Jamie Insall: Striker rebuilds career after cocaine ban with Kilmarnock opponents Connah's Quay

Jamie Insall and son Finley
Jamie Insall doesn't want son Finley to take up football

Jamie Insall made cheerful headlines when Hibernian plucked him from non-league obscurity. Two years later, and without a first-team appearance for the Scottish Premiership club to his name, the striker left under a cloud after failing a drug test.

A UK Anti-Doping-imposed ban from all sport followed, a period the 27-year-old Englishman describes as the worst in his life.

There was yet more publicity when he tried his hand at bare-knuckle boxing, but then he quietly returned to football in April with Connah's Quay Nomads, who finished runners-up in the Welsh Premier League and take on Kilmarnock in Europa League qualifying this week.

Insall spoke to BBC Sport Scotland about his troubled past, his time in Scotland and how he dealt with the two-year suspension.

'I thought it was a wind-up'

Jamie Insall in Hibernian colours
Jamie Insall failed to play a competitive first-team game with Hibs

A prolific spell with Bromyard Town led to Crewe Alexandra offering Insall a trial, but Hibs won the race for his signature. He arrived at Easter Road just after Aston Villa and Scotland midfielder John McGinn, with whom he is still in touch and describes as "one of the best people in football".

On the recommendations of manager Alan Stubbs and former Hibees' favourite Derek Riordan, he joined Gary Naysmith's East Fife on loan to get first-team experience, helping the part-timers win promotion from League Two.

"I knew Alan Stubbs was a big name, so it was a bit of a shock when he called me up," he admits. "I thought it was a wind-up. He picked me up from the train station - he was a top bloke.

"I was initially unfit and overweight but still scored goals for the reserve side. East Fife were fighting for the title in League Two and Derek Riordan told me his time there was amazing, so I went.

"After the loan, Alan Stubbs said I'd be competing to get into the Hibs first team the next year. I was buzzing going away on holiday, but by the time I came back, he'd left to go to Rotherham.

"Neil Lennon came in and he was under pressure to get the club promoted so brought in strikers like Grant Holt and Anthony Stokes, pushing me further down in the pecking order. I went back on loan to East Fife as a result.

"I really enjoyed my time in Edinburgh. I had a fiance at the time, we were together for three years - it was the best time of my life. When you think of Scotland, all you think of is the cold, but Edinburgh is one of the best cities I've ever been to and the people up there are so lovely. It's an iconic place, I'd recommend it to anyone."

'I didn't even know I'd taken anything'

Jamie Insall and Gary Naysmith with monthly awards with East Fife
Jamie Insall and Gary Naysmith won monthly awards with East Fife

On 11 March 2017, Insall was named as a substitute in East Fife's League One tie away at Livingston. With the game moving into stoppage time, Insall was brought on to replace Chris Duggan to help see out the 1-0 win. Just minutes after full-time, he was escorted for a randomly selected drugs test. He thought he had nothing to worry about.

Insall maintains that he never knowingly took any illegal substances, claiming that the tiny quantities of cocaine shown in his system support him. The only possible explanation he can think of is that he accidentally consumed a friend's "contaminated" drink.

"I'm very anti-drugs," he insists. "I know it sounds silly saying that, but I am. When I was told I'd been banned, I was mortified. I didn't even know I'd taken anything.

"That's why Hibs paid £2,200 for a second test. I was certain I hadn't taken anything. That's how we found out about the quantity in my system.

"It was awful. It was probably the worst time in my life - having to leave Edinburgh - and it was one of the reasons why my relationship with my fiance broke down.

"I got a four-year ban to start with, which was reduced to two years as it was classed as being 'out of sport'. I appealed it, but we had an anti-drugs committee come in at the start of the season. In response to an increase in people saying they were spiked, they said it was our responsibility to put our fingers over our bottles and I'd signed something saying I agree to all of that.

"I have mates in football who have been done for cocaine before, but they got done by the FA and got a six-month ban."

'I did well but got my nose broken'

Brandon Bates fights Jamie Insall in a bare-knuckle boxing bout
Brandon Bates stopped Jamie Insall in a bare-knuckle boxing bout

At the time, UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead said: "Regardless of how it got there, every athlete is solely responsible for what is in their system and must adhere to the strict liability principle." His ban stood.

The first year "dragged", with Insall living off the money he had earned at Hibs - and so he sought a new challenge.

"I got banned from every sport, but bare-knuckle boxing only became legal less than a year before my ban, so UKAD wasn't part of its foundation," he explains. "It was the only sport that I was allowed to do.

"When I was 19, I punched a bloke on a football pitch and broke his jaw. Around that age, I could look after myself. I was fighting and getting myself into trouble, I always fancied myself on the streets.

"I had a go at it, fought someone who was an unbelievable boxer - Brandon Bates - I did well but got my nose broken and the fight was stopped. I'm 5ft 7in and he's 6ft 3in.

"I started working in a factory, which believe it or not, was one of my most enjoyable times. I was delivering the metal to the people who make car parts. It made my time go quicker."

'Take up boxing son'

There was a time when Worcester-based Insall thought about giving up football for good, disillusioned with everything to do with the game, including the abuse he received on social media.

But he is now feeling happy again with the Nomads and is determined to make his young son proud of him, although he doesn't want him to follow him into football.

"I went on trial with Connah's Quay, impressed the staff," he says. "I also had teams like Yeovil sniffing around, but an 18-month deal gave me the stability I needed.

"I've got a little boy - Finley - he's seven. When I signed, he came up and said 'so dad, can you not find a club which is a bit closer to home?'

"The gaffer lets me go home once a month for a long weekend and then he comes up for two weekends. Everything I do is for him.

"He loves football and just reminds me of myself so much at that age. With how much heartache I've had in the game, I try to sway him away from it. 'Take up boxing son,' I tell him."

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