THE number 10 has taken on new significance for Andy Payton.

It adorned the back of the Burnley legend's shirt throughout his time at Turf Moor and for most of his career. But now the former striker is using it to look to the future.

For not only does this year mark his 10th year of sobriety but, through lockdown, Payton has been working on a project which is on the verge of coming to fruition. The AP10 Foundation - a charity he is setting up to help people defeat their demons or guide them out of tough times, similar to those he found himself in after he hung up his boots.

Payton is the first to admit he struggled with life after football. He missed the dressing room camaraderie; the buzz of seeing the ball hit the back of the net; the adulation from the terraces, and it led to a downward spiral.

But, now 53, he has turned his life around, and wants to help others who need it and give back to those who have supported him, both on and off the terraces.

“Later this year I’ll be 10 years sober, having gone through a bad time when I got out of football," explained Payton, who defied being released from his boyhood club at 16 to return some 14 years later and score 81 goals in 175 appearances and became known as the Padiham Predator.

But when his professional career ended when he left the Clarets in the summer 2003 he found it hard to take.

“I’d come out of football and was struggling mentally, having no purpose in life and not really knowing where I was going," he said.

“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.”

And it is not just footballers, former footballers or even football fans he wants to reach out to. While he feels that is a section of society he can identify with - and vice versa - he believes he can connect with a broader spectrum through his experiences away from the game.

And he hopes that what worked for him will work for others.

“Drink was the trigger for me, by stopping that, I stopped everything else," he said.

“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."

Payton, who also played for Hull, Middlesbrough, Celtic, Barnsley and Huddersfield, added: “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.

“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.”

In these times of social distancing, Payton has turned to social media to offer advice and support to anyone struggling with anything from addiction to anxiety. But he wants to do more, and so the AP Foundation was born.

“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," he said.

“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.

“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.

"If I help one person, it’s worked. Hopefully I can help a lot more.

“So it’s an official foundation that I want to set up and get things going.

“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."

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 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.

“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.”

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