The reason I’ve decided to write a column for The Big Issue?
It’s not that I’m a saint or anything (contrary to public opinion!), but I decided not to take up the offers. The notion didn’t appeal to me and I was not ready to do myself justice at those times. Now I think I am.
As you can imagine, because of my penchant for talking straight, sometimes to my own detriment, there has always been interest in my thoughts and ramblings. At first I was not sure why this was. As I’ve matured, I’ve started to consider this. Many hours I’ve pondered, “Why do people care what I think?” “Why does my opinion cause such public debate?” Actually, many people don’t care what I think. “He’s not qualified to pass judgment on anyone or anything,” will be their response and one with which I concur completely.
What is interesting though, is that I am aware of this, I am aware completely of myself, public perception and all. I am in a very fortunate position. Not only am I a well paid sportsman, but I am also, at the time of writing this, healthy (wealthy and wise too), have a wonderful partner who has just given birth to our first child, numerous friends and a great family. I really love waking up in the morning, waiting to see what surprises lie in wait for me in this world of ours.
I am very thankful for how fortunate I am. This is true of the last four years of my life. For a long time before that, I was achieving in the material sense, but was deeply unhappy. Deeply unhappy at not only the person I’d become, but the person I was morphing into. This spiraled for a number of years, which ended up as am sure anyone who knows me or knows of me will be aware, in my six-months spell in Walton (Liverpool) and Strangeways (Manchester) prisons.
Without going too much into detail, I thought that was the end. The end of my career, the end of my chance to become the man that made his friends and family proud, the man I knew deep down I was capable of becoming. I’d had enough of it all, the money, the job, the press, the people. I just wanted to bugger off as far away from everyone as possible. I actually fantasised about this for a while, even going as far as considering the country and type of hut I’d live in! It was a viable option – I’d earned enough money in my 24 years to live there comfortably for the rest of my life.
“Fuck ‘em all” was my attitude. Then the strangest thing happened. Gradually I started to think more and more about this person I’d like to become, what this person would stand for – basically how would he be spoken about if he weren’t in the room. Then I started to speak to fellow prisoners and realised that even though, in my mind, I’d hit rock bottom and there was no way back, I was very fortunate. Some of the people I’d spoken to not only had never had a visit in three years, but were also tradeless, ill-educated and had very few options in the outside world. I found that not only was I miles off rock bottom, but I was a lucky bastard. Prison, for me, was not the end. It was the beginning. It allowed me to put all the past behind me and become the man I knew I was.
That was four years ago. Since then I’ve been on an amazing journey, met some truly inspirational people and have become a father. Not because of any other reason than I decided to change. To be as honest and humble as I possibly could.
Somewhere in those dark places I’d visited, I’d realised that it was important for me to like myself - not myself in the media, not myself in others’ opinions, but myself. I mean, if deep down I don’t like myself and I live for 70-odd years, can you imagine how hard that would be? So as part of my giving back and also because I love what The Big Issue does and stands for, I’ve decided to put down some of my thoughts here. They could be about anything and everything. Some of it will be controversial, but nothing I plan on talking about will be anything other than my opinion. As Nietzsche, the great philosopher once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations”.