The latest in ITV4's Sports Life Stories series sees England and Spurs striker Jermain Defoe talk to Leon Mann about the highs and lows of his career, from scoring for the national team at the World Cup to the deaths of his half-brother, father and cousin within a short space of time.
With contributions from England and Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, Jermain’s former boss Harry Redknapp, as well as family members, this programme provides a close insight into a footballer who went from a council estate in Stratford to scoring at a World Cup and in the Champions League.
After starting at the well-known Senrab youth team in Wanstead, he controversially moved to West Ham from Charlton, aged 16. Jermain trained with his boyhood hero Ian Wright, who was by then at the East London club and Frank Lampard, who was at the club when he joined, explains ‘Wrighty’s influence:
“He was a young, confident, buzzy kid, he had a bit of the Ian Wrights about him. Ian Wright was at West Ham at the time and you could see Jermain’s eyes open up and follow him.”
But when West Ham were relegated in 2003, Jermain handed in a transfer request less than 24 hours after their demotion was confirmed. He expresses regret about his actions:
"To this day I can imagine West Ham fans look at me and think, ‘Who does he think he is? How can you do that? You're a Judas.’ And It's quite sad really because I can honestly say I still love that club.”
Jermain also speaks about moments when headlines about his goals on the back pages have been overshadowed by his love life in the front of newspapers.
"You're young, you're successful, you earn a lot of money, you attract girls. Your life changes. If someone says they don't like the attention they're lying. I'm only human."
Jermain signed for Tottenham in 2004, but despite scoring prolifically for club and country, he was not selected for the World Cup in Germany two years later, with 16-year-old Theo Walcott preferred. He speaks about his pain at missing out:
“That was heartbreaking, because I thought I was going. I was the only player that travelled with the squad to Germany then had to leave.”
Having moved from Tottenham to Portsmouth in 2008, he hoped to reignite his scoring spark with former boss Harry Redknapp, and the team promptly won the FA Cup - but without his input as he was cup-tied. Meanwhile, Spurs won the League Cup. Harry, who later re-signed him for Spurs, says:
“I’m sure we would’ve won the cup easier if he had been available, that was for sure. I’ve made him a fortune over the years - I hope he appreciates it. He’s worth every penny.”
After a prolific league season Defoe finally got called up to the England squad for the 2010 World Cup - where he scored in a crucial match against Slovenia. He says his main concern was being selected by manager Fabio Capello.
“So I’m walking up and down in the kitchen, my phone rings, bang - I’ve picked it up. He said ‘Err, yeah, I’m afraid… That you won’t be going on holiday this year because you are coming with us to the World Cup.’ That’s the best thing in the world.”
Defoe has never won a major honour, and he says he hopes to win something before the end of his career, otherwise he will feel he has failed.
"At the end of your career you want to sit back and say, ‘I won this’ or, ‘I won that’ because that's what it's all about. You want to be the best."
But he reveals that the loss of his brother Jade in 2009, followed by his father Jimmy in 2012 and his cousin Hannah later that year, made him reconsider his priorities.
"I'm sitting there thinking, am I dreaming? This can't be happening, not again. Is there a jinx on the family? It doesn't make any sense. It changes your mentality completely - the things you think are important are not, the things you make a big deal about you shouldn't. You can only play football for so long, and I believe there’s more to me than that."
He is seen launching the Jermain Defoe Foundation to support homeless, abused and abandoned children in St Lucia.
"I think I can help people. I don't want to sit back and think, ‘Okay I'll do my charity stuff, but that can wait.’ No, I want to do it now."
- Watch Jermain Defoe: Sports Life Stories at 10pm on Tuesday 5th November
- Watch on ITV Player - David Weir: Sports Life Stories