Former Norwich City striker Malcolm Allen discusses his battle with alcoholism
10:30 21 December 2014
Malcolm Allen has been ‘dry’ for nine years after winning his biggest battle – with booze. His troubles began during his days as a Norwich City player, as he told Gavin Caney.
As Malcolm Allen cast his mind back to darker days, what he saw in front of him brought him back to reality.
In the former professional footballer’s vision, as he stood outside Caernarfon Castle in Wales talking on his mobile, was a stark reminder of just how far he had once fallen; had the 47-year-old not turned his life around he could so easily have been just like the men who were in front of him. Homeless, trying to keep warm.
Allen knows had he not got to grips with his battle against alcoholism nine years ago he’d probably have been without a roof over his head – at the very best. And the ex-pro admits it was a fight that started to rear its destructive head as early as August, 1988 – when Norwich City shelled out £175,000 to sign him from Watford.
“Some of the players who joined me after training would go home after a few drinks, but I always wanted more,” said the man who won 14 caps for Wales.
It’s good to talk, but visit to Colney was just a one-off
Media work for BBC Radio Wales has brought one of Norwich City’s former strikers back to Norfolk on a couple of occasions.
While his countryman Iwan Roberts has made the county his home, Malcolm Allen is more often found where he and his fellow ex-Canaries frontman were raised.
But the 47-year-old last month returned to the place he played the game during the late 1980s and early 90s after being asked to pass on some vital advice.
Having seen the documentary about his battle against alcoholism, a member of staff at the club contacted Allen and he was only too pleased to warn those who attended the session about the dangers of excessive drinking.
The Dave Stringer signing said: “It was nice to go back. I had 20 good months there, and I’ve always liked Norwich, even though I didn’t know many people there now from my time at the club. The atmosphere was still the same though. It’s a lovely family club, and I was given a great welcome.
“There were about 35 players there and I just started off by playing a DVD for a few minutes that showed some of my goals, just to remind myself that I used to be a footballer and to give them a bit of a feeling of where I was coming from. When I was playing football I felt untouchable.
“It took me away from a realistic world when I had a lot of free time and could afford to spend a lot of money. It’s got worse over the last 20 years, with the money players now earn, but I can only speak from my experience and ended up keeping the wrong company.
“I was told none of the lads at Norwich has got a drinking problem, but hopefully it was helpful to be made aware of what can happen. If my story makes people stop and think about their behaviour then it’s done its job.”
The one-off visit was the first time Allen – who says he has no plans to make a habit of giving talks to current professionals – has been to the club’s Colney training ground.
While many memories of his time with City were forged at Trowse, the presenter on S4C’s Sgorio football show could not fail to be impressed by the players’ current surroundings.
He added: “Time has moved on and it’s great to see Norwich have got Premier League facilities. To be totally honest it’s just a shame they have not got a Premier League team to use them at the moment.”
“My then wife, the mother of my children, was still in London, I was bored, and with the money that came with it I was trying to replicate the adrenaline rush of playing.
“So I went out drinking. I always put 100pc into my football and I put the same effort into my drinking.
“I’d stay out until 3am, 4am so I’d do a good 12 hours. I’ve known some players who would put vodka on their Rice Crispies just so they could drink in the morning. I didn’t do that. I was just a massive binge drinker and would get to the stage when I didn’t care what I was doing, who I was with, or what the circumstances would be.”
From the highs of breaking through at Watford and signing for the Canaries – where he netted 15 times in 46 appearances, which included a four-goal haul during an 8-0 FA Cup win over Sutton United – his off-the-pitch lows started to take hold.
While the football continued after a £400,000 move to Millwall in 1990, so did the striker’s commitment to drinking. His passion for the beautiful game was replicated by his relentless love of the bottle. And that intense hunger for booze only grew when his playing days were ended at the age of just 28 thanks to a knee problem at Newcastle United.
Despite moving into coaching and television punditry, Allen – who didn’t drink until he was 18 – tried to battle his demons alone. And they were taking control. Four drink-drive offences followed as the ability to self-destruct looked set to ruin everything that the father-of-three had. But in 2003 he finally found help.
“The theory you’re born an alcoholic doesn’t sit right with me. In my opinion, I grew into it. I liked to binge and it became an obsession,” said the man who recently starred in a documentary entitled ‘Malcolm Allen: Another Chance’ on Welsh channel S4C, where he now works.
“The drink was making me irrational. So I had to start from scratch and put myself in a good place. I picked up the phone and asked this former jockey who wrote a book on alcoholism, for help. And he did. I’d hurt my parents, my ex-wife, who I’ve now got a great relationship with again. My two boys didn’t speak to me for five years, but we’ve got a really positive relationship again. I’ve turned my life around and the right Malcolm, the sober Malcolm, has come through.”
From a disgraced figure he has now turned over a new leaf with the help of his current partner Rhian Griffiths. After seven years of filling the gaps in his head with happy thoughts and controlling his urges, Allen remains certain he has overcome his demons.
He added: “Drink took me to somewhere I never knew existed. I was on the floor and I had nothing. But slowly and surely, with help and lots of love from people around me, I got back on my feet and I started to enjoy life again. I’m happy, I’ve got a few jobs with the TV and mentoring coaches. I do a bit of scouting for a few clubs, including Crystal Palace, and I’d like to get back involved with coaching or perhaps eventually go into management.”
The terrace favourite may have won his fair share of matches when he crossed the white line.
But he still knows his biggest victory of all remains breaking the controlling grip of his fiercest opponent yet – alcohol.
HIGH-PROFILE FOOTBALL VICTIMS
The scourge that is alcohol has claimed many victims in the world of sport, football in particular. Paul Gascoigne has been on the front pages at regular intervals in recent years. The former England star admits he has struggled to cope with life after football: he was manager of Kettering Town for just 39 days, before the owner pulled the plug, claiming Gascoigne had drank every day.
Former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams had similar problems, but out of the negatives came a positive: in 2000, Adams set up the Sporting Chance Clinic to help sportsmen and women who were suffering from addictions, including alcoholism and the use of drugs.