'Football was my god... Now I am free' – Newcastle United promotion hero Gavin Peacock talks football and finding faith in part one of our special interview

‘Football was my god… Now I am free.’

Former Newcastle United promotion hero Gavin Peacock’s road is one less travelled.

While many ex-professionals with years of top flight experience turn to coaching the next generation, or cushy, comfy chairs in garishly bright green screen studios, Peacock swapped punditry for the pulpit and football for his faith.

The 53-year-old walked away from the limelight his sporting fame – earned most notably at Stamford Bridge, St James’ Park and Loftus Road – offered, with BBC contracts, TV appearances and all of the trappings that go with that lifestyle. Instead the ex-Chelsea, QPR, Gillingham, Bournemouth and Charlton midfielder-cum-forward turned to Jesus and spreading the word of the Lord, 4,500 miles from his Kent roots.

Newcastle player Gavin Peacock (r) goes past Kevin Ball of Sunderland during the League Divsion One Tyne and Wear Derby match at Roker Park on October 18, 1992 in Sunderland, England.

The days of the flash cars and footballer lifestyle are but a memory – so too are the fresh-faced boyish good looks and perfectly coiffured locks. It happens to us all.

In its place is a quieter, holier life. One of sermon, prayer, sacrifice and fulfillment.

Football was my god. And with that my life, my success, my moods were all defined by it. I lived with the ups and the downs football can bring,” explains Peacock, now an associate pastor at Calvary Grace Church, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

“I was brought up in a football family. I just wanted to follow my dad, Keith. I made it at 16, I was at QPR. It was every schoolboy’s dream. I was doing everything you are told will make you happy. I had the car, the money, the hair, the fame. I thought I had it all.”

Newcastle United player Gavin Peacock poses for his headshot at the 1990/91 pre-season photocall at St James' Park on July 17, 1991 in Newcastle, England.

However, Peacock soon realised something was missing. Something he, at 18, hadn’t even realised he needed.

“I went with my mother to a church group, just to see what it was about. Here I was with my Ford Escort SRI, a flashy young celebrity turning up, meeting with a group of young people who didn’t have any of that. What they did have, which I realised I didn’t, was a joy when they spoke about Christianity.

“I then realised my biggest need was not the approval of the crowds on a Saturday but to be in a right relationship with God.From that moment, football fell into its right place. It was a very freeing experience. Because from then on the anxiety of losing football disappeared. It was not my everything.

“In life the thing you think is your rock can move – the struggles I see on a daily basis from people in this Covid-impacted world reflect that, whether that be someone’s health, their joy of seeing loved ones, their job, their wealth. Even through all of that, Jesus remains constant.”

Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan holds the League Division One trophy after the League Division One match against Leicester City at St James' Park on May 9, 1993 in Newcastle, England,( Back row left to right) Paul Bracewell, Terry McDermott (Assistant manager) Mark Robinson, Barry Venison (obscured) Brian Kilcline, Tommy Wright, Kevin Sheedy, Derek Fazackerley (coach) Derek Wright (physio) and Scott Sellars, (front row left to right) John Beresford, Lee Clark, David Kelly, Steve Howey (partially obscured) KK, Liam O' Brien, Gavin Peacock, Robert Lee, Andy Cole and Kevin Scott.

Football and faith are themes that have, for Peacock, walked hand-in-hand through his adult life.

And both form the basis of his autobiography, A Greater Glory: From Pitch to Pulpit, set for general release through Christian Focus Publications on May 7 this year.

From skippering United to the First Division title under Kevin Keegan to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ruud Gullit and Glenn Hoddle at Chelsea, Peacock’s story is a who’s who of 1980-1990s English football. But it is that juncture, while a kid at QPR which proved to not only be career-shaping, but future-defining.

“I’ve seen some managers who think that just because someone has faith or is deeply religious they will not be as aggressive or competitive as another player. I think Newcastle United fans can vouch for the fact that’s not the case with me,” said Peacock.

“Faith teaches you to be the best footballer you can be within the confines of the laws of the game. Be competitive, be aggressive when needed, sacrifice for others and play hard. In many ways it can make someone even more of an asset to the team.

“I’ve played in front of 90,000 people at Wembley and yet today, stepping into the pulpit is a very weighty task. There is a sense of significance, a need to get the words and the teachings right. An eternal significance. This is very different to the sense of responsibility to fans. Football is, however, about a lot more than just the player or the team – it is about the city, the connection. And I think that is something lost a little at Newcastle United at the moment.”

So why a book – and why now?

It’s a question media and public speaking-savvy Peacock likes.

"Good question,” he jokes.

“I got to 50 and thought that milestone was a good chance to write about my life – at that age you have something to write about, not for example when people write autobiographies in their 20s.

“At 50 I feel like I had enough life experience to be able to reflect back on my life with more clarity and maturity.

“It is about life, football, faith and more.

“This book will appeal to football fans because football and my career in it is something that is a theme throughout with tales of times with Jim Smith, Ossie Ardiles and Kevin Keegan at Newcastle, playing under my dad for a time, Harry Redknapp, Gerry Francis and at Chelsea with Glenn Hoddle.

“It is an insight into the dressing room, relationships, managers and leaders.

“But it will also appeal to non-football fans because it’s about a lot more than football, there’s faith and my relationship with it, truths about life, struggles, joy, success, pain, fatherhood, career, death. It is a story of life and all of its complexities set against a backdrop of football, the beautiful game, floodlit by faith.

“It’s no sermon by the way. But it’s something I believe will make people laugh, cry and definitely think.”

*In part TWO of our special interview with Gavin Peacock, the former United hero opens up on his love for Kevin Keegan, the remarkable story of his Newcastle exit and Geordie roots. Online on Sunday morning.

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