The descent had been slow, but when the end finally came, it was quick. Barnsley had completed their training early on Christmas Day 2014 to allow players to enjoy Christmas dinner with their families. It wasn’t good for Keith Treacy.
All by itself, dinner was a bowl of pasta. Dessert was a bottle of vodka and a bottle of whiskey. “They were both gone in the morning,” he said Air sports. Alarming under all circumstances but especially when Treacy was scheduled to play Preston on Boxing Day.
“I woke up with the door knocked by the driver who was going to take me to the game. There was blood and sick all over my living room where I had passed out. There was just that much hard alcohol in my system that I was vomiting blood.
“He actually wanted to call my mom and dad because I wasn’t in good shape, but I took a shower and sat on the bench during the game. I did the warm-up but then that I turned to the sprint, the people in the pits were getting darker and darker.
“My peripheral vision came and went. It was like tunnel vision. I told the gaffer I had the flu and couldn’t play. He told me to sit behind the canoe and to stay away from guys.
“I jumped on a plane to Dublin and never went back.”
Treacy had been a real talent, his direct run impressed manager Graeme Souness from the moment he arrived at Blackburn. He made his Premier League debut in 2008 as a teenager with a win at Everton and before long he was a Republic of Ireland international.
But his professional career was over at the age of 26. He never returned to Barnsley or elsewhere, a career cut short by addiction. It is only now, almost seven years later, that he is starting to rebuild himself, considering a return to football at his home in Ireland.
Even this Christmas was not quite the end of his troubles. “I wouldn’t say it was the penny that fell, but it was definitely a turning point.” Yet there were still two more years of “alcohol, vacations, women and horses” before his savings were burnt.
“I didn’t drink because I liked the taste. I drank because I wanted to pass out and forget, get up in the morning, take out the football and start all over again.
“The rock bottom woke up in bed and all I could think about was going back to the pub. I think I was at the point where I could have lost my life with it. I was drinking to hurt myself.”
Treacy is not looking for sympathy. “I made a lot of bad decisions,” he says. “No one had a gun pointed at my temple and was forcing me to drink or do whatever else I did. It was all me.” But could more be done to anticipate the problems he was facing?
He appreciates the support of the PFA but wonders if it is reactive and not proactive. He thinks of the managers who made it possible for him and of a culture that made extraordinary demands on a 15 year old boy in a new country. The surprise is that more do not suffer the same fate.
“It was quite a culture shock so not having anyone trying to settle you down, relax, or give you something to do after 1pm when you are done training,” Treacy adds.
“There is only one way to go.”
Part of the problem for Treacy is that his ambitions were realized early on. The goal of playing in the Premier League was ticked in record time. His international debut took place under the direction of Giovanni Trapattoni when the new Aviva stadium opened against Argentina.
The story of that night sums up Treacy’s mentality. It should have been the start of something, but it felt like the end. He got off the floor and walked over to the pub to see his grandfather a few feet away, handing him his game shirt.
“I remember everyone calling me and saying, ‘You played against Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria.’ I just wasn’t interested. I just wanted to go. I walked out of the stadium, went down to the pub, gave him the jersey because it was around his birthday, and we had a few pints . I could probably tell you more about the pub night than the game itself. “
It’s a story that makes you wonder if it was ever made for the professionalism of football at the highest level. “I was always bogged down with the idea, when I was playing in a big game, that I shouldn’t do anything wrong. Don’t give the ball away,” he said.
“The higher you go, the more trained you are. Don’t lose the ball, don’t run with the ball. Pass and move, pass and move. I was a winger who liked to run with for that genre You start to lose what you brought him there in the first place.
“Have I ever enjoyed it? Not really. I never walked off the pitch thinking I really enjoyed it. It’s all tactical. Even now, when you watch a football game, everything doesn’t. is that tactical. We keep it for 10 minutes, you keep it for 10 minutes. Very few teams go for the chinstrap.
“I was asked not too long ago what my ambitions were. When I was a kid it was to play in the Premier League and play for my country. I didn’t set a goal of 100 selections I was not very ambitious with When I was 21, I had.
“The fire really started to go out in me at that point. I was no longer hungry. I was doing well financially and the drink set in. I had reached the top of the mountain and all m ‘hit suddenly. I started to get a little heavier around my waist. “
Such was his talent, it took a long time for the decline to set in. But the seeds were sown early. In Blackburn, he would see Roque Santa Cruz skip sessions due to chronic injuries and others like Robbie Fowler relax a bit. He was looking for shortcuts himself.
“I thought I was on the same level, getting carried away and thinking I could do it too.” Later, after being moved, his drinking problems increased and it affected his game. “I played drunk games for Preston,” he admits. “I played drunk games for Burnley.”
A special occasion stands out. It was a midweek draw for Burnley against Cardiff. Eddie Howe had hooked Treacy early on against Coventry this weekend, so he wasn’t expected to be selected. Then he was summoned to the front of the bus.
“I remember as I walked there were comments from the guys that I reeked of alcohol.” To his surprise, Howe did not reprimand him but instead told him he was starting the match. “It was the last thing I wanted because I was drunk on the bus.”
As you might expect, Burnley lost. Unpredictably, Treacy almost scored. “The ball bounced around, I saw about 42 balls and I just swung and hit one. I managed to get away with that one, but that only masked the problem, digging the hole deeper. “
There are times when Treacy falls into something close to an after dinner routine by telling stories that you suspect made the local laugh or two.
Deep down, however, he knows there is a side to stories that is anything but funny. He is convinced that the problems are still prevalent in football but that they are hidden.
“When Paul Merson and Paul Gascoigne were playing, people were like, ‘They’re too fit to drink these days.’ Then when I was playing people would say, “They’re too fit to drink these days. They still say it, that guys are too fit to drink like me.”
“I guarantee you there are people struggling with this today.”
The modern gamer must also face the dangers of social media. It’s a challenge that Treacy readily admits got him in trouble just ten years ago.
“I would really go looking for those comments. It would only be a minority, but it would affect me. I would be on the pitch with the ball at my feet thinking, ‘Remember that guy that said that you weren’t good at running the ball. ‘ It just has a huge negative effect.
“The abuse you are going through, I really see very few positives in that. It is very rare that you pick up the phone, read a few positive comments and then put it away feeling good about yourself. Everyone is trying. to take you down. “
That’s part of the reason he gave up his phone. Treacy can now be reached through his wife Leanne. “It’s just me trying to keep the temptation away,” he explains.
“If I had a phone, I would probably try to meet someone for a drink or a bet on a horse soon, so it’s better for my own peace of mind.”
Fortunately, he has found some peace now.
“I am in a much better position mentally and physically,” he adds.
“I had four years of therapy. It took a lot of effort to get into the therapist’s room, but I came out of there with 10 pounds less on my shoulders each time.”
He’s been sober for almost four years and even plays football again.
“I’m in training and looking to come back, but it will be just to play for fun, to get going and get back into a routine with my family.
“It seems like the right time. Although my body has been through a lot, I’m still only 32. I don’t want to be disrespectful at Irish level, but I feel like I can still play here.”
This helps explain why he has so far refused calls to write his autobiography. “I don’t want to write my story yet because I feel like there is some way to go.”
The trip has not always been pleasant. His addiction has cost him his family and friends who “don’t really want to talk anymore”. The only player of his career in England with whom he is still in contact is former Scotland international Ross Wallace.
But he wants to reach out and help others.
“I don’t have a calendar, I don’t want to be dumped on social media and I don’t want money. If I can help someone with the demands of the game, something like that, I want to do it, if I can help a young player feel a little better about himself, then my job will be done.
“Anyone who thinks that I could be someone who could relate to them, please contact us as I am not here to judge or to tell your manager. Maybe you will go on and do brilliantly with me having played a little part. It would make me feel good.
“I just wish the penny could have fallen for me sooner.”
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