Monday, December 19, 2005

McIndoe and his last chance

A few years ago Michael McIndoe was out of football. Graham Turner, the Hereford United manager, offered him a job and since then he has hardly looked back. Now he is in the Doncaster team that will face Arsenal on Wednesday evening.

In todays Times, there is an article about McIndoe written by Rick Broadbent. Below are extracts.

It is no surprise that Michael McIndoe is a man in a hurry. By the time he was barely 20, he was a hard-drinking gambling man spending Millennium eve in The Priory hospital and wondering how to raise £50,000 to pay off the loan sharks. It is testament to his strength of character that he is now a model professional and arguably the best-kept secret outside the top flight.

That cover has been blown a little of late as the Scot's raw speed and polished skills have helped Doncaster Rovers into the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup. He believes Arsenal will send an Under-23 side to Belle Vue on Wednesday, where a home win will force John Ryan, the Doncaster chairman, to cancel the trip to Dubai that he has booked for the players in semi-final week. McIndoe cannot wait.

It was as a teenager at Luton Town when things began to veer off course.

"In Scotland there tends to be a drinking culture, but it started to take a toll on my performances," he said. "I was drinking every day, all day, all night, lager, wine, whatever I could get my hands on. It got to the stage where none of the players were allowed out with me. The manager (Lennie Lawrence) said, 'keep away from Michael, he's a bad egg at the moment'."

Lawrence threatened McIndoe with the sack - "he was trying to help me" - if he did not sort himself out, resulting in a 28-day stay in the Priory over Christmas and Millennium new year. That was when Paul Merson, another gifted player plagued by demons, paid him a visit. "I'd never met him but he came down and the penny dropped," McIndoe recalled. "I'd lost my job, my girlfriend, my driving licence and had huge gambling debts. He sat me down and said 'maybe you have a problem?' When the doctor says you?ll be dead if you keep doing this for ten years it also sways the mind."

A confidentiality agreement means that McIndoe cannot say what the treatment entailed, but he paraphrased it neatly. "They take your heart out and put it back in again. It was the best thing in my life."

It was not an easy road back to redemption. He got out on January 13, 2000 and Lawrence said that he would involve him on the bench, but would not pick him for the rest of the season. The Luton fans were unforgiving. "I was walking down the tunnel at half-time at Cardiff and the referee was behind me," McIndoe said. "The fans were booing and spitting. I thought the ref had been doing OK and then I realised it was all for me."

Lawrence sacked him a few months later because of the problem with the fans. McIndoe took four months out, got his golf handicap down and fell back in love with football. Merson, Lawrence and his friend, Matthew Upson, the Birmingham City defender, helped him, but mud stuck and "nobody would touch me".

Finally, he got a call from Hereford United, the Nationwide Conference side. "It was for £375 a week, but I said I don't care what the contract says, I'll sign," McIndoe said. "Graham Turner, the manager, put me in a lovely farmhouse, with no casinos or pubs nearby, and said 'you've got your chance - screw it up and you're out the door'."

He grabbed the chance. It took him until he was 23 to pay off his debts, but he has not drunk since 1999 and it angers him when people still think of him as the wayward teen.

McIndoe was signed from Luton Town by Graham Turner, and was ever present during his spell at the club. A breath of fresh air on the left wing, he made thirty three appearances and scored two goals before leaving the club in February 2001 when finances were tight. Yeovil Town bought him for £25,000 and the youngster had a 25% sell-on clause in his contract so Hereford could benefit financially from any further deal.

Postcript: published an article on McIndoe and his problems shortly after he arrived at Edgar Street. The site was contacted by Hereford United and asked to drop the article which it promptly did. The revelations about McIndoe's drinking and rehabilitation had upset both the player and the club.