Former Norwich City striker Leon McKenzie said he has emerged from his prison nightmare a stronger person and is now striking out at a new goal of helping others battling with depression to get the help they need through his own charity.

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The 34-year-old, who scored 22 goals in 81 games for the Canaries between 2003 and 2006, was sent to jail for six months in February this year for trying to avoid speeding convictions by sending bogus letters to the police.

McKenzie, who had previously admitted six charges of perverting the course of justice, was also disqualified from driving for 18 months when be was sentenced at Northampton Crown Court.

But McKenzie, who has just signed for non-league outfit Corby Town after retiring from professional football at the end of last year, is now out of prison and is determined to take the positives from a hugely difficult time for him personally.

He said: “I kind of prepared myself to be going in. It was a good few years ago that these offences happened but unfortunately for me I was in a very, very dark place, and around that time wasn’t doing very well within myself mentally. I surrounded myself with the wrong people and my judgement got clouded.

“It was a driving offence but I really hadn’t looked into how serious it was. I gave someone my penalty points and said ‘can you deal with that for me?’ without looking into the consequences of it or how serious it was.

“At the end of the day I went to an A category prison, it wasn’t like a B or a C, it was an A category prison with proper criminals in there.

“I took it on the chin, did my time and did what I had to do and came out of it in such a positive way and wanted to give back and help people.”

The former Peterborough, Coventry, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Northampton and Kettering star has made no secret of his battles with depression and now wants to use his experience to help others by forming a charity to provide a vital lifeline for sufferers.

McKenzie, who is planning to write an autobiography about his experiences on and off the pitch, said: “There’s so many people without support day to day. Things can happen but you can get back on track and that’s what I’m trying to do and say to people.”

McKenzie, who said he had “a lot of love” from people after admitting publicly that he had battled depression, revealed fellow former Canary star Darren Eadie is one of those he’s trying to help. Eadie, who played for City 168 times, scoring 35 goals between 1993 and 1999, spoke out this year about the depression he was plunged into after his career was cut short by injury.

McKenzie said: “Darren was one of the people who called me to say he really appreciated me coming out and said he was having a few problems as well and ever since I’ve been working with him and helping him through. He has good days and bad days – it’s one of them where I’m just a phone call away.”

The pair of ex-footballers are looking to work with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) to ensure there is help for footballers who become ill after their careers finish. McKenzie will be speaking about his battle with depression, his work to help others and his career when he returns to Norwich next month for an Evening With Leon McKenzie at Dunston Hall Hotel, Ipswich Road, Norwich on August 10.

The event, hosted by Kevin Piper, will see McKenzie link up again with former strike partner Dean Ashton who will also be appearing.

He said: “Perhaps my best time at Norwich was when he was alongside me so that’s why I wanted to bring him on board.”

It means a welcome return to Norwich for McKenzie, now living in Northampton, who makes no secret of his love for Norwich City Football Club and the fans.

The father-of-four said: “I love coming back to Norwich, all they’ve showed me is love.

“I think probably ever since I left Norwich my heart was always there. I just love the place so much.

“The club, for me, they just made me who I was. I only had to leave because of personal reasons – my divorce and everything. I had to leave, I just had to go.”

McKenzie, who earlier this year had his first music single, a collaboration with So Solid Crew rapper MC Harvey, released on iTunes, is hoping that he might one day be given the chance to say a proper thank you and goodbye to the fans on the pitch at his beloved Carrow Road.

He said: “There’s a lot of special memories I’ve had there and I would love to come back and walk on the pitch again and clap the whole stadium just to say thank you. I would love that. I would probably cry. There’s certain things I’ve done in my career and certainly Norwich will live with me forever.”

For more information about an Evening With Leon McKenzie including ticket details log onto www.think-promotions.co.uk or call 01603 819121.

Have you successfully fought depression? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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