Back from brink for ‘next Dave Watson’
A �100,000 Norwich City signing who never played a first team game for the club has spoken of how he turned his life around after overcoming addictions to alcohol and gambling.
Andy Brownrigg seemed destined for stardom in March 1995 when, at the age of 18 and after just eight Football League appearances for Hereford United, he was snapped up by the Canaries in a six-figure deal.
Manager John Deehan described him as potentially “the next Dave Watson” and, less than a month after joining City, he was on the bench as an unused substitute for a Premiership fixture at Arsenal – a 5-1 defeat on April Fools’ Day that hastened the club’s slide towards relegation from the top flight.
In just four months, Brownrigg had gone from captaining Hereford Under-18 team at Solihull to warming up at Highbury next to Tony Adams and Ian Wright.
But that was as close as the Sheffield-born defender came to making his senior debut for Norwich. Successive City managers did not include him in their plans and, after 34 reserve team appearances and a loan spell at Kettering Town, the 6ft centre-half moved to Rotherham in August 1997.
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It was the start of a long and troubled period for Brownrigg and, a decade after getting a brief glimpse of the Premiership, he was on the footballing scrapheap with his life consumed by alcohol and gambling.
Brownrigg, who lives in his home city, retired from football last year after turning out for AFC Emley, the last of more than 20 clubs he joined at various levels.
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Now 34, he admits his move to Carrow Road happened too early in life.
“Those eight games at Hereford are great memories,” he told the Hereford Times. “I look back on it and I should have stayed at Hereford. I got catapulted too far – too soon.”
Soon after joining Rotherham, he was struck in the face with a hammer. The attacker was jailed.
After recovering from his facial injuries, he signed for Jan Molby’s Kidderminster and helped them gain promotion to the Football League, but it was a rare highlight as off-field problems dogged his career.
“When I went out for a drink I would hit it for 48 hours. I went gambling until my money had finished. I can be obsessive about things and it’s taken me 30-odd years to address it,” he said.
In 2008, Brownrigg was admitted to Sporting Chance Clinic, a recovery facility inspired and founded by ex-Arsenal and England star Adams.
“It was so hard to make that first call. I rang Sporting Chance and my life got better from there,” he said.
“I went in there as a broken man and, after four weeks in there, I came out with a lot of optimism and hope.
“Tony came in and spoke to us and he was an inspiration.
“I have now turned my life around. I can do the simple things in life and I appreciate them.”
Brownrigg, engaged to Georgina – they live in Sheffield with her daughter, Lauren – is now researching and writing a doctorate which explores the transitional experiences of professional footballers.
He has a first-class degree in sport and exercise psychology from the University of Huddersfield.
He has not touched alcohol or placed a bet for three years – and he uses his experiences to support the work of Sporting Chance and the PFA.
“My piece of research is on professional footballers who leave the game and it’s something I am very passionate about,” he said.
“For every player like Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard who will never have to work again, there are 169 people like me who will have to get a job.
“There’s not been much research done into the experiences of players who exit the game at a young age.
“I am not sure whether it has ever been carried out by an ex-professional but, hopefully, it will help players who have the sort of problems I experienced.”