Part 2: Interview with former Norwich City legend Peter Mendham about his fall from grace

To others, it would have been as stifling as a prison cell – a single mattress on the floor of a van, a makeshift home anonymously parked on a dark side street.

To Peter Mendham, however, the difference was marked: in prison, the doors only opened for an hour a day while in his van, freedom was just a step away.

Having left a comfortable job on the Scottish border where his staff accommodation saw him housed in, somewhat bizarrely, a castle, Peter returned to King's Lynn to stay with his father and found work in Norwich.

'I soon found that it was too far to commute and the financial side of it was pretty horrendous too,' said Peter, 51.

'It made sense to live in the back of my van. I had a single mattress in there and a sleeping bag. I'd go to work, go to my sports club and work out and then have a shower and something to eat.

'I'd go back to the van, get into my sleeping bag and settle down. If you can sleep in a tiny prison cell, you can definitely sleep in a van because you know you can open the doors and get out if you want to.

'I didn't want to come back to Norwich and burden my family. They'd say to me 'you can't live in a van!' but I'd say to them that I was happy doing it.

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'I dealt with it because I think after you've been in prison, not being able to do what you want to and having your liberty and freedom taken away from you, it puts your whole life into perspective.

'We live in a world where people think that material things are important, but I've changed my whole outlook on life and I now know what really matters.

'I realise that it's all about your family and your true friends, the people who stick by you through the difficult times and are always there for you. Nothing is more important than that.'

Having played football for Norwich City in a very different era, before footballers were paid telephone number sized salaries and were viewed as distinct brands, Peter never commanded the vast wages of today's footballers.

When he was sent to prison, he was declared bankrupt.

'I travelled the world with Norwich City and I loved being a local boy playing for the local team,' he said.

'It was a fantastic time and I enjoyed some of the very best moments of my life when I was playing for Norwich: it was a dream come true. But if you're looking at it from a financial point of view, it would have been far better for me to have been playing now.

'If I was in the same position now as I was then, I could make enough money to sort my whole family out for life and never have to think about money again.

'But then I look at the whole package: I may not have lots of material possessions but I have my health, my sons, my family, my father is 86 and pretty well, I have my friends and I am blessed.

'Yes, I haven't got a Mercedes and I haven't got my own house, but what I have I own and I have paid for and I am building up to living a reasonable life because now I know who I am.'

After what has been an undeniably tough five years, Peter Mendham believes he's emerged from the nightmare of arrest, prison, probation and homelessness a better, stronger man.

In the months preceding the 'moment of madness' that saw him attack former partner Charlotte Hyam and leave her with life-threatening injuries, Peter admits that his life was spiralling out of control.

Unable to turn down opportunities which came his way, he had been juggling a number of different ventures, which included a role as fundraiser for the East Anglian Air Ambulance, football coaching, personal fitness training and working in hospitality at Norwich City Football Club.

There was, he admits now, no balance in his life. His relentless work schedule left little time for relaxation and left him feeling 'stressed and desperate'.

'Everything I do, I give my all to,' he said.

'When I worked for the Air Ambulance, I worked my socks off raising millions of pounds. It was more than a full-time job, but it didn't stop me taking on extra work.

'I threw myself into the fundraising, working with Delia Smith in hospitality at the club, the personal fitness and coaching the kids at Eaton Park on a Saturday morning, which I loved.

'I remember once that I was running a bit late and as I was driving from football coaching, I was looking for red lights so that I could change from my football shirt into a white shirt and tie to work at Norwich City. It was madness.

'I was doing far too much and I became very stressed and depressed. Now I know not to get into that situation again, which is why I am enjoying my life so much.'

The fear of feeling trapped in a cycle of stressful work was a contributing factor in Peter quitting just two days after taking a role as assistant manager at non-league Newmarket Town in December 2011.

'I really love football and I really love coaching, but I worried that if I let myself get into that position again, it might put my progress back,' he said.

'I am happy with the jobs I have and those jobs allow me the time and space to do the things I want to do – spend time with the people that matter and have my own time to breathe and think.

'I'm not earning big money, I'm not living in luxury, but I am living the life that I want to live for the first time in a long time.'

Now, living with his eldest son and working for local firm Ecoglass and on the Norfolk Broads where he carries out maintenance work, Peter will shortly be looking for a house to rent.

'When I left prison and went to a bail hostel in the north east, my friend who runs Edinburgh Woollen Mill offered me a dream job as an estate manager,' he said.

'I went for a year and looked after the estate and the 21-bedroom castle. I had everything I could have ever wanted. I could jump into a Bentley convertible or one of the Jaguars or Land Rovers and go wherever I wanted. I lived in an actual castle!

'I had a lovely home, lovely cars to drive in and a lovely family that had taken me in as one of their own and yet I had no purpose.

'My father wasn't well and I missed my boys. I also missed Norfolk, which I love, and the people here. I've never thought about what I'd came away from and I've never looked back since.

'I like the freedom of being a delivery driver and being on the Broads so often is just fantastic: where else can you have your packed lunch and watch otters playing in the water? I love it, love every moment I'm there.

'Now I'm going to start to look for somewhere of my own to live. Somewhere on the edge of the city or a few miles out. It is a bit daunting to think about starting again, but I'm ready and although it'll be strange to be in my own house after so long, I'm looking forward to it.

'I haven't had a relationship since this happened and to be honest, it's because I'm not ready. I hope that one day I will be ready, but I'm certainly not in a rush.'

Another way that Peter is channelling his dauntless optimism is towards his new charity, the Yellow Brick Road Foundation, which will offer cash handouts to worthy causes.

With office space and support from long-time friend Glenn Hoy and help from those around him, Peter hopes that the new charity will offer a lifeline to individuals or charities struggling in the current economic climate.

A charity football match held at Carrow Road on May 20 will see city legends such as Darren Huckerby and Darren Eadie join Peter to boost the Yellow Brick Road Foundation's coffers.

'You can either sink or swim, be positive or negative,' said Peter.

'I am a very positive person; yes, life isn't easy, but it's about how you deal with problems.

'For me, it's about working with my friends and family to create beautiful memories.

'I'm not bitter about anything. Being bitter is just a waste of time.'

stacia.briggs@archant.co.uk

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