Gary Roberts was arguably one of the most talented footballers ever to pull on a Mansfield Town shirt – but he was also a walking disaster area.
The 32-year-old, who is now at National League North Chester FC, made George Best look like a Mormon with his drink, drugs and gambling addictions and was sacked from almost every club he ever played for.
But Roberts has now turned his life around and opens his heart with some funny and moving memories in the Undr the Cosh podcast presented by ex-players Jon ‘the Beast’ Parkin, Chris ‘ Browny’ Brown and award-winning comedian/writer Chris Brown.
After being sacked by Micky Adams at Port Vale, Roberts came straight to Mansfield in January 2012, starring in the 2-2 draw at York City.
He ended up making 29 appearances over the seasons, three off the bench, and scoring three goals.
SEE MANSFIELD TOWN’S 2019/20 FIXTURES
Some of his midfield play was breathtaking and sublime, but his off-the-field antics gave manager Paul Cox sleepless nights and in the end he was allowed to go to Maltese club Floriana on loan midway through the promotion season.
An England international from U16 to U19, he speaks frankly in the podcast about his life, which has included boozing binges, cocaine use, out-of-control betting, training ground punch-ups, probation officers, arrests, crashing a borrowed chairman’s car while drunk, being pursued for money by gangsters, and playing and training while drunk.
However, Roberts is a new man these days and said: “I am at Chester now and I have just been with a personal trainer doing a fitness regime.
“I’ve only had 10 days off, but I am enjoying it. I have sorted my self out.
“I’ve turned the corner now. I am almost four years clean off the white stuff – the powder.
“I like a pint still and I’ll have a bet on the gee gees, but only on what I can afford as I have got a family now. They have made me look in the mirror now and think – it’s not all just about you.”
He admitted: “If I’d had the big-hitters wages of today I probably wouldn’t be here now. And if these two managers at Chester had had me back in the day things might have been different.
“They are wise and get the best out of me. They get what I am. They know I am a mad man but it’s managing that mad man that gets the best for them and the best for me.”
For all his outrageous antics, Roberts has no regrets.
“People said I mixed with the wrong kind. But I chose to mix with them,” he said.
“I’ve had a few clubs – probably more than Tiger Woods to be honest.
“I lost my way. There’s no excuses – I was a grown man. It was no one’s fault but my own – you can’t blame anyone.
“People say what would you do different now if you could change things?
“But I have got no regrets. If I’d had my head screwed on back then what stories would I have to tell – I ate some pasta?
“I know it wasn’t right but I had a good time doing it.
“You can’t live your life with ifs and buts. It is what it is.
“I know I under-achieved as a football player. I could have done a lot more.
“But, at the end of the day, I have now got a family, I love the club I am at, I work hard and the gaffers respect me.”
He continued: “I feel like I have a new lease of life. I feel alive again and I am enjoying my football.
“It’s not just that time on the pitch now. I am proud to walk around the town centre. I have come out the other side of it and that’s a better achievement than playing in the Premier League for me
“I was a ‘wrong un’, but I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t been that other person of six or seven years ago. I have now got respect for myself.
“Any youngsters out there - I’d advise you not to do it. At the time it does feel great but it does catch up with you.”
Roberts went off the rails early in life.
“When I was 14, I got kicked out of school,” he said.
“Crewe manager Dario Gradi came to my appeal to try to get me into school, but they wouldn’t take me back. And no home tutor would have me. So it was football or dead.
“I was in training with the first team every day at 14/15-years-old and they used to pay me to go in. Crewe were a Championship club at that time and they gave me a debut at 17 at West Ham.
“From 17 to 23 I was flying football-wise. I felt I was untouchable whoever I came up against. I felt it was my pitch and I owned it.
“On the pitch all my problems off it went away. I just forgot about it all. For that 90 minutes I was a different person.
“There was interest from Tottenham and Cardiff when I was 23. I was due back in from Magaluf from a Stag do, but we stayed out there and I missed the first two weeks of pre-season. And I got home owing gangsters £5,000 out there.”
Gambling was his first major out-of-control vice and current Plymouth boss Ryan Lowe got him into the Sporting Chance clinic. But things got worse.
“Years ago I went into the Tony Adams clinic,” he said.
“I was a loose cannon to be honest. I am not afraid to admit my demons.
“It was good for me at the time and I did the 28 days.
“But I went in there a gambler and came out a coke-head and alcoholic!
“I cured my gambling for a few months and thought, this is good, I’ve got a few quid in my pocket for other things.”
When relations soured between him and Micky Adams at fourth club Port Vale, Roberts had his escape route planned to Mansfield via Stags Scout Paul Ogden.
Roberts recalled: “Micky said we are sacking you. I said ‘that’s sound anyway.’ He goes ‘well where are you going to go?’ and I said ‘I am signing for Paul Cox at Mansfield tomorrow’.
“Micky thought I was brain dead. But the deal was on – I had a signing-on fee.
“Paul Ogden was their scout and he came in. I got more money at Mansfield than I did at Port Vale and a bigger signing-on fee.”
He added: “Jamie Hand was there at the same time. I think we were both in the Bomb Squad there – that’s where you’re not allowed to train – you have to train with the kids.
“I can remember I went to tackle Louis Briscoe in training and did my ankle in. Jamie Hand came in, saw the ice on it, slammed it down on it as hard as he could and said ‘man up and get back in the Bomb Squad’!
“Paul Cox eventually left me out the squad when we were playing Liverpool in the FA Cup. But, to be honest, I didn’t do much wrong at Mansfield.
“To be fair, it was rubbish at Mansfield. I had to go there because the deal was sorted. But it wasn’t a club I enjoyed. I was there for the sake of being there.
“I think I lasted the full 18 months out at Mansfield when they won the league against Wrexham on the last day of the season.”
However, by then he had been packed off on loan to Malta for the final half of that season with Stags fans left wondering what might have been.
Roberts can vividly remember the moment he decided to turn his life around.
“It was probably when I was in the house one day and the phone went,” he said.
“He asked me if I was coming out for a pint and I told him I was skint. I had spent grands on this one person but he didn’t offer to buy me a pint.
“I looked in the mirror and thought he can’t be my pal. Something just dropped and I thought it’s now or never.
“And the more clubs I was sacked from the more I thought this can’t go on. I was becoming a laughing stock to the area I lived in and to my mum and dad.”