‘Something wasn’t right’ - Ipswich Town legend Jason Dozzell opens up on mental illness after drug driving conviction

Former Ipswich Town footballer Jason Dozzell. Picture: Neil Perry

Former Ipswich Town footballer Jason Dozzell. Picture: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

Former Ipswich Town footballer Jason Dozzell has opened up about his mental health issues following his conviction today for drug driving.

Jason Dozzell playing for Town against Bristol City in 1990. Picture:: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Jason Dozzell playing for Town against Bristol City in 1990. Picture:: ARCHANT LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

The 51-year-old was banned from driving for 14 months after police stopped him in his Mercedes on June 5 this year in Foxhall Road, Ipswich.

He was found with 800 microgrammes of benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in his blood stream - exceeding the specified limit of 50mcg.

Dozzell says he had taken drugs the previous night and was stopped on his way home from a meal out.

That incident, for which he has also been fined £591 in total - including £105 costs and a £32 victim surcharge - came at a time when, in Dozzell's words, he was facing 'drama after drama' in his life.

Jason Dozzell celebrating after he scored on his Ipswich Town debut to become the youngest goalscore

Jason Dozzell celebrating after he scored on his Ipswich Town debut to become the youngest goalscorer in the Englands top division in February 1984. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

A relationship had broken down, money he needed to access from his pension was locked up in a property he couldn't sell in Cape Verde and he found himself having to move in with 20-year-old son Andre, the latter having followed in his father's footsteps to become an Ipswich Town footballer.

Jason's mental health deteriorated, but it was only in the last month, after opening up to friend and former team-mate Simon Milton, that he was able to acknowledge that he needed to seek help.

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Mr Milton and Lee O'Neill, Ipswich Town's general manager of football operations, both gave character references for Dozzell in court.

"I want to start by saying that I made big a mistake and I know there are no excuses," said Dozzell. "I'll take everything that comes my way on the chin because I did wrong.

"I don't want people feeling sorry for me, I just want them to read what I've been going through and make their own minds up."

He continues: "My coaching role at the Ipswich academy had just finished for the season, my coaching job at Broke Hall School was about to stop for the holidays and I started having loads of time on my hands. The summer is a fragile time for me, it always has been, because my main focus on the football stops.

"With various other things going on in my personal life, I just felt, like, depressed. I started to have anxiety attacks about where I was going in my life.

"I knew there was a problem when they arrested me because I didn't even make a fuss. I just surrendered. It was like 'just handcuff me please, put me in the car and do what you need to do'.

"Looking back, did I want to get caught? I sometimes wonder. Maybe I did. I don't know. I can't say that was definitely the case, but it might have been because you only do something like that if something's not right.

"If you can't talk to somebody (about your mental health) are you going to take extreme measures to get it out there? I can't confirm it's that, but it does make me wonder.

"Look, I'm still trying to figure out what I've been going through."

Explaining what's led him to do this interview, Dozzell says: "Something wasn't right, but I didn't know. Milts had clocked it, other people had mentioned it, but I couldn't see it. They kept asking me 'are you okay?' and I'd say 'what are you on about?' I'm an old school footballer, too proud to admit to any problems because I thought it would be seen as a sign of weakness.

"But I was struggling to get out of bed at times. I was having panic attacks. I didn't know it was that though because I'd never had it before.

"I'd been down before, we all get down, but this anxiety is something different. I'm just constantly on edge, always ready to have an argument and cause a commotion. I'd point at people and say 'I'm not sure too sure on him'. I know now that was my own insecurities.

"I didn't meet Milts that day to talk about anything, it was just meant to be lunch. I guess it was just ready to all come out. If it wasn't for that happening three weeks ago then I don't know what would have happened to me.

"I had to ask Simon 'is this bad?' and he went 'yeah, it's bad'. I guess for me to have to ask that shows you something is wrong doesn't it? For me it wasn't bad, it was just my life. That's how things had spiralled. I was getting used to that being normal, when it's not normal."

Milton explains: "I'd never seen him like that; so insular and so fragile. I said 'I know something's wrong' and that's when he finally started opening up all about this.

"I got straight on to the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) and they were brilliant. They've got him counselling and are looking at ways they can help financially.

"I think him talking like this will help him start the road to recovery because it's out there now. He's got to change his life and he knows that."

Dozzell made his Ipswich Town debut at age of 16 years and 57 days in February 1984, subsequently dropping out of Chantry High School. He went on to make a £1.9m move to Premier League club Tottenham in 1993.

"I've discussed everything with the counsellor, from my upbringing without a father figure, to being in the public eye from the age of 16, dealing with life after football and now trying to help Andre deal with the same pressures I was under as a young footballer," he says.

"Was I psychologically ready to go into the first team at such a young age? Looking back, no. If I was playing now as a 16-year-old with the same kind of upbringing they would look at it more. They'd say 'this could be a vulnerable kid'. Going into that profession without certain life skills, love skills, money skills is dangerous.

"Coming out of football is hard too. Nothing can match the feeling you get running out of a tunnel when the roar goes up from the crowd or fill the void of that everyday banter with the lads.

"I do look back now and think 'how did I deal with all that?' I dealt with it, but maybe this is the outcome now. Does that make sense?"

Asked about his relationship with drink and drugs, Dozzell says: "I don't do drugs really, I've dabbled in it, but I'm not dependent on them at all. I drink, but I'm not an alcoholic. I'm not dependant, but every mistake I've made has definitely been under the influence of drink.

"People drink or do drugs for different reasons. I know mine is not for having a good time. Definitely not. I did it to escape my own head for a while. I hated evenings because I couldn't switch off. I was always agitated.

"To be honest, my life has been complicated from the start. There's always been drama and sometimes this town suffocates me. I know everybody in this town and get pulled here and pulled there."

He adds: "I don't want to die like this. However long I've got left, I want some calm in my life.

"The counsellor asked me if I've had suicidal thoughts. The answer is no I haven't, but potentially it could have got to that stage.

"If I hadn't got all this in place, talking to Simon, to the counsellor, to you, I don't know how I'd have reacted after the court case. It could have been catastrophic."

Dozzell is no longer working at Broke Hall School or Ipswich Town, though the latter say they will do all they can to help his recovery.

"It's really important for me to say sorry to Broke Hall School," says Dozzell. "I'd been there for seven years, coaching two times a week. That job was never about money. You know when you are loved at certain places and the kids there absolutely adore me.

"When I had to tell the kids that I'm not going to be there for a while, possibly ever, that was difficult."

Jason's three children, Dion, 23, Andre, 20, and Emile, 14, are now at the forefront of his mind.

"I've brought some negative vibes to Andre with all this, but he's been great with me since I told him about it," he explains.

"He didn't move out of his mum's to live with me. We get on, but it's just a man thing - you don't want to outstay your welcome. Since the counselling I think we've got closer."

He adds: "I know my lifestyle has got to change now. I've had enough nights out in my life. If I never have another night out again I'll have still had enough for a lifetime.

"Calm is what I need. I need to be there for my three kids. I can't help them if my head is all over the place.

"I've just got to keep going to the counselling. I've got to give myself a reason to get up in the mornings. I'm going to get a dog.

"I'm not hoping for any type of reaction to this interview. It is what it is. I can't control the uncontrollable, I can only control what I do now going forwards.

"I've got good people around me who have gone the extra yard. I should have tapped into those people a long time ago, but I didn't know how to do that.

"It's been a hard week explaining to everybody what's happening, but it's done now, it feels like a big weight off my shoulders and hopefully I can move on."

Following the hearing at Suffolk Magistrates' Court on Friday, chairman of the bench Pauline Burrell-Saward said: "Driving with drugs in your system is a danger to yourself and the general public, and will not be tolerated."

He had also been charged with driving in accordance with his driving licence, which required him to wear contact lenses behind the wheel.

Dozzell was wearing only one lens at the time of the stop - which police officers made based on information they had received.

The court had heard that Dozzell was previously convicted for failure to provide a specimen for analysis in 2004 and an excess alcohol charge in 2008.

Mark Wyeth QC said there had been a significant break between the earlier and most recent offence, which he said was of a very different nature.

He added that Dozzell's remorse, and his recognition of the issues behind the offence, were key mitigating factors behind his admission of guilt.

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