"It’s time to give back and help people” - Burnley legend Andy Payton on his AP10 Foundation
A typical image of Andy Payton adorns the walls of the James Hargreaves Stand at Turf Moor, celebrating a goal.
The Padiham Predator is a true Clarets legend, scoring 81 goals in 175 appearances for his boyhood club, who released him at the age of 16.
His goals were critical in keeping Burnley out of the basement division, and turning things round, laying the groundwork for the success the club continues to enjoy today.
But, Payton, now 53, endured some difficult times looking to replace the high of putting the ball in the net.
And he admits he is as proud of his climb away from rock bottom, as he is of his prolific football career with Hull City, Middlesbrough, Celtic, Barnsley, Huddersfield Town, Burnley and Blackpool.
Having shown the mental strength to shake off the demons of drink, drugs and gambling, Payton has been helping people with problems via his inspirational Facebook page.
And he has now taken that a stage further with the introduction of his AP10 Foundation, a charity aimed at making a difference in people’s lives.
Payton explained: “Later this year I’ll be 10 years sober, having gone through a bad time when I got out of football.
“With the AP10 Foundation, I want to start giving back, on a more regular basis.
“Rather than just on a social media platform, or going for a brew with people who are struggling – I get that many people messaging me, I’d rather take it to another level where I’m actually out there helping people.
“We’ve registered as a charity, I want to take it to a good level. You need donations and fund raising and that’s what I want to do, help as many people as I can.
“I’ve been right down there myself, I know what rock bottom feels like.
“But I also know what it feels like to turn it around and come out the other side.
“So it’s an official foundation that I want to set up and get things going.”
Payton left Burnley in 2003, and entered a downward spiral up to the end of 2011, where he finally took on his problems head on: “I’d come out of football and was struggling mentally, having no purpose in life and not really knowing where I was going.
“It’s not just me, a lot of footballers have these problems as well, going down the road of drinking excessively, taking recreational drugs, and losing everything – you end up at rock bottom.
“I felt that, that was my eureka moment, when I’d lost everything.
“The main thing I lost, which means so much to me now is my reputation, I’d like people, when they mention Andy Payton now – not just the footballer – to say he’s a good guy, not ‘oh, you don’t want to be knocking round with him’.
“I feel as though I’ve turned everything around, and I can make a difference to people, that you can turn your life around.
“The fact I’ve been a footballer and been very honest in what I’ve said to people, I just want to take it to another level now.”
He identified the root of all his behaviour – alcohol: “Drink was the trigger for me, my stopping that, I stopped everything else.
“I identified it, I decided to go tee-total, because I knew that was where all my problems started, and it worked for me.
“When I stopped drinking, I stopped everything, gambling – I had a bad gambling problem, which originated when I was a footballer, as a lot of gambling went on in football.
“When I hit rock bottom I stopped all three, drinking, gambling and drugs.
“I only took drugs when I drank, so stopping drinking stopped the trigger for me.
“When I played football, that never happened.
“I had 21 years of my life where you get drug tested, and it never happened.
“It wasn’t easy at the beginning, it took a lot of hard work, I didn’t use any groups, I did it myself.
“But I didn’t want to go back to rock bottom, that was my fear.
“I’ll be 10 years sober by the end of this year, which I’m proud of – I’m as proud of that as I am of my football career.
“And it’s time to give back now and help people.”
Payton has helped people who have got in touch with him via Facebook, be it just for a chat, and wants to be able to try and get his message across to a wider audience via the Foundation: “I get messages all the time, I’ve had a huge response from people who need help and support, and people are always asking for my advice.
“The amount of times I’ve gone and had a brew with people, and it’s been gambling, drugs and drink.
“I want to do it properly now.
“For me to be in this position now...I thought 10 years ago this would never happen.
“But it has, and I want to help other people now,, I feel it’s so important.
“I have the experience and strength and feel I can give people hope.
“Now I can go out and give my life experience, and if I help one person, it’s worked.
“Hopefully I can help a lot more.”
It is not just addictions which Payton feels he can address, having also recovered from the disappointment of being released by his boyhood club, to enjoying a stellar career, and finally living out his dream with the Clarets: “Mentally I struggled as well, and that’s another area where I can help, kids getting released from academies etc – I got released from Burnley at 16 and was fortunate enough to get another chance at Hull, but a lot of kids get discarded with no one to speak to.
“And diversity, I take a lot of kids football training, a lot from the Asian community, and it would be great to see a player from that background play for Burnley.
“But I’m going to cover a lot of things – there are so many things I feel I can help with, because I’ve had the life experience, I think people will listen to me.”
He added: “I wouldn’t say it’s a daily battle with me, but it’s so easy to go and pick up a can of beer or something and start again.
“I won’t do that, I have that mental toughness now, which I think comes from football, but also hitting rock bottom – I never want to go back.
“I had a big hole in my soul when I came out of football, and other footballers have had similar problems, so I feel I can help, whether it’s a few words of advice...you can’t do what I did, go into a dark depression and try and drink your way out, which makes it worse.
“All my football badges, up to UEFA A Licence, have come in the last 10 years. If I’d done that straight away, I’d probably have stayed in the game, but I’ve achieved quite a lot, I’ve worked in children’s homes for a couple of years, so I feel I can cover a lot of things. I’d love to make a difference.”
For any enquiries, contact [email protected] or www.facebook.com/andy.payton.9085