LEON McKENZIE BOOK EXCLUSIVE: When I was scoring against United, City and Everton, I never believed I'd be in prison with paedophiles, murderers and rapistsPLUS: How the PFA let me down when I needed them most
12:35 GMT, 28 November 2012
Former Premier League striker Leon McKenzie has fought a long and gruelling battle with depression. Yesterday, in the first extract of an exclusive MailOnline serialisation of his new autobiography 'My Fight With Life', the former Premier League striker recounted the day he returned from training with Charlton Athletic and tried to take his own life. Today, McKenzie recalls being sent to prison for sending bogus letters in a bid to avoid speeding convictions…
I RETIRED FROM THE GAME FEELING SO EMPTY, YET I NEVER RECEIVED A CALL FROM THE PFA TO ASK IF I WAS OKAY…Scroll down to the bottom of the page to read how McKenzie felt let down by the PFA…
When Judge Bray passed sentence on me, I didn’t look back.
I could tell from the tears and the moans that my family were in pieces. I wanted to join them, but I had to be strong now.
I picked up the bag you’re told to prepare in case you get sent down and wandered down the stairs out the back of the court.
I was searched, handcuffed and sat down on a bench inside a container on the prison van that was going to take me to Woodhill Prison.
It is a category A facility where, me, a first-time driving offender, would be mixing with paedophiles, murderers, rapists and other hardcore villains.
I was told Woodhill was a very high
security ‘Close Supervision Centre’ for prisoners who are among the most
difficult and disruptive in the prison system.
I don’t know what those in the justice system had been told about me then. Maybe they had me confused with someone else.
basically I was a footballer not a criminal. There’s no way I deserved
to be banged up in prison and no way that I should be sent to such a
high security facility.
Scroll down for two video specials…
Prison break: Former Premier League goalscorer Leon McKenzie has battled depression throughout his career and he is lifting the lid in Sportsmail
The real deal: South London boy McKenzie laps up the notoriety in a special T-shirt at Palace in 2000 (left) and celebrates with a goal against Stockport (right)
Court date: McKenzie arrives at Northampton Crown Court hand in hand with wife Sofia in February this year. His friend Harvey (back left) attended in support
My Fight With Life
Click here to buy your copy now…Read yesterday's first exclusive extract: Nothing could stop me now. I raced back from training to my hotel room determined to kill myself… Click here…
guards at the court were sympathetic. The lady whose job it was to
explain what would now happen to me, said she couldn’t believe that I’d
been sent down.
Other wrong ‘uns sentenced that day piled on the prison van.
Some knew who I was. One knew I had made a record with my mate Harvey and started rapping to impress me.
It was a surreal moment listening to a criminal rapping on the way to prison, but it did make me laugh at least.
I’ve seen plenty of prison movies and walking into Woodhill for the first time felt like being in a film.
The residents were eyeing me up and down, checking me out. Convicts came out of their cells to have a look at the newbies.
Believe it or not some started chanting my name, not in a bad way, but like they were fans watching me play in a football match.
‘Leon, Leon, Leon’, they shouted. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to wave at them or just keep my head down.
But inside I was scared and I knew I couldn’t show it. Mentally I was preparing myself for this challenge and showing any sort of weakness was not an option if I was to survive.
I’d been verbally abused by one guy as I walked in for the first time. I clocked his face though and challenged him when I saw him in the gym later. He backed down, I gained some respect.
I was placed on suicide watch because of my background. I was left on my own in a cell with guards checking up on me every hour to make sure I was still breathing.
I felt the situation was completely
bizarre. The authorities clearly recognised I had a mental illness and
yet they still sent me to a facility that would test tougher minds than
The powers that be couldn’t have known it, but there was no danger of a second attempt to top myself though.
This was a massive challenge and I kept
thinking back to what life was like for me in the Bexleyheath hotel
room. I refused to cry this time, but right now, unlike a couple of
years earlier, looking to the future was actually an advantage.
Scroll down for video…
Glove affair: Young Leon in the ring to celebrate dad Clinton's British title win in 1982 (left) but joy turns to despair as McKenzie's Norwich lose 1-0 at Fulham (right)
SENT TO PRISON FOR SENDING BOGUS LETTERS
MailOnline news story – February 2012
Former Premier League striker Leon McKenzie (right) has been sent to prison for six months for sending bogus letters to avoid speeding convictions.
McKenzie was jailed at Northampton Crown Court after admitting six charges of attempting to dodge speeding fines between 2008 and 2010.
It comes after McKenzie revealed to Sportsmail in December that he attempted to commit suicide towards the end of his career after suffering from depression.
The 33-year-old (he is now 34) was sentenced after admitting sending the letters to Northamptonshire police.
The letters – that claimed to be from a fictional garage in London – said his car was off the road when he was caught speeding.
Claire Howell, prosecuting last year, said that each time McKenzie received a notice of intended prosecution, he sent a letter claiming mechanics were working on his car when it was ﬂashed by speed cameras.
Judge Richard Bray said: 'A custodial sentence is necessary for this type of offence which strikes right at the heart of justice. It would completely send out the wrong message if I did not hand out a custodial sentence.'
When I was at my lowest, the future was the problem. Now it offered hope, if only I could survive the next three months.
I’d started helping Clarke Carlisle and the PFA with understanding and helping players suffering from depression and I’d made a record with Harvey to kick-start my music career, something that had appealed to me for years.
Sure, I was miserable and I was still finding it hard to fathom how some stupidity on my part over speeding fines had led me to this situation, but I was determined to stay positive mentally.
The screws told me Woodhill was a prison that once held Charles Bronson. Fred and Rose West had stayed, Ian Huntley had been an inmate and Myra Hindley had spent time in the women’s part.
Bronson apparently had to have six guards accompany him for a pee. He once broke free from his minders just so he could slap the governor in the face so, he clearly relished his reputation as being one of Britain’s hardest men.
Bronson described his time at Woodhill as a ‘living hell’. He slept on a concrete slab on the floor of a tiny room. His sole window was bullet proof.
Christ, if a nutter like him, who had spent most of his adult life behind bars, found it hard living at Woodhill, how on earth would a pretty footballer like me cope!
Hindley was the devil incarnate according to the screws. One stare from her made the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention – she could terrify you without saying a word.
And here I was, Leon McKenzie, family man, following in their footsteps thanks to a lapse in judgement that hadn’t hurt anyone apart from me.
Sadly I wasn’t even Leon McKenzie any more. I was Prisoner A5818CL.
I was allowed three visitors a month. I was sentenced on a Wednesday and on the Saturday Sofia and Bruce Dyer, an old Crystal Palace team-mate and long-time friend, came to see me for a couple of hours and, while it was great that I had people who cared for me and loved me enough to want to come and visit me in this place, I didn’t let them come back.
I bid a tearful farewell to them both and resigned myself to solitude for the next couple of months.
At visiting times, the prisoners sit there at a table, wearing a bib over their tatty grey prison uniform, waiting for their visitors to come through the door. Emotionally I was wrecked by kids running in to see their prisoner father.
I didn’t want my kids to see me in a place like this. Prison was no place for me, never mind my children.
WATCH NOW – VIDEO: McKenzie's music video collaboration with MC Harvey…
Ball boy: McKenzie grabs the ball after scoring Norwich's first goal in the 3-2 defeat by Everton in 2004
LEON'S TYPICAL PRISON DAY
7am: Bang on the cell door meant time to get up, hand and face wash, teeth cleaning slip into my cleaner’s uniform.
7.30am-9.30am: Complete my cleaning jobs, serve breakfast to the other inmates. Take my breakfast to my cell.
9.30am-10.30am: Social time. Hang around the pool room, communal room for chat, games etc.
10.30am-noon: Locked up again.
Noon-1pm: Out to clean the cells ready for new arrivals.
1pm-3pm: Locked up again.
3pm-4pm: Out for exercise so off to the gym or a walk around the outside compound.
4pm-5pm: Locked up again.
6pm-7pm: Socialising in pool room, communal room.
7pm-7am: Locked up. Lights are allowed to be kept on in the cell all night. TV is available, but only five channels.
I locked myself away that night and refused to let anyone else visit, until Michael Duberry came in just before I was released.
Sofia told my younger kids that I was
away in London working on my music. I spoke to them on the phone
occasionally, but hearing my kids’ voices made me feel weak. No displays
of weakness were recommended in prison.
I missed my baby daughter’s first birthday which made me feel like s***. I was constantly in a sh***y mood. If anyone had confronted me physically that day I’d have fought them.
Reality kicked in the day after Sofia’s visit. My mindset had changed overnight and, even from time in a Category A prison, I had to take what positives I could from being here.
If I could get through this, I could get through anything, even away games at Millwall!
'Tough times don’t last, tough people do” is one of my favourite sayings. ‘Dubes’ reminded me of it in an e-mail he sent (EmailAPrisoner.com is a wonderful service!)
It was the perfect expression for prison and e-mails like this one from ‘Dubes’ kept me going inside.
‘Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
‘That best describes both me and you.
‘We are good friends, that’s the word of others.
‘But we both know we would say we are brothers.
‘For me, you walked in when many others walked out.
‘Neither did you have to scream and shout.
‘How will we remember the year we just had
‘Be glad it’s over Will we be happy or sad
‘It’s all a lesson, I just hope we pass the test.
‘And if there is more of the same, I hope we can avoid the rest.
Notorious: Previous Woodhill inmates Myra Hindley (left) and Charles Bronson (right) had given the prison an intimidating air of menace before McKenzie was sent there
‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.
‘We are both stronger than we thought and I say that with a confident voice.’
Lee, Bruce Dyer, mum, Sofia, dad, Rebecca, Clarke Carlisle and my
cousin Damien all wrote to me as did Spoony, under his real name of
Spoony have become really good friends since that time and like Dubes
said ‘many will walk out of your life, but the true friends will walk
I was offered a job as a cleaner which I readily accepted. I served food to the inmates. I had to keep my mind busy and active to get through this. I wrote a journal every day.
Anyway, hoovering earned you extra credits to use on the phone or for chocolate in the canteen so I was happy for once to be doing the household chores.
Believe me, they were huge perks especially as prison meals seemed to consist of starch, potatoes and fried stuff that would sit in your stomach for days.
My old Norwich chairman Delia Smith would have been appalled.
I worked hard at my new job. When I was scoring against Manchester United, Man City and Everton in Premier League football, I couldn’t have dreamt that I’d be happy mopping floors or serving s*** food a few years later, but strangely I was.
Darren Huckerby, a strike partner from my days with Norwich City, had always said I’d do the best job I possibly could whether I was sweeping roads or playing as a striker in the Premier League and he was right, although I’d gone to some extreme lengths to prove it!
I was moved to a slightly bigger cell with ‘MCKENZIE – CLEANER’ on the door.
Believe me that was a much sought after title inside, even by some of the hard men.
I got on great with Gary, Pete, Fletch and Ash, the other cleaners on my wing. We had our nicknames, Wayne was ‘Smokey’, Ash was ‘Jonny Vegas’, Pete was ‘Bert’ and I was ‘Superstar’.
LEON McKENZIE: My Fight With Life, Published by MacAnthonyMedia, priced 7.99. Click here to buy your copy now…I RETIRED FROM THE GAME FEELING SO LOST AND EMPTY, YET I NEVER RECEIVED A CALL FROM THE PFA TO ASK IF I WAS OKAY…
I am the living proof of what can happen to footballers who are not prepared for the end of their careers.
The death of Gary Speed brought the world’s gaze onto depression within football and to me it’s obvious that this is an area that the PFA, who are a very rich organisation, should become involved in financially.
I stayed silent after my own suicide attempt which was very wrong. Thank God I have had no relapses, but I was scared inside for a very long time.
In my opinion players should know they have someone to talk to about their problems no matter how serious they are or how embarrassing they think they are.
I didn’t have that luxury, but it’s a situation that has to change.
Now the PFA do some positive things and they say they have been working in these areas for some time.
They claim that only since Speed’s death have others tried to get involved in a more high profile way.
That’s untrue in my case as I had been lobbying the PFA before then. I admit it took Speed’s sad situation to make me speak out publicly about my suicide and my depression, but the PFA will hopefully note how well received my actions were.
I retired from the game feeling so lost and empty I needed support. Yet I never had a phone call from the PFA to ask if I was okay. I never had a phone call from the PFA asking if there was anything they could do for me.
It wouldn’t have taken a lot for someone to call and say: 'Leon we are sorry to hear about your attempted suicide, but if you need any help please call.'
I tempted sufferers out of the woodwork. The first step on the road to recovery is often admitting and confronting your problems and I have seen evidence of that from the players who contacted me after I went public.
The PFA issued a booklet on handling depression a couple of seasons ago. It was 36 pages long and was sent to all 4,000 current full-time professional footballers before Speed’s death and 50,000 ex-players after it.
It appears that the PFA were the ones that actually became more active after Speed’s death.
The advice was good, but is sending out a 36-page booklet with a few helpline numbers on it enough I don’t think so as so much more could have been done.
I suspect the PFA know that now. That’s why they decided to act so publicly when a high-profile former player, whose actions attracted attention all around the world, was lost.
My own view is that the PFA shouldn’t have waited until Speed passed away. They should have acted on the phone calls people like me were making.
VIDEO: McKenzie on his new autobiography…
LEON McKENZIE: My Fight With Life, Published by MacAnthonyMedia, priced 7.99. Click here to buy your copy now…