company we kept. All this was an absolute necessity given that nearby Canning Town and Hackney were problem areas, known for trouble and racial tension.
My father worked at the Ford Dagenham plant and my mother was an orderly at the local hospital. Money was tight but we never went without. My parents were brought up in the West Indies with the church as a big part of the culture, and, from an early age, I was regularly taken to church and became familiar with the bible stories. But for me as a child, church was a cold unwelcoming place, where you were told what you could and couldn’t do, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of fear of punishment from God. But it instilled in me a very strong sense of right and wrong, and also a fear of ungodly things, a fear ofthe devil and a very real fear of hell’s fire.
I always said the Lord’s Prayer with my father and prayed with him before going to sleep, and for many years thereafter I maintained that habit. My prayers would be for my family’s health and security. Later those prayers would often include a plea to enable me to play well, but that was pretty selfish because there was no mention of football when I was playing well.
Church took a back seat as I entered my teens when I joined a Sunday football clu b in Canning Town. Very soon football took over my life and was all I wanted to do. The Pretoria club was organised and run on a very professional basis. By the time I was 13 Wimbledon, Luton and Charlton were becoming interested in me and each club invited me to train with them on occasions. At 14 I signed schoolboy forms at Charlton but my parents still made sure that my education was not neglected. I enjoyed school anyway particularly as it was very sports-oriented.
I left school at 16 and joined Charlton as an apprentice, although West Ham came in with a late bid to take me to Upton Park which I resisted. Although West Ham were in a higher league I felt my chances would be better at Charlton, and anyway I didn’t want to be seen to be disloyal to the club which had given me my first chance.
Soon after taking up my apprenticeship at The Valley I met Trishia, my future wife, and after a year or so we decided to set up home together. I was still only 18 and it was a big decision to move away from my parents’ influence. Not surprisingly they did not approve and were hurt by the decision. Our relationship was affected for a while, but it felt right to make the break.
Once I had turned professional at The Valley I was ready to take up the life of a footballer, and I wanted all the womanising, the partying and the good times which went with it. But right from the word go none of that gave me any satisfaction whatsoever, and then in my second year Trishia fell pregnant. My son Nathan’s arrival signalled an end to the partying with me having to stay at home to look after Trishia and Nathan.
Then came a shattering blow when I was released by Charlton at the end of my contract. I was only 19 and it hit me very hard. I had played a handful of games in the first team and looking back on it I can see that my attitude was to blame for my release. I was still living close to home and had simply got too comfortable with my lot. On the training front I can see now that I just didn’t work hard enough at my game.
My rejection by Charlton caused me to lose a great deal of faith in my own ability and I faced an uncertain future as a very young man with a family. Football was all I knew and I was not qualified for anything else. Fortunately within a few weeks I had received and accepted an offer from Barnet, then in Division Three, to join them and going there was the making of me. After being kicked out by Charlton I had come to realise that unless I worked hard then I would have no future in the professional game. At Barnet I was out of that comfort zone I had built in London. I was getting regular first team football and I was driven by a strong desire to prove Charlton wrong. Barnet was a family-oriented club with a different set of values that made me realise that the game didn’t have to be all about money and fame. I had my eyes opened to the realities of life as a professional footballer in the lower leagues and grew from a boy to a man at Barnet.
But I was still a typical footballer, with their built-in selfishness, and not too much concern for other people. Football was still the be-all and end-all, with my needs paramount in the family. But I always felt that there was something missing in my life. I would try to find it through drinking, and for a few hours I would be happy but the next day I would find that nothing had changed.
Eventually after three years at Barnet I moved to Reading and virtually trebled my pay. Earning more money I was able to give my family what I thought would bring us happiness – a new house in the country, bigger and better holidays, a high-powered car etc. But again it just brought temporary happiness and made me realise how shallow all those material things were. To add to our unhappiness we were now well out of London at a new club, with no friends around us and no social life to speak of. It merely proved that all those things that we had strived for did not really provide us with any real and lasting satisfaction.
My disillusionment was increased when my three-year contract at Reading came up for renewal and I was offered what I considered to be derisory terms. I felt that I had worked hard and been loyal to Reading but here they were treating me like a piece of meat. I was not being rewarded for my efforts but on the other hand I was aware that the cheats in the game were being well rewarded. I felt that football owed me a living and for a while I came to hate football and all it stood for. That really set me questioning the whole way of the world and its values. Suddenly life didn’t seem fair. What sort of race was it, and was it worth it? Out of those feelings I had an urge to buy a Bible andgo to church, but I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t know anybody.
I was determined to leave Reading and in any event wanted to play at a higher level if possible. Lennie Lawrence at Luton came in for me but after we had agreed terms he was sacked, and that too left me feeling even more disillusioned with the game. But then after having a trial at Portsmouth, something I resented, I signed a two-year contract with manager Tony Pulis, although I actually took a cut in wages to come to the south coast. The move was to lead to my life, and that of Tricia’s, being changed in a way that we could never have imagined.
At Fratton Park I met up with Darren Moore, a player who I had known from his days at Torquay, and we became friends immediately. Darren was to become very important to me in my Christian journey. But it wasn’t for nearly a season that I found out that he was a born-again Christian, although I did become aware that he read the Bible. Initially our family life deteriorated at Portsmouth and our problems led to Tricia becoming depressed. We were struggling financially and our social circle was non-existent. As a footballer it’s hard to make genuine relationships or know who to trust, with so many people only wanting to be associated with you because you’re in football and ready to take advantage of you financially because of your perceived high earnings from the game. Tricia had a bad experience of this when trying to learn to ride which afterwards left her trust in people feeling rather fragile. But all that changed when she was introduced to some stables outside of Portsmouth in the Hampshire countryside where the owners were warm, genuine people with no interest in football. Tricia soon found out that they were Christians, and when they became aware of her depression they prayed for her to speak of it with them. Subsequently at the lowest point of her depression Tricia felt moved to open up to them and they invited her to their church on a Sunday.
Unlike me, Tricia had no grounding in the church and I agreed to accompany her, but then my mind went back to my childhood and all those negative feelings about that experience came rushing back. To add to that our previous relationships had caused us to put up barriers, because everyone we had ever let in had hurt us. I had a fear of Christians and initially I was suspicious of the friendly welcome we and the children received.
But this church bore no resemblance to the one I had known as a child. By the end of the first service we attended I knew that it felt right, that this was the real thing, and I was so pleased when Tricia felt the same. Even during the sermon she had felt as if the minister was speaking personally to her. I told Darren of our experience and he spoke to me about his personal experience of Jesus in his life for over an hour. A few weeks later I had heard enough and wanted to give my life to the Lord. God’s word had worked in me and shown me in so many ways the path to take. I knew from that moment on that this was ‘the real deal’. Without me knowing it, because she didn’t want to put me under any pressure to do the same, Tricia had made the same decision.
Now we had new friends who were not interested in football, people who took us for what we were and not who we were. We asked a lot of key questions and found the answers. Tricia’s depression was entirely lifted, and we both felt better than we had ever done before, with such peace, happiness and contentment. In my heart I felt whole and complete, and I wanted to read the Bible at every opportunity. When I came home from training I was no longer switching on the TV but was studying the New Testament and lots of literature I had obtained. Now at last, after all those years, I knew what it all meant. I had never realised before what Jesus had done for me.
Darren was so happy for us and he introduced me to two other Christians, ex-Pompey player Micky Mellows and Micky O’Brien. As he had done with Darren, the two of them have helped me move along on my journey. I was really hungry at that time for knowledge and they filled that knowledge. But for some reason I was still anxious to test my faith, and, as I put it, was still “looking for some fireworks”. At the time I was suffering from a knee injury which had kept me out of action for some time, and which needed an operation which would have meant a six-month lay-off. I remember saying to one of my Christian friends: “if my knee is healed and I speak in tongues then I will believe that I am converted”.
So the next time I met up with the two Mickies we prayed together for my knee to be healed, and, although I had my doubts beforehand whether my prayers would be answered, I felt an electricity going through my knee when Micky Mellows laid on his hands. It was so strong that I felt as if he had wires attached to his hands. When it was all over I found myself able to exercise the knee in a way that I had not been able to achieve beforehand. Within two weeks I was back in full training. During the same prayer session I also found myself falling to the floor, whilst I was praying for my family, and, in that position, speaking in an unknown language. All through that I felt as if I was floating, that nothing could disturb me or take that feeling away. That same night I was praying again and for a second time I found myself speaking in a foreign tongue. Now I found myself saying to God: “I know this is real – whatever you want I will do”.
From then on, with my new faith, I knew that there were other areas of life which needed attention. From the Bible I was able to get all the answers I needed. At last, for instance, I knew how to be a proper husband to my wife, and father to my children. With the arrival of Harry Redknapp as manager at Portsmouth I came face to face with rejection and insecurity. I was told that I had no future at the club, that the club wouldn’t stand in my way if another club came in with an offer for me. Immediately I took up the attitude that if they didn’t want me then why should I make the effort in training. But after studying scripture for guidance I had a significant change of attitude to football and resolved to do my very best for God, based on honouring God in all I did, serving God with all my heart and doing everything for him. From then on I was bent on trying to impress God, not the manager or the supporters. Everything I achieved thereafter that season was not from my own ability or strength. Through working hard in training, after an injury to one of our players, I was given an opportunity in the team and eventually secured a regular place.
Manager Harry Redknapp told me: “Your attitude has been very good; you’re the sort we want around this club”. Thereafter in most media interviews, both locally and nationally, I tried to glorify God by witnessing that I had obtained all my strength through him. I would pray before, during and after a game, and I knew that every time I did well during a game it was God’s power at work in me. I was named as the club’s and the supporters’ ‘Player of the Season’, as the club took the First Division championship and achieved promotion to the Premiership. I had proved that through God’s grace there is nothing that can’t be achieved by a faith in his power.
When the club was promoted to the Premiership I started to have doubts about my ability to play at that level, and this feeling was reinforced by the pundits’ opinions. I wanted to be a top player but I knew that I couldn’t do it in my own strength. During this time a Portsmouth teenager sent me a note quoting from Jeremiah 26 v. 11: ‘I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster,plans to bring about the future you hope for’.
As the new season in the Premiership opened I found myself on the sidelines again, facing rejection. But I was determined to follow the same philosophy and faith in God I had adopted the previous season. Again I had to wait for a chance in the team but when it came I was able to take my performances to an even higher level, with my eyes fixed firmly on the Lord. When I got rave reviews for performances against such players as Michael Owen and Alan Shearer I was tempted to take the credit, but I knew that all the glory was God’s.
When Alain Perrin took over as manager at Fratton Park I was again surplus to requirements and did not feature in his plans. The club were looking to sell me if possible but I was determined, with God’s help, to prove him wrong, in the same way as I had done before with previous managers. When Perrin left I was able to regain my place in the squad under Harry Redknapp. Now Pompey have become an established Premiership club and I am, by God’s grace, an established member of the team
I have become involved with the Faith In Football charity as a trustee and support local coaching and playing schemes in the more deprived areas of our community both in the Portsmouth and Birmingham areas. I have given my testimony in Nigeria, India, and Mexico. I have walked the Wall of China and am about to take part in the Mount Sinai trek in 2007..
I am still on a journey towards God. He has taken away the fear of the future for me. I never wanted to stay in professional football and I know that He has something incredible waiting for me.
I can see now that He has plans in place for me when I finish playing football. He set the wheels in motion in my heart long ago.