Andy Peck believes highly publicised revelations of his past by footballer Dele Alli shines a light on the challenges facing the UK church
Scoring a goal in the World Cup finals for your country is as good as it gets for any footballer and when Dele Alli scored for England against Sweden in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup in Russia in 2018, the midfielder was regarded as one of the most talented players in the world valued by Spurs at £150m. But his form for Tottenham Hotspur fell off the proverbial cliff, documented in the Netflix season long behind the scenes drama looking at Spurs and in 2022 he was sold to Everton (my team!) in a deal that could rise to £40m.
But he played just 13 times and with claims of poor fitness was eventually loaned out to Besiktas in Turkey in summer 2022. He scored just three times in 15 games for the Turkish club who said they didn’t want to exercise the option to buy and so today and he is back at Everton for the pre-season trying to resuscitate his career.
But last week news broke that Alli had spent six weeks at a rehab centre in the US and with the press sounding out some of his colleagues he felt it right to give the full story of what happened to Gary Neville on The Overlap (a football podcast) where he revealed how recent addiction to painkillers and sleeping pills was connected to his youth. He told Neville:
So, at six, I was molested by my mum’s friend, who was at the house a lot. My mum was an alcoholic, and that happened at six. I was sent to Africa to learn discipline, and then I was sent back. At seven, I started smoking, eight I started dealing drugs.
’An older person told me that they wouldn’t stop a kid on a bike, so I rode around with my football, and then underneath I’d have the drugs, that was eight. Eleven, I was hung off a bridge by a guy from the next estate, a man.
’Twelve, I was adopted – and from then, it was like – I was adopted by an amazing family like I said, I couldn’t have asked for better people to do what they’d done for me.
’If God created people, it was them. They were amazing, and they’ve helped me a lot, and that was another thing, you know – when I started living with them, it was hard for me to really open up to them, because I felt within myself, it was easy to get rid of me again.
‘I tried to be the best kid I could be for them. I stayed with them from 12, and then started playing first-team, professionally, at 16. It all sort of took off from there.’
The revelations were met with widespread support in the football world and beyond, with footballer Aaron Lennon (who had been public about his own mental health issues), striker Harry Kane, broadcaster Gary Lineker and Prince William voicing their support.
The stigma surrounding men and mental health is improving but remains. Suicide is the leading cause of death of men under 40 and high profile men admitting to struggles can only help those tempted to keep silent. But Alli’s experience also shines a light on the kind of challenges that we face in reaching young people in today’s society.
Alli is not alone
When my wife and I were given a reading list as we prepared to adopt over a decade ago we were staggered to discover that some 1m people had been sexually abused at some point in their lives. The latest figures put this as close to 2m with stats varying from 1 in 6 to 1 in 20 children. Bearing in mind that many cases are not reported these are horrifying statistics.
Last week NexGen carried the news that some 90% of police forces in the UK have ‘county lines’ drug activity involving teens in their area. The soft drugs being pedalled may not lead to addiction, but it is a known gateway to harder stuff for many
But also key to Alli’s story was the intervention of ’adoptive’ parents, Alan and Sally Hickford when he was aged twelve. (They never actually formally adopted him but he regarded them as mum and dad).
Christian charity, Home for Good report that 31,010 children entered the care system in 2022, a 9% increase from 2021. As of October 2022, there were 1,990 children waiting for adoption. 52% of these children have been waiting 18 months or more.
This is our world
First let us support the wonderful faith based (and other) charities that are alleviating pain in a sector which is tragically under funded.
Second, whatever your family circumstance, don’t minimise the value of the consistent love and care you provide for your children. There are no guarantees they won’t go off the rails, but your efforts and prayers minimise the chances
Third, Christian couples have chosen to foster or adopt alongside their own children, or sometimes when their children have flown the nest, as well as those like my wife and I, who don’t have birth children. Is it worth you considering adopoting?
Fourth: Our backgrounds are massive factors in how we see ourselves and how we behave. You may meet someone today who is less than pleasant. You would cut them some slack if you knew what they were battling with. Thankfully we have Christian counsellors who can help us unpack what went on and move towards Bible based recovery. If you feel you might need such help go here.
The solutions to the world that created the pain suffered by Dele Alli are of course found ultimately in the good news of Jesus and bringing our lives under his rule and direction and as his people and others on the side of good, work towards supporting those suffering and stopping the cycle of abuse and pain that moves from one generation to the next.
Dele Alli is one of the ‘lucky ones’, able to afford therapy (on reportedly £100k a week) and with another chance at success at the game he loves. Many will not be, and are probably living not far from you. What can you and your church do to be part of their solution?