Barry Bannan: “I am so lucky … I could have killed someone. Being in a cell with the threat of a long prison term was terrifying”
Barry Bannan does not seem the obvious choice to promote the traditional pre-Christmas battle against drink-driving. But the Aston Villa midfielder can talk from experience about how he feared spending Christmas inside a jail cell after a terrifying crash on the M1 that sent his Range Rover careering into the central reservation.
The Scotland international, 22, admits he was lucky to escape with an 18-month ban and a 4,500 fine after being convicted four weeks ago of a raft of offences including driving on a provisional licence, drink-driving and leaving the scene of an accident.
West Midlands’ Police are now using Bannan as an example of what not to do during the festive period in the hope that, by highlighting what can happen to a high- profile professional footballer, others will be dissuaded from following in his footsteps.
Sober warning: Barry Bannan with Inspector Greg Jennings, who is fronting West Midlands police”s drink-driving campaign
Judging by the guilt and shame Bannan expressed yesterday as he reflected on his self-inflicted ordeal, the police have chosen the right man to get the message over.
‘It was a terrifying experience and it still goes through my head,’ he said. ‘Some days I’ll be at the house, doing nothing, and I’ll just start thinking about it.
‘I’m a lucky boy. If there had been another car involved or I had done something to myself or my mate who was in the car as well…you wake up the next day and loads of other stuff is going through your mind.
‘But I’m here — and I might not have been.I could have taken someone else’s life. I’m very lucky.’
Bannan banned: The Aston Villa midfielder was handed an 18-month suspension from driving
The timing of the accident was all the more bizarre because Bannan had just broken into Aston Villa’s first team, scoring his first goal in the Barclays Premier League, a penalty in a 1-1 draw at QPR.
But Inspector Greg Jennings, of West Midlands’ Police, confirmed that a custodial sentence was within the court’s power, and it could have been far worse — a fact that Bannan acknowledged.
‘The worst time was in the cell after the crash,’ he said. ‘Then you think about what happened, what you should have done and what I didn’t.
‘After I was charged, my solicitor couldn’t rule out prison. They didn’t know what was going to happen. It was down to the judge, so there was a strong possibility I could have gone.
Better days: Bannan celebrates scoring for Villa
‘In and around the club, I was putting on a strong front, but as soon as I got into that court it really started to hit me the most. I crumbled. It was so scary in there.
‘When they were ready to sentence me, they left for 10 minutes. Then they came back in to tell me what was going to happen. All sorts go through your head. It’s terrifying.
‘If I had gone to jail, who knows what the club would have done They could easily have sacked me, so you start to think about what is going to happen, football-wise.’
Bannan said his dad, Jim, took the news far better than his mother, Cath.
‘She was in pieces,’ he said. ‘That’s the person I love the most, so it was hard for me to see her down and finding it so hard. Your mum and dad are obviously going to forgive you, but they made sure I knew I was in the wrong.’
Great Scot: Bannan has made his mark as part of the Scotland squad
Alex McLeish suspended Bannan following the incident but has since recalled him to the first-team squad. The Villa manager said: ‘Barry made a mistake. The wee man probably just wants to push it all to one side but he’s fronted it up today for the campaign to raise awareness.
‘He is very, very sorry for what he’s done and he just wants to get on with what he does best, which is playing football. He has got to write a new chapter for himself.
‘On the back of this, we have spoken to the whole squad, especially the young ones. They’re a really polite bunch of boys here, brought up well through the academy.
Support: Villa manager Alex McLeish suspended Bannan after the incident but has backed him in his decision to front up and support the campaign
‘It’s when they start to get towards the first team that some of them can change and change their habits. We have to emphasise the professionalism.
‘They have to do everything they can to show the desire and dedication to their profession and they’ll be better athletes for it and have a better chance.
‘We have brought in a counsellor who comes in every week for Barry. But what is said between them has to remain private.’
Inspector Jennings, who is fronting the drink-driving campaign, said: ‘It’s interesting listening to the impact it has had on Barry.
‘I think the word that stands out for me is “lucky”. He’s lucky to be in a profession where he’s not going to lose his job. He’s lucky to be in a profession where he can pay the fine.
‘And, like everyone who drink-drives, he’s lucky he hasn’t actually killed or injured somebody and irrevocably changed his life or someone else’s.’
As for changing habits, has it had an effect on Bannan’s drinking
‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘I’ve not touched a drop since.’