Steven Caulker on drink and gambling addictions: 'I was playing at 50-60% of my capability'

Steven Caulker
Caulker says the move to Turkey has given him a fresh start

Steven Caulker seemed to have it all when he made his England debut in 2012 aged 20 and was featuring regularly for Premier League side Tottenham.

But, behind the scenes, the central defender's rise helped to fuel drink and gambling addictions that meant he failed to recapture those heights.

He left Spurs to join Cardiff then moved to Queens Park Rangers before loan spells at Southampton, Liverpool and Lokomotiv Moscow, and a permanent switch to Dundee.

He is now at Alanyaspor, who are top of Turkey's Super Lig, as he rebuilds his career.

"For me, the internal pain that my addictions caused me, I can't really describe it, to tell you the truth," the 28-year-old told BBC World Service.

"It was a terrible situation and it's one which I have to take care of on a daily basis.

"I have been in recovery for a long time now but, thankfully, through the 12-step programme I've managed to have a long stint of sobriety. I've come here and been able to really relax and just sort of find myself again.

"Looking back, the most frustrating thing was I was never able to fulfil my potential. I was out there on the pitch and playing at 50-60% of my capability.

"Since coming here and being sober and clean, living how I always wanted to live, I feel like now I am able to give so much more."

Caulker made his England debut against Sweden in November 2012, scoring in a 4-2 defeat.

It turned out to be his only cap for his country.

Steven Caulker celebrates his goal against Sweden on his England debut
Caulker scored for England on his debut for the national side against Sweden

"For me, it's an emotional illness. Is it helped by the pressure of football and the ruthlessness of the industry? Probably not," said Caulker.

"A 20-21-year-old playing for England and Tottenham, there was a lot of spotlight on me. There was a lot of negative press and it almost kind of spun me out into a cycle.

"When I look back to the days in active addiction, I would do the double [training] session, go out and gamble and drink, and still turn up to training the next day.

"It's amazing what your body can actually deal with. For me, it's a sign of just how strong this addiction could be that you will push your body to crazy limits in order to juggle everything.

"The pain for me was the internal pain, the emotional pain, that I caused everyone around me. I felt like I let down a lot of people and it's a terrible place to be - that's why I honestly devote a lot of time now to helping others.

"I just think there's so much to be done - not just in football but in the world - especially in these difficult times with coronavirus. I just feel like I don't want anyone else to have to go through that.

"I was fortunate enough to get another chance in Turkey. A lot of players you may or may not have heard of never make it back."

Caulker's path to getting his career back on track has not been an easy one and has involved "a lot of therapy".

In trying to find a club, he says, he could not even get a trial with many British clubs.

He was training on his own and has "no doubt" his past counted against him but, while "his addictions took a lot" from him, his desire "to strive to be better" meant he never gave up.

"The step to Turkey where they didn't necessarily know my story, it gave me a fresh start," he said.

"I'm very fortunate to have that but I don't have any regrets. I believe all of this has shaped me into the person I am today."

Information and support for people affected by addiction can be found at the BBC Action Line.

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