Former Crystal Palace striker Leon McKenzie writes book challenging footballer stereotypes
PROFESSIONAL footballers are often portrayed as having luxurious and glamorous lifestyles, filled with fast cars, mansions, swimming pools and pockets lined with £50 notes.
Well, that's the case for some, but what happens when matters in your personal life play a huge part towards hitting rock bottom – and potentially death?
Having made more than 400 appearances in an 18-year professional career, with 98 of those at Crystal Palace in the 1990s and scoring more than 115 goals for several clubs, striker Leon McKenzie can say he had a good career at the top level.
But towards the end of his playing days, off-the-field problems had taken their toll on the Croydon-born man and he was on the brink of leaving it all behind in 2009 with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a load of tablets.
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In an exclusive interview with Advertiser Sport, McKenzie says all will be revealed in his new book 'My Fight With Life', to be launched next Friday, November 29.
"The book is very deep where I go with certain things and I don't think it will just appeal to football people," he said.
"It goes back to my childhood and I speak a lot in depth about what I went through as a child, my parents and my family background.
"It's just so important to share my life, because footballers get this stereotype of living a fantasy lifestyle, and I think sometimes it's not always a fairytale case as much as it's a fantastic career.
"The book is a little bit different to others as I start it off with my most personal challenges I've had.
"I went through a very difficult period in the back end of my career, so the choice to be able to start it off that way, I just felt it would grip people more.
"I hammer a couple of managers, and I think two managers out of an 18-year career is not too bad, but the book is not really about controversy, it's just a deep and real insight into my life.
"I think there will be a big percentage of people who will understand where I was in my life at that particular time."
McKenzie admits that even though he didn't want to leave Palace permanently in 2000, he found his form at Peterborough United, where he went on to score 49 goals in 103 appearances.
And two years previously, he had also enjoyed a brief loan spell at London Road, scoring nine goals in 15 games.
"Anyone will tell you I still look out for Crystal Palace – that's where I'm from," he said. "But I would say Peterborough was where I found myself as a goalscorer," he said. "I was still very much learning at Palace and never really found my goalscoring boots there.
"If I had my way, I would have still been at Palace. I didn't actually want to leave – I was kind of forced out. I was born in Croydon, I went to Winterbourne School in Thornton Heath.
"I did my YTS and made my debut at 17 against Southend United in the old Coca Cola Cup and I scored the second goal from a volley. I got promoted with Palace as well in 1997 at Wembley, and I got a couple of goals leading up to that, so I did play a part. I was only a baby, though."
In Palace's recent 2-1 victory away at Peterborough, McKenzie was inducted to the club's Hall of Fame on the pitch at half-time, but he recalls the incredible away support from the Eagles which stuck out in his head the most on the day.
"I collected my award at half-time when they played Palace recently, but I was so amazed by the amount of Palace fans there on the day – I couldn't believe it," he said.
"I couldn't hear myself because they were so loud, and for me, that is where I'm from, but I think a lot of them know it hasn't been easy for me."
The 34-year-old is now looking to the future and admits he would love to return to SE25 to see a few old faces on the back of Palace's fantastic recent run.
"I would love to come out on the pitch at Palace to say 'thank you' to the club and the fans," he said. "Norwich are inviting me down to do something similar when I do a book signing on a matchday. I've not been back to Selhurst Park this season but I spoke to someone at the club recently about getting a book signing arranged.
"It would be great to do it at Selhurst because I've not been back really since I retired, so it would be great to see the fans and I really do appreciate where I come from. I would just love to show my appreciation to the club that gave me the opportunity to play professional football.
"I was taken in by the Palace fans because they know I'm from there. Even though I didn't kick on to be the next Ian Wright, I always gave 100 per cent and I would have loved to have scored more."
Leon will be signing copies of his book on December 7 at Waterstones, Croydon.