Troy Deeney relives prison stint that could have cost him football career as he launches brilliant new Sun column

EMERGING from his jail cell, Troy Deeney would seek out a copy of The Sun to keep him in touch with the outside world.

But leafing through SunSport one day, he was dismayed to find that, following a spate of signings, he was now seventh-choice striker at Watford.

Shamed at being incarcerated for a drunken brawl, grieving for his dead father and now facing the loss of his livelihood, it may have crushed a lesser man.

But today, as Troy is unveiled as The Sun’s brilliant new columnist and forthright talkSPORT presenter, he remembers the stark warnings from fellow cons that helped him turn his life around.

In a soft Brummie lilt, he tells me: “Other prisoners would look at the pictures of my family that I had put on my cell wall and say, ‘What are you doing here? You’re a f***ing idiot’.

“Prison gives you time to reflect. I’d embarrassed my family. You can sulk about it or you can man up and fix it.

"And that’s what I did. I fixed it with the help of some good people around me. And I haven’t looked back since.”

Now Troy, 32, is itching to write his first column for you.

He says: “The Sun is a massive paper and I understand the roles and responsibilities that go with that.

“I want to add something unique and give a different perspective, not only on sport but many areas.”

Don’t expect him to be pulling punches. When I ask him about racism in football — he supports taking the knee and believes black managers are being passed over — he is quick to also point out the lack of diversity among journalists.


And he’d welcome a gay player coming out at Watford, adding: “I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t accept anyone from that community but expect anyone to take racism seriously.”

Writing is important for Troy — and has been instrumental in healing the wounds of his past.

Pointing at the head that has won so many Premier League aerial battles, he says: “All the madness that’s up here, I just try and write it out to make sense of it.”

It has taken five years of counselling with a psychologist to help deal with “unresolved issues” that he once tried to soothe with alcohol.

He says he hasn’t drunk for nine months and writes to help put his life in order.

After leaving jail in 2012 Troy became “Mr Watford”, leading the club to the Premier League’s sunlit uplands as its captain, praised as an inspirational leader, loved by the fans.

Now he will have a new audience as part of The Sun’s unrivalled team of football commentators and writers.

And if lived experience is any guide to what makes a good columnist, then articulate Troy will go far.

He was brought up in a tower block flat on tough Birmingham overspill estate Chelmsley Wood by his “warrior and angel” mum, Emma.

His biological father left when Troy was nine months old. Although Troy sought him out as a teenager, the pair have no relationship now.

Prison gives you time to reflect. I’d embarrassed my family. You can sulk about it or you can man up and fix it.

Troy — six feet of tattooed muscle — says of the abandonment: “There’s still a bit in me, a nasty side of me, that’s like, ‘I hope you see every single thing I’m doing successfully, and metaphorically, it kills you’.”

Emma worked three jobs to support Troy, his brother Ellis — now 29 and playing for Southern League Premier Division club Stourbridge — and his sister Sasha, 23.

Their nan helped him buy his football boots with weekly payments through the Kays catalogue.

In place of his biological father, the man who Troy calls Dad was Paul Anthony Burke — his “superhero”, despite being a violent career drug dealer whose jail sentences were explained away in the family as “business trips”.

Aged ten, Troy and brother Ellis, then seven, were asleep in their bunk beds when the door was smashed off its hinges by police who then grappled with Burke.

After he was arrested, mum Emma explained it away as Dad going off to play football with some mates.

But soon afterwards she left Burke, prompting an outburst of violence by him that led to Troy being visited by concerned social workers.

Burke had picked up Troy and his siblings from their auntie’s home and demanded to be shown where their mum was now living. They didn’t want to tell him but “had no choice”.

Burke kicked in the door at the address and found Emma sitting in an armchair.

Troy recalls: “He kept telling her that she needed to come home. She said, ‘No’. And every time she did, he would punch her.

“I kept jumping in front of him, trying to make him stop, only to take a punch myself and fall to the floor. Then I’d get back up and take another punch.”

Police hauled Burke off and he returned to jail for that offence.

Today Troy says: “I don’t mind talking about it because I think it raises awareness for others.”

And he even forgave his father. He says: “He was still my Superman. If you’re from an area where violence, drugs and gambling isn’t prolific, then it looks weird.

“But if it’s normal that everyone around you has had some form of trauma, then you don’t feel sorry for yourself.”

Football eventually proved Troy’s salvation.

The boyhood Birmingham City fan flunked a trial at Aston Villa’s academy and became a £120-a-week bricklayer, paying his mum £50 a week to live at home.

A bustling, physical centre forward, he signed for local non-league team Chelmsley Town, moving to Walsall in 2007 and Watford in 2010.

He says: “I went from £180 a week to four and a half grand a week, and I was still living in Chelmsley Wood.

“Putting that into perspective, a year of my then wages could have bought two houses on the estate.”

But Troy admits: “When the money and adulation came, I acted like a d***.”

That could mean 15 shots of Jack Daniel’s and a scrap as he hit the town with friends and hangers on, while picking up the tab.

Troy’s wild social life hurtled towards its perhaps inevitable conclusion in a haze of alcohol outside a nightclub in Birmingham’s Broad Street in February 2012.


His dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the oesophagus, leaving Troy “angry and hurt”.

Hitting the town for a friend’s birthday the next evening, Troy and his brother were involved in a fight after knocking back £2 shots.

He says: “We’d had a good night. I was going home, walking up the road and I was on the phone and someone just went, ‘You know your brother’s in a fight?’ As I turned round, there was a big melee, and I saw red.”

He says he “forgot who I was” and “steamrollered” in.

The following June, two days before Troy’s trial, his dad died. He was 47 and Troy read the eulogy at his funeral.

Forty eight hours later, Watford’s star striker was jailed for ten months after admitting affray.

Yet when the cell door slammed shut in Birmingham’s Winson Green prison, there were no tears from Troy.

He says candidly: “I don’t cry. I struggle with it.

“I was on K Wing. The guard who opened the door and pushed me in said, ‘Oh, by the way, the other prisoners know who you are’.

“He shut the door. I thought, ‘Cheers, mate’. At that point, it’s just fend for yourself.”

Troy was looked after by the other cons because his father had also served time there. And they were quick to give him a life lesson.

He recalls: “My dad’s friends were like, ‘If we didn’t have the respect we have for your dad, we’d be filling you in. Do you know how much of an idiot you are? You were the hope for everybody else, and you’re in here with us’.

"It was weird to be told you’re an idiot by criminals. It was a new low for me. So I went, ‘OK, I get it’.”

Troy was fitted with an ankle tag which he wore while playing for Watford just ten days after his release after serving nearly three months.

Fighting his way back into the team, he became the Hornets’ talisman and captain.

It was weird to be told you’re an idiot by criminals. It was a new low for me.

Today he lives happily with his partner and “best friend”, graphic designer Alisha Hosannah, 27, ten-month-old baby Clay and step-daughter Isla, five.

He also has two children, Miles, ten, and five-year-old Amelia, with his ex-wife, Stacey.

Worried for Clay’s health in the pandemic — he has suffered with breathing difficulties — Troy had initially baulked at football’s Project Restart before he was reassured by health experts and joined training.

He bristles when I mention how internet trolls targeted Clay, saying they hoped he contracted Covid.

He says: “Normally I laugh it off but this time my punch bag got it for an hour before I calmed down.

“Just because footballers earn a lot of money, it doesn’t mean we’re not human.”

Posing for photos for Sun snapper Dickie Pelham, Troy flexes a bicep with a tattoo reading: “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.”

Listening to his incredible story of redemption, few would doubt it.

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