Former Arsenal, Spurs and Wolves midfielder reveals how his life was transformed when he went from a council estate in Brixton to Premier Leage stardom.
When I was growing up in Brixton it seemed there were three options in life: be unemployed, go to prison or die young. A lot of people I grew up with aren’t around anymore: some of them were in shootings or stabbings but most of them seemed to have a fetish for going to jail.
When I dreamt of becoming a footballer the money was never the prime objective but as you get closer to it you realise the finances could change your family's fortunes forever. We weren't well off at all. My dad was an electrical engineer and my mum worked as a secretary. We lived in a block of flats between Stockwell and Brixton - an area fuelled with drugs.
I remember I would get calls from people who were slightly outside of the family, who hadn't spoke to me in ages, who wanted to know how I was doing and stuff like that. My dad always reckoned that they had ulterior motives.
All people would say to me is “Oh, you're gonna get the money” and wouldn't even show an interest in the football. The one's who did were the ones who really cared, but some of the others would just be waiting around until I got the finances.
I had a good friend who started taking cocaine and the next thing I know he's asking me for money. I refused because I thought he was just going to spend it all on drugs. Then I found out he was trying to set up somebody in my family to get kidnapped. I only found out because he told too many people.
One time we were in a West End club and dancing to that song 'Make It Rain' by Fat Joe when some players started throwing money in the air.
I remember my first pay cheque clearly. I had just played six games in a row and was mucking around in the gym with Jamie Redknapp when he said “Little man, you're going to get some money! It comes in tomorrow”. I was so shocked when I got my pay slip because I got more that month then my dad gets in a year. That night I was lying in bed awake stunned. At four in the morning I had to go down to the cash machine to check my balance to see if it was real. I couldn't believe my eyes.
For the first time I could do all the things I wanted to do, help out my mum and dad, my sister, my friends. But, at the same time, it was dangerous because there's no manual out there for people who get it all so suddenly. I wasn't even living at home, so when I got so much money I was allowed to do what I wanted to do, rather than what was right.
I bought a car, a black C-Class Mercedes and a Cartier watch. Then I went away to Turkey with the England under 21s and Jermain Defoe showed me some jewellery he’d just bought – so I got the number of his jeweller and straight away ordered two diamond encrusted rings and two earrings. I’d spent almost half of my wages in two weeks on different fickle 'toys' as I call them.
It was very difficult, especially when you find yourself surrounded by a lot of yes men. One or two of my friends thought I was spending a bit recklessly but they wouldn't say anything because they didn't want to upset me or go against me. But maybe looking back at it, they should have said something to me because when you get so much money and you're a young boy, who's in a young frame of mind it can be dangerous because nothing's off limits to you. You can do anything.
I felt pretty decadent after that spree but that was nothing compared to what I saw others get up to. One time we were in a West End club and dancing to that song 'Make It Rain' by Fat Joe when some players started throwing money in the air. There must have been a grand scattered all over the dance floor. My mates from home joined in until reality kicked in and they tried to scoop up as much money as they could.
I know for a fact it's happened to a few Premier League players – they'll go back to a girl’s house but she'll have planned for some other guys to pay a little visit too.
There are players out there who are more motivated by money than pride or glory. Especially nowadays, you see a lot of young players who are just very happy with the lifestyle and the money they're getting.
I once saw a player actually burn money. This Welsh player was really drunk in a club and some other guy was giving it large so the player says “Look, I don't give a fuck mate, money doesn't mean anything to me, I'm a footballer” and then he set light to a £50 in the guy’s face.
When you're a young, single guy with a lot of money and you're living away from home and your family, you get bored. At Spurs some of the guys I was around would take up their time by going to the casino and strip clubs. When I was at Wolves I saw a player lose a month's wages in a day. £15,000 gone. Just like that.
With all the money and privilege in a footballer’s life it’s easy to lose sight of your roots but equally it’s dangerous to go back there too.
A few years ago, I drove down to Brixton. It was late at night and I was on the phone in my car when two guys I knew came over to talk to me. It was all cool and then all of a sudden, one of them reaches in and grabs the keys. I jumped out and his mate put a gun in my back and said “don't move or I'll bun you”, which in Jamaica means shoot. They forced me back into the car, held me there for an hour and took £300, my jewellery and my phone. They wanted to go to my parent’s house and clean that out too but I told them not to though because there was babies there.
I couldn’t go to the police because if I did they said they’d target my family. I've seen them since but there’s nothing I can do - I've got to live my life. I'm a professional athlete but these guys have nothing to lose, they're just young stupid guys. Unfortunately I was born there so they can walk around there and it's cool but I walk round there and I'm worse off.
It’s not just blokes that want to get you though, some women do too. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, you can meet a girl and she looks nice but she's got an ulterior motive. I know for a fact it's happened to a few Premier League players – they'll go back to a girl’s house but she will have planned for some other guys to pay a little visit too.
The thing is I don’t want to lose that normalcy. I want to be able to go home, buy food, see friends and chill out but once you become a player you become a target. It’s funny, if I don't go back home, they say “he thinks he's too good”, but if you do go back, they say “let's get him”.
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