In an exclusive extract from his brand new autobiography Running Through Walls, former Ireland, Derby, Birmingham and Oxford player Dave Langan reveals all about his time homeless while working as a key-keeper for Peterborough town council , a position he was eligible for due to his footballing injuries making him ‘disabled’.
In Running Through Walls, Langan talks about the highs and lows of his amazing career, from fetching whiskey for Brian Clough as an apprentice at Derby to lining out for Ireland before the crushing news that Jack Charlton would not be taking him to Euro ’88 and a career and life blighted by injury – Running Through Walls tells the story of a true football man whose life was equally enriched and diminished by his dedication to the sport.
As well as dealing with the injuries, the drinking, the gambling, the poor decisions and the marriage breakdowns not to mention missing out on my children’s lives, one of the toughest parts of my life came about six years ago when I was left homeless and living in the basement of the town hall.
For anyone that has ever had to endure having no home to go to in the evening, they will know the feeling of shame, depression and failure that torments you as you lie on a makeshift bed trying to figure out where did it go wrong? It is not a nice feeling when you know you have nowhere to go and that no one wants you.
Here I was, a former Ireland international who had played for some of the biggest clubs in England, had won the Milk Cup and yet I could not afford to even rent a bedsit. I had well and truly hit the bottom. At the time I had nothing, my second marriage had fallen apart and I had left home, any money I was earning was helping to pay the bills for my estranged wife and kids, however, I had nowhere to go.
Once again I had managed to mess things up and in the end I got a small camp bed, the ones that you use when camping and set up shop in the basement of the town hall. It was a fold-up bed and not the most comfortable, although needs must. That bed certainly did not help with the back problems I experienced then and now.
A few of the lads I worked with knew of my situation and they kept my secret. I would work late in the evening, at that time I was working a lot of extra hours, some times my day did not finish until about 11pm which suited.When I was finished I would head downstairs to the basement, pull out my camp bed and a few blankets that some lads had given me and lie there thinking about my life.
Lying in that bed was the hardest thing not just for my back but for my well-being, I would think about everything, absolutely everything that had happened in my life and go over it many times during the night. Any sleep I did get was fitful, I never felt rested. Because it was an old building and I was in the basement, as well as the noises in my head I also had to listen to every noise that made its way through the building.
I often felt as though there was someone down in that big dark basement with me. At 5.30am every morning the cleaners would come in to start their morning work and that was my alarm, I would get up and thankfully there was a shower in the basement, so I would wash,make myself some breakfast in the kitchen and then be ready to go for the day.
On my days off I would walk the towpath, go for a few drinks and watch a game. I was lucky in that I had an access card so I could come and go as I pleased.
It was very hard at that time; I know I was very depressed. I did not want to talk to anyone especially my family. I told them that I was in digs at the time and had no landline installed yet to talk to them, I used to text them to ring me on a payphone.
I tried to convince them that everything was okay but I think they could tell that something was up with me.Of course when I had a drink in me I would break down and just cry down the phone without making any sense, it was a tough time for my mother and sisters.
I then told a form of the truth in that I said that I had left home and I was living in a lovely room in the town hall, I did not want to hurt my mother any more than I already had. So I omitted to tell them that the lovely room I had was actually a store cupboard.
It actually crossed my mind a couple of times to pack in my so-called life in England and return home to Dublin. I remember one trip home, I went as far as looking at housing schemes in the city and was about to submit an application when the guy there told me there were thousands on the list and it would be a while before I got one, so that put me off. I also headed down to the dole office to sign for forms but in the end I decided that my life, as bad as it was, was in England and at the very least I had a job there.
If I had gone home I would have ended up living with my mother back in Ringsend with no friends about, everyone I had known as a child had moved on.
It all eventually came to a head as I got found out when someone told on me and the chief executive of the council said I could not go on living in the basement and that they would help me find some digs.
Another person who helped me around that time was Terry Conroy, the former Stoke and Ireland international. Conroy was working for the FAI at the time and he came up to see if I was okay.
Conroy actually gave me some money; a couple of hundred quid to help me get sorted with my digs. I was delighted and fair play toTerry, he was as good to me as anyone I had known through the years. I told my family that I had new digs and had managed to get a phone in so they could call and speak to me. It was like a massive weight had been lifted off me.
One of the shining lights during that time was the weekend training sessions I did with local kids, it was an opportunity to see my son and daughter too and I really enjoyed spending the time with them. It was also a buzz being back in football and training those 20 plus kids, including my own children gave me a real good feeling; it was the highlight of my weeks in those dark days.
Thankfully my kids never found out where I was living at the time.
The FAI, via Terry, kept in contact with me,Terry was great to keep in touch, I remember him driving down from Stoke to see how I was one time. He told me to meet him at the Great Northern Hotel that was near the railway station, it was close to my digs at the time and the landlady gave me a lift over.
When I saw Terry he came over and gave me a big hug and I just started crying in his arms, I was overcome with emotion and was grateful for the help they had given me.Terry would often give me a couple of quid to get back and he kept in contact with me.