Steven Caulker: Former Tottenham, Liverpool and QPR defender has found ‘inner peace’ at Alanyaspor – Sky Sports

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“A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine the position that I’m in today. It’s taken a lot of hard work – I’m taking it a day at a time. It feels like only yesterday I was marking one year and now I’m marking two years. It’s something I’m proud of and it’s something that I hope others can achieve too.”

Steven Caulker has undergone an extraordinary and inspiring road to recovery after living with alcohol and gambling dependencies which impacted his playing career in England. The Alanyaspor defender has now found “inner peace”.

Caulker announced on social media this month he had achieved two years of sobriety after suffering from both addictions – the last time he placed a bet and drank alcohol was on December 3, 2018.

Caulker, 28, spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on bets and drank to excess. Meanwhile, he was playing Premier League football every week for his former clubs Cardiff City, Liverpool, QPR, Southampton, and Tottenham.

His struggles were present for a long time, even when he was selected to represent Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics and ­made his England debut aged 20 during the same year.

Amid concerns for his welfare at QPR, he left the club by mutual consent in 2017. Caulker was then without a club after departing Dundee at the end of the 2018 summer transfer window.

After employing various strategies to help deal with his longstanding problems, a substantial period away from the pitch gave Caulker the time and space he needed to properly accept and address his addictions, as well as the mental health challenges that were taking over his life.

He recalls: “I’ve battled for many, many years with this. I would often get three months of sobriety and think, ‘I’m ready to move forward now’ and think, ‘I’ve cracked it’, but then would always fall back in.

“It wasn’t until I fully surrendered that I needed help, I needed medication and needed to fully address the 12-step [addiction recovery] programme, and needed to get the help and support that I have got today.

“It has been two years now, two years clean, which feels great.

“I went into rehab as young at age 19. So I’ve been aware I had a problem for a large period of time but doing something about it was always a challenge.

“I’d seen many therapists, I’d been in the 12-step programme but I wasn’t ready to accept the help that I needed.

“Until you are ready to surrender – to what today I realise was an illness – you are just continuing on that cycle.

“Unfortunately, my career was affected by it. I ended up taking quite a large amount of time out of football which was good for my mental and physical health.

“But at the same time football is a short career, so I am working hard at the moment to make the most of the years I have left in the game.”

Steven Caulker
Image: Caulker has scored two goals in the Super Lig for Alanyaspor so far this season

‘People lose their lives through gambling addiction’

Caulker believes it is positive that gambling addiction is increasingly being perceived as a serious illness, but states it is pivotal that more is done to help raise awareness of a condition that can destroy people’s lives.

Sky Sports supported Safer Gambling Week during November, which aims to encourage awareness about the importance of safe betting.

Colin Bland, CEO of Sporting Chance, a mental health charity with a specialist addiction and recovery facility for professional sportspeople, told Sky Sports News that the amount of those reaching out for support had risen since the first coronavirus lockdown.

The chair of the Betting and Gaming Council also said that the betting industry is stepping up its efforts to ensure gambling is safer.

“First thing’s first, it’s positive that people are aware of what’s going on. The first thing I’d say is that football clubs and the public are aware that gambling is an issue,” Caulker said.

“Eight or nine years ago it was, ‘what do you mean, you’ve got a gambling problem?’ It was not understood.

“Today, people are becoming more aware of it which is great, however, there is always more that can be done.

“I don’t think there’s one particular thing that will solve all. It is a journey, it’s going to be a step-by-step process.

“People are starting to realise that this illness is serious. Multiple people lose their lives from this every year, even every day.

“It’s definitely something that needs to be taken seriously and hopefully we can move forward to make changes.”

As well as receiving many congratulatory comments on social media for making it two years without gambling or drinking alcohol, Caulker reveals he has been imparting his experience to other people to offer them support through their battles with addiction.

He said: “I’ve had multiple messages on Instagram and Twitter, from many people who are struggling with addictions who don’t necessarily feel they can speak to their wives, parents or partners about it.

“They need someone who they can trust and someone maybe they don’t even know like me where they just share their experience and their pain.

“What I do in return is share my experience, strength, and hope and direct them in the way that I was guided.”

‘Finding inner peace in Turkey is helping me perform on the pitch’

In January last year, Caulker swapped inclement English weather for the sunny shores of southern Turkey when he signed for Alanyaspor for the remainder of the 2018/19 season. At the end of the campaign, he decided to extend his stay at the Bahcesehir School Arena for a further two years.

In tandem with his commitment to addiction recovery, Caulker has embraced Turkish culture and adopted a self-care and self-betterment approach to his life in Antalya.

Whether it be catching fish in the Mediterranean Sea, learning Turkish, playing the guitar, or going to the beach with his son, once he acclimatised to the scorching heat, Caulker’s wellbeing has undergone a rapid transformation.

“When I arrived, it was a bit of a shock with the mosque calling at 5am and several times throughout the day,” Caulker added.

“Everyone back home thinks of the sun and thinks of Turkey and goes ‘oh, that’s amazing’ but when you’re playing in 44-45 degrees heat, it’s tough. So after adapting to these different ways of life, I’ve found life here very comfortable.

“I feel that it was right for me at the time; stepping away from the pressures of England, from the media, and from the broken-down relationships that take their course over many years of addiction and struggles on and off the pitch.

“I took [Turkish] lessons when I first came here, I was taking two to three lessons a week, it was painful.

“It was definitely difficult at the start but I have got used to it now. I have a lot of conversations in Turkish and I really enjoy it.

“All-round over the past two years, whether it is learning the guitar or learning Turkish, I want to improve myself in all areas of my life. I want to be better and I’m working hard to achieve those things.

“We train in the evenings, it’s a very relaxed lifestyle and I’ve loved it – and living on the seafront just really helps me off the pitch.

“Having that luxury of going out on the boats to go fishing and playing on the beach with my son, it is simple pleasures like that which are just really beautiful.

“I felt like coming to Turkey, I came to a place where people were aware of my CV but they didn’t know who I was and that gave me a chance to meet people at face value.

“I’ve met some really good guys here, some of them who are my closest friends in football. I think that the inner peace I’ve found is helping me to perform on the pitch.

“It’s a very different lifestyle from back home and I’ve really adapted to the culture, I really enjoy myself here.”

‘I want to win the Super Lig with Alanyaspor’

The 28-year-old has also rediscovered the form which once saw him tipped as one of the Premier League’s brightest young prospects, scoring two goals from defence in 10 appearances, with Alanyaspor having registered only two defeats and conceding just six times so far in the league this season.

A crucial clash with Besiktas awaits on Sunday, and Caulker’s side are this season’s surprise league frontrunners – albeit leading the table on goal difference in front of Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.

Not considered as a usual ‘heavyweight’ in Turkish football like those aforementioned teams, Alanyaspor finished fifth in the league last term and secured a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

Former Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse, who excelled at Alanyaspor last season but is now at Fenerbahce, also helped Caulker accustom himself to Turkish football.

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“This year we currently lead the table, it’s a long season with extra games because of coronavirus, we’ve fought all the way through, so far so good but we look to maintain it and starting this Sunday with a big game against Besiktas. I want to win the league. I think everybody inside our camp does.”

Steven Caulker, Alanyaspor

Caulker and his side harbour ambitions of winning the Super Lig and the defender is enjoying competing at the upper end of the table, after enduring relegation battles with Cardiff and QPR in the Premier League earlier in his career.

He said: “When I first came here, we had Papiss Cisse here as well and he helped me settle in. He had an amazing season last year. He obviously had a lot of Premier League experience and it was great to see a familiar face when I first moved.

“It has been amazing – so far so good, we are top of the league. We are playing really good football, which is always nice, I am playing a style which I haven’t played for many years. It actually reminds me of being at Swansea during their first year in the Premier League.

“We have worked extremely hard to get here. When I first arrived, Alanyaspor were a middle-of-the-road team. Over the last two years, we reached a cup final and have finished fifth. We also made the Europa League qualifying rounds.

“This year. we currently lead the table. It’s a long season with extra games because of coronavirus. We’ve fought all the way through, but we look to maintain it starting this Sunday with a big game against Besiktas.

“I want to win the league. I think everybody inside our camp does. It’s not going to be easy, we come up against some of the biggest clubs in football.

“It’s going to take a lot but I’m confident and also excited about it, and it’s nice to be excited about football again. I spent many years in the Premier League battling out relegations and not really enjoying it. So, it’s nice to be at the other end of the table, and yeah I’m enjoying my football.”

‘I have unfinished business in England, and wouldn’t turn down a Scotland call-up’

Alanyaspor have held preliminary talks with Caulker about extending his contract beyond the end of 2020/21, but the centre-back is yet to make a decision on his future.

The defender, who came through Tottenham’s academy, has not ruled out a move back to England where he has “unfinished business” after off-the-field issues obstructed his progress at the beginning of his career.

Steven Caulker
Image: Caulker broke into the first team on a regular basis at Tottenham in 2012

“We’ve had a few conversations with the club and they are keen to renew my contract which is a great honour,” Caulker explained.

“At the moment, I want to keep my options open. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, I don’t know where the next step is, let’s see where we end up at the end of the season.

“If we finish in first place and get Champions League football, then I could very well stay another year or the challenge could be elsewhere, maybe in Italy. I’m keeping all my options open and am just trying to focus on each game as it comes.”

On whether he may like to play football in the Premier League again, Caulker said: “Yeah potentially in the future for sure, I feel like I’ve got unfinished business there.

“I spent many years in the Premier League, in the Championship and in League One. I’ve said it before, I never feel like I fulfilled my potential, so I think the option to go back there one day and do the business and fulfil my potential would be great and I think it would bring this story to a very nice point.

“I have been at the highs of football at the age of 20 playing for England, I have been at the lows of at the age of 26 without a club training on my own for six months plus, and I’m somewhere in between now.”

Despite holding one cap and scoring one goal for England in a 4-2 friendly defeat to Sweden in 2012, Caulker also qualifies to play for Scotland through his grandmother and has reached out to the Scottish FA to express an interest in playing for a national side again.

Caulker was impressed by Steve Clarke’s side’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Serbia, which secured qualification for the European Championships next year, and says he would relish the opportunity to play international football again if he was given it.

He said: “I reached out to Scotland about a year and a half ago and made them aware that I had Scottish in me and that I was willing to play international football, not just willing I am hungry to do so. Whether that be for England or Scotland, I want to play international football of course.

“It’s an amazing achievement by Steve Clarke and the boys there to reach the Euros.

“I’m not expecting a call, if it comes great but to answer that question I would love to play international football again, I want to play at the highest level possible.

“I am working on keeping myself well off the pitch and I think in return I will be rewarded on the pitch. Fingers crossed the season continues to go the way it’s going and who knows what’s in store.”

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