In Off the Postbag: The Miseducation of Paul James

A 1986 World Cup sticker featuring Paul James; he has curly hair and wears a red Canadian tracksuit

In early 2012 one-time Doncaster Rovers midfielder Paul James released his autobiography. In Cracked Open the Canadian international talks frankly about the cocaine addiction he suffered during his later career as a coach. He also looks back at his playing career, including his brief time as a Rover. Ahead of issue 59 of popular STAND, subscriber Ralph Davies sent us the excerpt from James’ book which focussed on what proved to be an eye-opening spell at Belle Vue for the then 24-year old.

Excerpt from ‘Cracked Open; Straight talking on drug addiction, football and life’ by Paul James.

‘At the conclusion of the 1987 Canadian Soccer League season, I went to England to play for Doncaster Rovers in the old English Third Division. Colin Miller was playing there at the time and he called me as they had injury problems and needed a wide player. Unfortunately I was only there three months as I was struggling with what seemed like a permanent groin strain problem. I was on a month-to-month contract and after Dave Cusack was fired and Dave McKay was brought in I left, as I was not protected once on the injury list. It was quite ruthless.

‘I did play in seven matches, including a game against Sunderland at Roker Park on New Year’s Day. Sunderland, who were top of the league, beat us 3-1 although we did have the nerve to take the lead. Even though I was only in England for a short period it gave me areal taste of the British football culture again, which was extreme to say the least.

‘The training was surprisingly poor and the fans were vocal, passionate and punishing. One day after a home game, which we lost, one supporter came up to the high wall overlooking the players’ tunnel. As the guy peered over the top he shouted, “Hey! Colin Miller! You fucking bastard! You call yourself a Canadian international? You are fucking joking. You are fucking hopeless. And that other Canadian wanker is no better either. Why don’t you both get yourself back to Canada?” Now Colin has always been fairly thick-skinned with a good sense of humour and it is not easy to rattle him. But apparently on this occasion he got rattled. I was already in the changing room when Colin jumped up and grabbed the guy by the throat, before a steward rescued the situation, pulling him away. Twenty minutes later a police officer entered our changing room requesting to speak to Colin. In the end he just got a warning.

‘When the players tried to pull Colin’s leg about it a few days later he just said “I was just trying to protect Jamesy. He’s not a wanker.” It was an insight into the realities of being a professional soccer player in an environment where football really is life and death for many people. After all, at the time, Doncaster Rovers only averaged 2,000 people a game.

‘The players’ Christmas party was another interesting event. With the club’s social pub closed down to the general public, and with all the players including reserves and apprentices in attendance in walked two strippers dressed as nuns. After a full 45-minute routine, for £5 per person, the one stripper was willing to stick around to perform some sexual acts on a player the group selected. The young apprentice who was chosen looked like he was in heat, so I suppose he enjoyed the experience in front of 30 or so guys. But then player after player got involved, with good old ‘Frankie’ leading the charge. Before you knew it, it was like Sodom and Gomorrah. With some of the others, I just watched the outrageous scenes, which included one player throwing a pint of beer over the poor lady. I kept thinking, but she is so attractive, if i met her in public I would have been interested in her.

‘How the football clubs turned a blind eye to this was remarkable. As a magnet for society to look up to for inspiration it hardly represented professionalism. It reminds me of Ray Wilkins, who after playing most of his football career in England with Chelsea and Manchester United stated that he first learned what it was like to behave like a professional once he joined AC Milan in Italy late in his career.

‘On the subject of ‘Frankie’, who was a silky type of player for Doncaster if there was such a thing, every Thursday was his ‘special massage day’ at the local massage parlour (brothel). He talked about it as if he were getting his hair cut. It was all so routine. He would go to the facility like it was his local pub. The staff would acknowledge him “Hey Frankie”, take off his coat, show him to the whirlpool, get him his drink, chat with him, share a sauna, and then finally give him his special massage he was there for. I thought it all sounded so reasonable until I found out he was living with his girlfriend at the time, who was not so open-minded. All in all, Doncaster was a good experience for me, even if it was just to recognise how not to do things.’

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