From Prison To The Premier League: Troy Deeney's Remarkable Return From The Brink

It is often the case that Premier League footballers are castigated for what they earn and how lavishly they live their lives. In some circumstances, such outrage may be justified, but we must also consider the backgrounds some players come from and how they have been shaped by their upbringings and the environments surrounding them.

A case in point is Troy Deeney. Nowadays, the 29-year-old is captaining Watford, for who he has scored 110 goals in 322 appearances, helping the Hornets to promotion from The Championship in 2015 and becoming the first player in the club's history to score 20+ goals in three consecutive seasons.

In recent transfer windows, Deeney's name has been tossed around the rumour mill, linked with moves worth in the region of £20 million. Yet, six years ago, the door was slamming shut on Deeney's career. Or so it seemed.

Image: PA
Image: PA

The Watford striker was sentenced to 10 months in prison in June, 2012 after pleading guilty to affray following an attack on a group of students which left one man with a broken jaw and another requiring 20 stitches.

Deeney was convicted alongside his younger brother Ellis, who was 21 at the time and 20-year-old Oliver Brennan and 26-year-old Marc Williams, after engaging in what the judge described as a 'gratuitous beating'.

The judge told the Deeney and his brother as they were sentenced, "Three men in particular were singled out for what can only be described as a gratuitous beating.

"All four of you to a greater or lesser degree joined in but the effect of it was that these three men, who were already heavily outnumbered, became even more so as a result of what you all did.

"At least one kicked a man while he was already on the ground and very probably had already suffered a really serious injury."

Image: PA
Image: PA

The Hornets captain may have only ended up serving three months of his sentence due to good behaviour, but it was three months that changed his life immeasurably, with the 29-year-old striker revealing in a recent interview with the Evening Standard how his stretch inside was the best thing that ever happened to him.

"It's going to sound bad but I enjoyed prison, enjoyed every minute of it. It was horrible, the food was terrible, the clothes are terrible, the living was terrible but I enjoyed every minute of it because it made me go, 'get a pen and paper, write this is what has to be done, this is what I have to do'."

But Deeney wasn't simply some entitled millionaire thug who decided to throw his weight around after a skinful on a night out. Deeney was, and still is, a product of a home in which debt collectors were constantly wrapping on his front door.

Deeney's father, Paul Anthony Burke (not his biological father, who abandoned Deeney before he was born) advised the Watford striker against taking his surname at a young age, due to the notoriety that came with Burke's name in Deeney's hometown of Chelmsley Wood, in Birmingham.

Burke spent time in and out of prison himself and on the eve of the attack which led to Deeney's arrest, he had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, before passing away shortly before Deeney started his sentence, that summer.

"Even when things went wrong, Mum sheltered us from it," Deeney told the Evening Standard during an interview in March of last year. "My Dad went to jail and we were told he'd gone to Singapore for work. You don't question it as Mum tells you how it is. By the time he came back, you'd forgot. It was like, 'Dad, I've got football today, you coming?'."

Image: PA
Image: PA

Deeney's mother, meanwhile, worked three jobs to help feed her young family and keep the debt collectors from the door. Such admirable dedication to looking after a family is unfortunately, not always conducive to keeping children out of the grips of negative influences and, at 15 years of age, despite being a talented young footballer, Deeney allowed himself to miss a trial with Aston Villa.

"Look, I was 15. It was holiday time, what you going to do? Play football or go down the park where the girls were?"

Fortunately, Deeney would be given a second chance at a career, although it would be with one of the lesser lights of Midlands football, at Walsall. The Saddlers took a chance on a 17-year-old Deeney in 2006, thrusting the teenager into the first team during the 2007/08 campaign, although a return of a solitary goal in 40 appearances during his debut season soon made the future Watford captain realise that he was a long way from the Premier League level that could have been available to him had he taken the Villa trial more seriously.

Deeney would find his feet, scoring 26 goals over the next two seasons and earning himself a £500,000 move to Watford in the summer of 2010 and a reported weekly wage of £6,000. It was a far cry from his first £425.50-a-week wage at the Bescot Stadium, but, once again, the striker failed to initially make an impression, scoring just three times during a difficult first season.

"When I came here, my salary went through the roof," the 29-year-old told the Telegraph, in 2015. "I'm a right jack the lad. I'm out all the time, spending all my money, convinced they're going to realise I'm crap at football pretty soon and get rid of me. So, I may as well enjoy it."

Image: PA
Image: PA

Just two years into his time at Vicarage Road, Deeney would receive his 10 month sentence and, while many footballers could have realistically expected to see their employment terminated by their club after such an incident, Watford instead stood by their striker and allowed him to return to the first team after his three months in prison.

"When I was away for a little while they kept me on, they didn't have to. So, I wanted to reciprocate." Deeney explained during the same Telegraph interview.

Although the 29-year-old's first day out of prison was anything but a relief.

"I remember I was quite anxious and I was sweating, my missus was like, 'are you alright?' and I was like, 'I can't do this' and I went into the kitchen with the dog.

"I wasn't angry but I'd been in selfish mode for three months and now I knew I had to take care of Myles and be a husband, to get that bond back. And I looked a state. I had a big afro, a beard, I'd got bigger up top and none of my clothes fitted me. I looked like a yeti!"

Deeney was quick to repay the club's faith in him, hitting 20 goals in a season for the first time the following term, before following that up with two more 20+ campaigns, the third of which saw the Hornets return to the Premier League for the first time since 2007.

"When I came back, I thought, 'Sort yourself out'. So, I dedicated myself to it, to see how far I could go with it."

Image: PA
Image: PA

Since then, Deeney has gone very far, indeed. A move to a bigger club and international caps may not have materialised yet, but the former Walsall man continues to be a problematic force for Premier League defenders on a weekly basis, even when his goalscoring form isn't anything to write home about.

Now, Deeney combats his bouts of rage, for the most part, in a more positive manner. There was, of course, the red mist fuelled gouging of Joe Allen's cheeks during the closing moments of a home game against Stoke City earlier, this season, which prompted a retrospective three game ban from the FA, quickly followed by a sending off for a rash challenge on Colin Quaner against Huddersfield Town.

Those incidents were dealt with by a sports psychologist, who Deeney consults due to being wary of old demons creeping back into influencing his decision making, as he revealed in a recent interview following the two flash points.

"Football is a tough test of your mental resolve. I have a chat each week with a sports psychologist and he gets to see that vulnerability that's within all professional sports people.

"It also saves my family, the Mrs in particular, from getting a full download every single day. Everyone will have their own way of separating home and work life.

"It's important to me because I'm the kind of person that likes to enjoy my football. I've got the best job in the world - but people have probably seen the serious side of me lately that likes to be winning and scoring."

During his 2017 interview with the Telegraph, the Watford captain opened up about how his past has now positively influenced his present and future.

"Listen, all the bad things, all my dirty washing is already out there. I've already spoken about it.

"I am incredibly motivated. I want to take my brand, which is my family, the Deeney name, and make it the biggest it can be. I'm not scared to say that. I want the Deeney brand to be the David Beckham brand. I just want my whole family to have a better outlook on life.

"I have bought my mum a new house, a new car... for me to be able to do that. Any issues I can take care of and she's not struggling any more. That is something football has enabled me to do. I can feel they [my family] are taken care of now. I want my kids to grow up and have options. I don't want them to go into anything and think 'I have to do this to earn money'. I want to create opportunities and that's why I am setting up a charity at the moment - Troy Deeney Foundation Changing Lives - and that's what it will do. Create opportunities."

With any luck, Deeney's drive and determination will create those opportunities for others as well as for himself on the pitch.

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