David Icke: It’s A Tough Game, Son!

David Icke It's A Tough Game Son

I wrote an article for Goalkeeper magazine about David Icke. After his goalkeeping career was cut short, and before he became a spiritualist and conspiracy theorist, he wrote a book about the perils and pitfalls of football. What can young goalkeepers learn from his strange story?

David Icke’s goalkeeping career was over long before he turned up on Wogan in a turquoise shell suit and declared himself to be the Son of God. Icke was a promising young goalkeeper for Coventry City and Hereford United in the 1970s, until arthritis forced him to quit the game. He subsequently became a local sports reporter, and then a popular TV presenter, fronting the BBC’s Grandstand and snooker coverage.

Then, in 1990, Icke visited a Brighton psychic healer named Betty Shine looking for relief from his arthritis. The meeting with Shine changed his life, and set in motion perhaps the most unusual post-retirement career a goalkeeper has ever had. Shine told Icke that he had been sent to heal the Earth, and that the spirit world would give him information that he should pass on to others by writing books and through public speaking. Within a few months he had been axed by the BBC, and was wearing that turquoise shell suit (turquoise being a conduit for positive energy, apparently).

Then came the interview on Terry Wogan’s primetime BBC1 chat show, in which Icke’s apocalyptic predictions and claims of being the Son of God were met with howls of laughter from the studio audience. Public and press ridicule followed, and Icke was forced to retreat from the limelight, and backtrack somewhat from the Son of God claims. But he continued to write and speak on spiritual matters, conspiracy theories, and his belief that the world is run by a secret elite of shape-shifting alien reptiles…

Since then, Icke has written almost 20 books, with titles like And The Truth Shall Set You Free and Human Race Get Off Your Knees. But his first book, a slim volume published by Piccolo in 1983, long before that meeting with Betty Shine, was about football. It’s A Tough Game, Son! is a guide for young players, and particularly goalkeepers, on how to avoid football’s many pitfalls and problems. Subtitled The Real World of Professional Football (and approved by the PFA), the book acts as a stark warning for anyone who might think that the path to football superstardom is an easy one.

“There are few professions which can produce such elation and despair, sometimes within seconds of each other,” Icke writes in the book’s introduction. “I hope to convince you of three things. First, how incredibly difficult it is to make a living out of football. Second, how it would be sheer lunacy not to prepare for an alternative job in case you don’t make it. Third, how it is possible to get to the top if you are blessed with enough talent and you can avoid the mistakes made by myself and may of the other players I’m going to tell you about.”

Icke’s own story of a lost football career is undeniably sad. “I’ve never been short on ambition,” he writes, “and when I signed for Coventry I had no doubt what I wanted to be: the best goalkeeper the world had ever seen.” Unfortunately, while still a teenager, Coventry’s doctors advised him to quit football due to the arthritis problems that were ravaging his joints. Instead, Icke signed for Hereford, and played for two more years as the club won promotion to the old third division. But the arthritis got worse, and doctors again told him to quit. “Unable to walk, this was no time for gallantry or defiance,” Icke writes. “At this moment it was goodbye football.” He was just 21 years old.

There are happier tales in the book, though, including that of his personal goalkeeping hero. “Over the years,” he writes, “as a connoisseur of goalkeeping, I’ve had hours and hours of pleasure from the performances of a man undoubtedly among the greatest goalkeepers of all time: Peter Shilton.” Icke explains how sheer dedication propelled Shilton to the top. “If anyone was going to be the best it was him,” he says. He tells a story of how Shilton wasn’t happy with the way he punched the ball, so he went to the gym and perfected 12 different punches for different situations. “Most goalkeepers would be delighted with one,” says Icke.

Shilton’s incredible success was all down to “determination and the simple love of playing the game”. He didn’t view extra training as work, because he enjoyed it too much, Icke explains. “Looking back, Peter admits he may have worked too hard at times and perhaps he could have relaxed more, but better that than not working hard enough.”

So it is indeed a tough game, but one in which success can be achieved through what Icke calls “the three Ds” – dedication, determination and discipline. Despite his other interests, Icke still follows football (he supports Leicester City). His son, Jaymie, is also a goalkeeper. Coached by his dad, Jaymie was at Portsmouth as a kid, before David pulled him out due to disagreements over how the club’s youth system was run. Jaymie now keeps goal for Brading Town FC on the Isle of Wight.

As for David, where he might once have dreamt of playing in goal at Wembley Stadium, his latest book-promoting tour will see him headline Wembley Arena. You certainly can’t fault him for determination or self-belief. “Believe in yourself and anything is possible,” he wrote back in 1983. “When I was a kid they told me I would never make a living from football. I did. When I was forced to stop playing they told me I would never get into television. I have. They, you see, are people who never do anything with their lives because they never believe they can, or they can’t be bothered to try.”

David Icke’s Do’s and Don’ts (from It’s A Tough Game, Son!)

Do remember the three Ds – dedication, determination and discipline.”

Do remember your performance on the field is more important than anything. Look after the things that look after you.”

Don’t accept second best. Always be trying to improve throughout your career.”

Don’t lose confidence when things go wrong. You are never beaten until you tell yourself you are beaten.”

Published in issue 7 of Goalkeeper Magazine.

Published by Paul Brown

Writes about football, history, true adventure. The Guardian, Four Four Two, When Saturday Comes, The Blizzard, Longreads, Deadspin, etc. Latest book: The Ruhleben Football Association. Twitter: @paulbrownUK