Watford striker Troy Deeney talks about his prison sentence and how it changed his life
Troy Deeney is known for being one of the biggest characters in Watford’s dressing room but in his first newspaper interview since he was released from prison in September, the striker talks to Deputy Sports Editor Frank Smith about his spell inside and the impact it has had on his life.
The phrase ‘I’m a changed man’ is often overused. It is rolled out when people want to apologise for previous indiscretions and in more instances than not, the individual is no different than before. But in many cases, people are reformed following life-changing events.
In June last year, Watford striker Troy Deeney was sentenced to ten months in prison for affray following a violent brawl outside a Birmingham night club. He says he’s a changed man.
Time will ultimately tell and it would be unfair to state whether he is or isn’t a different person based on six months.
One thing is for sure though, Deeney has barely put a foot wrong since his release from prison on September 10, 2012. On the field, he has led the line superbly; averaging just under a goal in every two games. Off the pitch, he has spent considerable time trying to change the lives of young offenders and is in the process of setting up a foundation.
At 2.20am on Wednesday, February 29, Deeney was caught on CCTV cameras punching and kicking a student whilst he was on the floor as part of a mass brawl involving several people. For that reason, he accepts some people will never forgive him for his actions.
For the record, I have always liked Troy – both as a footballer and as a person. Like all of us, he has his flaws and for me personally, I have made my fair share of mistakes in the past and would like to think I am a better person because of that.
So for those two reasons, I was maybe quicker to forgive his actions than others.
I barely spoke to Troy in his first six months out of prison; Watford’s media team, rightly, refused requests for interviews following his release and then the delay in confirming his new contract extended this further.
We sat down for the first time in ten months on Tuesday and as usual, Deeney was refreshingly honest, like he always has been.
When I first asked one of the Walsall journalists about Deeney back in 2010, they said he is “a good lad who is very honest”. Sometimes that gets him in trouble but in an industry full of smoke-and-mirrors, the truth is always appreciated.
“Some people won’t forgive me, that’s just the world that we live in,” Deeney admitted. “I can’t do anything about that so I’m just trying to concentrate on being a better person for me and for Watford Football Club.
“Nobody dislikes me at the training ground so I would like to think I’m quite a nice person and I’m just trying to improve on being me.
“I’m only human, I made a mistake, I paid for that mistake and I’m trying to get on with my life.”
Deeney was booed by a small minority of fans when he made his return in September but it wasn’t long before he restored his fans’ favourite status.
The striker signed a new three-and-a-half year contract last week and stressed the Vicarage Road crowd played a huge part in his decision to remain at the club.
“The fans have been fantastic to me,” he said. “It’s a massive reason as to why I’m staying. If I had been getting a bit of stick when I played, or when I see people around, then it might well have changed how I thought about this place.”
For many supporters, they will only know the Troy Deeney who winds up his team-mates on Twitter and interrupts radio and television interviews.
The Hornets striker is a big character in the dressing room but he is also a real family man.
His has been with his partner, Stacey, for ten years, since the pair were in school, and they have a son Myles, who is four in May.
The player has a host of tattoos and apart from the Birmingham City crest on his leg, the rest are dedicated to his family.
“I’m a massive family man,” Deeney said. “I think if you’ve always grown up with money and all of that then you can sort of get sidetracked sometimes but I’ve always grown up with my family and that remains the most important thing to me.
“Motivation wise, I’d say my son accounts for 90 per cent, but I’ve got the rest of my family too.
“My dad passed away in May so everything that I wish I could do with my dad, I try to do with my son because you can never know how long we’re here for, we could die tomorrow and we have to have our memories.
“So I just try to give him the best life I can both in terms of money and education.”
Deeney doesn’t hide the fact that missing his son was the toughest part of his two-and-a-half month sentence, especially as he refused to let Myles visit while he was inside.
“Not seeing my son was without doubt the hardest point for me but I spoke to little man as much as I could on the phone and he just thought I was at football camp,” Deeney said.
“Obviously when he gets old enough to understand what happened we’ll break it down to him and tell him what happened. I guess he may find out any way because these kids can go on the internet nowadays can’t they but for now, I don’t want his image of me tarnished in any way.
“So I just try to leave him to be a kid and hopefully my mistakes will mean my son can learn from them and he won’t have to make the same mistakes himself.”
Deeney dotes on his son and after 77 days apart, his release was always going to be an emotional day.
But the striker’s plan for Myles to never enter a prison was foiled at the final hurdle.
He explained: “I told my missus to wait outside as I signed out and I would come out to them. But my son needed a wee so she had to bring him inside just as I was getting chucked out.
“But as you can imagine, after over two-and-a-half months without a haircut and a shave, I looked quite different so he was bit worried about me at first.
“He then just hugged me all the way home. My missus drove and we just sat in the back and hugged from Manchester to Birmingham.
“He was telling me about the new wrestlers, all the new things he had been doing and we have a thing where the dog ‘does his head in’ every day so he was telling me what the dog had done this time.
“It lasted for about an hour-and-a-half on the way home. It was lovely.”
It would be understandable if Deeney wanted to completely leave his misdemeanours in the past and forget about it all.
However, the striker wants to use his bad experiences as a force for good.
All of the Hornets’ players do work in the community and in recent months Deeney has been visiting young offenders and educational groups run by the police and probation service.
The Birmingham City fan is also in the “paperwork stage” of setting up his own foundation which he hopes could be in place as early as next month.
The striker has been talking to Watford’s-own Anthony Joshua, who won Olympic gold less than 18 months after he was arrested for possessing cannabis with intent to supply, and the pair are considering helping out with each other’s foundations.
“I had a lot of thinking time inside and I’ve now done a few things on my list that I wanted to do,” the former Aston Villa trainee said.
“There’s quite a few more that need to be done but this is my major priority, where I feel I can give back, and it’s something that I enjoy.
“A lot of people get caught up in what money can give you and whilst money is nice and of course everyone likes money, you need something that gives you a sense of achievement and helping people is what I want to do.
“I don’t want to sound like a preacher or anything but I’m into helping people.”
He continued: “I’m at the higher end now and living the good life, whereas a few months back I was living the not so good life so I can see it from both angles.
“I’m still young enough to relate to people who are 16 to 21, I can say how I left school with nothing and I’m here now.
“I do things at home as well. The local kids play football but obviously don’t have much and their mum can’t afford a £200 pair of boots.
“We’re in the privileged position of being given boots for free so I’ll often take boots home and give them away.
“A lot of people probably don’t see it as a massive thing but if you’re giving somebody £200 boots that his mum might have to work three jobs to get, then it helps them out massively.
“I’ve come from that background; my mum worked three or four jobs just to pay for Christmas. I’ve done all that, I’ve seen all that.
“I’m just trying to help them out and in turn, if they ever become big at what they want to do, then they might help the next generation out and hopefully it will have a knock on effect.”
So we come back to that initial statement; is Troy Deeney indeed a changed man? Was his prison sentence a turning point in his life? And will he remain in the headlines for the right reasons?
“I’m definitely a changed man; it’s opened my eyes to what I should be doing,” he responded.
“I’m in a very privileged position, which I knew anyway, but now I’m at the point where I’m 24, I’m not a baby in football terms any more so it’s just a case of how do you carry yourself and conduct yourself on a day-to-day basis?
“I’m not someone who will go out [to nightclubs], I don’t drink any more, but I still like to go out and have fun – I might go to the casino with my friends – and I still like to be the same sort of person.
“I don’t think I’ll ever change from being Troy but I’d like to think I’m more humble now.”
In the last week, Watford supporters have probably seen a different side to the powerful striker who is regarded as one of the main jokers in the dressing room.
Some will not forgive his actions in the past, which is their right, but at the same time, Deeney is a man trying to make up for his mistakes.
“I’ve said sorry, I’ve tried to show the fans I’m a better person and I’m looking to move on from that now,” he stressed.
“I’ll always speak to people about what happened if they want to ask me and we can talk about it face to face.
“But I’d like to just concentrate on getting promoted – I’ve signed a new deal and I’m happy.
“Everyone at Watford is happy with how it’s going so let’s just make it a good summer and get to the Premier League.”
The second part of our in-depth interview with Deeney and the first of our new player profiles will be in Friday’s Watford Observer.