From football thug to man with a mission

Shane Foley and Pastor Graham Deakin
Shane Foley and Pastor Graham Deakin
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Shane Foley, 24, used to get his kicks as a Blackpool football hooligan. He’s the first to admit it - along with the drink and the drugs that dogged his life.

Now he’s shown the red card to all that. He’s a changed man, he says. A minister who’s no fool supports that claim and is helping support Shane through bible college with the ultimate aim of serving overseas. Graham Deakin, pastor of Blackpool and Fylde Church, an independent church above a furniture shop in Church Street, used to work in social services - at the very top.

Graham explains: “I worked in social services caring for kids in children’s homes, specialising in adolescents involved in deviance and delinquency. I went on to develop changes in therapeutic care and social care policy and ended up as number three in a north Yorkshire local authority social services department.

“I left when in line for assistant director.

“I was responsible for all children’s and day care services for mental health and allied issues. Through heavy involvement I knew we did a lot of great work but also had the sense that the real answer lay in the gospel of the good news of Jesus. It was a real calling.

“So I gave up my career and came back full time into ministry. I was involved in lay leadership while in social services but felt I could achieve more through the church. Shane is a case in point. He came with a friend from a similar background. He was genuinely enquiring. He was his own man but didn’t know it.”

Shane adds: “I was accessing help and services such as Inward House and the Ashley Foundation to get me away from drink and drugs. I was in peer-led self help groups but I had no real understanding of relationships. I needed something deeper.

“I did a lot of bad things which I’m not proud of, sex, drugs, football fighting, pushing my family away. I was in trouble from the age of 16. I found concentrating hard at school. I ended up in jail and homeless hostels and felt lost. I was always trying to be someone else. I presented myself as big and hard. I didn’t want to feel the way I had at school so kept that front up. Football violence appealed to me. Not the game. I was never really a supporter. I went to just a few games.

“I went to the pubs where the football hooligans hung out, and targeted rival fans looking for a fight. I gravitated to older guys. I’d had no real father figure.

“I went to jail, hostels for serious crimes. Served a year and a half for GBH on a football night. Did four months for football related violence, smashing up pubs, all sorts. That was during the Blackpool-Notts Forest home game in 2006.”

Trouble kicked off outside a pub on Central Drive. In July 2007 Shane and five older men were convicted for their involvement in pre-and-post match disorder. All were identified by police as known football hooligans.

Shane was sentenced to 16 weeks custody and given a three year football banning order requiring him to sign in at Blackpool Police Station whenever England played a match. He later breached it. It included exclusion zones and non-association stipulation as police and courts got tougher on football thuggery.

Shane admits: “When I was in jail, I went to some Christian meetings. I prayed in my cell. God gave me peace of mind. When I came out of jail I realised I didn’t know who I really was.

“I was sofa surfing in a home I didn’t own and still drinking heavily and doing drugs. I looked in the mirror and thought what have you done with your life, who are you?

“I’d hit rock bottom. No friends other than self destructive ones. I’d disconnected from my family. I’d tried everything and it never worked out.

“No girlfriend, no job, had ever helped me to the point where I could get out of it.

“So I cried out and said God if you are really there help me because I cannot carry on any more. It was a very personal cry for help.

“God works through people. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen and the boys at the bottom of society. They showed the high priests what God was all about. The next day I found myself going to drugs services for help. I went through the 12 steps programme and stopped drinking and taking drugs. I stopped two days after my 21st birthday. God was helping even though I didn’t know him fully. One door opened and led to another – and finally led me here.

“Someone with a similar history invited me to come to this church. I got paranoid when he asked. Who’s been talking to you? How did you know I’d been looking? I came with him to the Blackpool and Fylde Church, gave my life to Jesus and was baptised.

“Today I don’t even feel like drinking or taking drugs. I have peace day and night. I got a job. Now I’m off to Bible College this month.”

Shane, who could barely walk straight a few years ago, ran the Blackpool half marathon this year to raise money towards tuition costs and has received donations from well wishers. The college is based in Cardiff.

Graham explains: “It’s run by a similar church and offers supported student housing, a proper academic year, teaches how to share faith and is practically involved in outreach, running caring activities in the whole community.

“It will ultimately equip Shane for his calling. He will have UK placements and then work overseas in any number of places where we operate. Knowing Shane he will go to where the challenges are.

“I’m back in the Philippines myself soon. I’ve worked on rubbish tips there with kids, been into children’s prisons, even gone into areas under armed guard because of the risks.” Shane concludes: “I know what I’m taking on but want to be a part of changing the world for the better. If it worked for me it can work for others.”

* www.blackpoolchurch.org