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Kieron Dyer suffered childhood sexual abuse, racism in football, and couldn’t understand Newcastle teammate Gary Speed’s suicide

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Kieron Dyer was an easy target, if you enjoy simple narratives: the injury-prone ‘King of Bling’, whose so-called attitude prevented him from reaching his true potential.

A twinkle-toed midfielder with electrifying pace, the former Ipswich, Newcastle and West Ham man’s career is probably better remembered for that on-field fight with Lee Bowyer, as well as various off-the-field escapades, rather than the 33 England caps.

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Dyer was never far away from the headlines during his playing career

Indeed, Dyer did have a personality problem which caused him to lash out, that much was clear. But it wasn’t his fault.

Dyer, now 41, was sexually abused by his great uncle Kenny when he was 11 years old, and it haunted the next two decades of his life without him knowing.

Psychological trauma took the wheel, building internal walls for Dyer which, he fears, made him unpleasant to others.

Externalising the abuse was impossible, instead he became a manifestation of it, and didn’t realise until much of the damage was done.

Sitting down with talkSPORT for our new series, After The Lights Go Out, Dyer bravely opens up on how he makes sense of it all now.

Dyer gave an emotional interview to talkSPORT

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Dyer gave an emotional interview to talkSPORT

“I never had any help until I was into my thirties, so I was dealing with the abuse on my own,” he said.

“I developed certain traits which protected me, one of them was never to show vulnerability again. If anyone comes for me, I’m going to lash out.

“When the press came for me, I thought, ‘I’m not putting up with your crap’.

“I formed this stubborn personality, and what is so hard is that people judge me in my younger days, I’ve done some monumental wrongs, but I’m a decent and kind person.

“It was just the abuse and the way I dealt with it formed this personality which wasn’t true to my character, I was just never going to be vulnerable again.

“When I got the help, I realised that 20 years of my life had been marred and it was something I could never get back.”

An emotional John Hartson breaks down whilst recalling his battle with testicular cancer and being in an induced coma

 

To listen to Dyer is to hear a man reflect painfully on his experience, which clearly still hurts, but there is a reassurance that he understands it all a little bit better now.

The Englishman looks back on another moment which he failed to comprehend until much later: the tragic death of Gary Speed, his former Newcastle teammate.

Speed’s suicide in 2011 rocked the football world, with many struggling to come to terms with how someone so successful, so loved, could ever feel like there was nothing left for him.

The reality is that, sometimes, none of that really matters, and we can never be truly sure what is going on inside a person’s mind.

Dyer and Speed were teammates at Newcastle

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Dyer and Speed were teammates at Newcastle

Dyer knows that now. But it was an encounter with Speed’s kids, just weeks after his death, which had Dyer asking some difficult questions.

He added: “A couple of weeks afterwards, Bellers [Craig Bellamy] was playing for Liverpool against Man City and he got a box at Anfield.

“Bellers invited Gary Speed’s two children. I was in the box and they were there with Gary Speed’s dad.

“How brave and how strong these kids were blew my mind. It was just so powerful – and I was so angry with Gary Speed after that.

“I was angry that Gary Speed took his own life, and it was only after speaking to the professionals that I discovered it’s a serious illness, not a selfish act.

“Sometimes people think them gone is better for everybody, but the way his kids acted was just one of the most powerful things and most inspirational things I’ve seen.”

Dyer was picked on by the press for being ‘flashy’

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Dyer was picked on by the press for being ‘flashy’

Besides some invaluable lessons about his mental health, which also took a hit from his injury struggles, Dyer also reflects on some of the public criticism he received with a different outlook now, realising there was probably a more sinister undertone.

His life wasn’t made any easier by the press, and as part of the ‘Baby Bentley Brigade’, Dyer spent as much time on the front pages as the back.

Not much has changed: Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford have both had to highlight the different kind of treatment black footballers sometimes get in the papers.

Success and wealth is often criticised rather than celebrated, something which Dyer experienced in abundance.

“I remember the press labelled me the ‘King of Bling’,” he added.
“Yes, I was young, I had a diamond earring and a few fancy watches, but for them to label me ‘King of Bling’, there was a racial tone to it.

Dyer asks why Beckham never received similar treament

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Dyer asks why Beckham never received similar treament

“You look at David Beckham, he had more diamonds than me, many players did, but because I was an easy target, and perhaps because I’m black as well.

“Yes I didn’t help myself with the way I behaved off the pitch at times, but for them to call me the ‘King of Bling’, I thought at the time it was just them picking on me, but after Raheem Sterling started bringing this all to light, I could see there was a racist element to it.”

And besides the press, Dyer believes football has a lot of questions to answer regarding its attitudes towards race as he tries to make his way in the world.

The 41-year-old is currently working at Ipswich Town, where it all began, earning his stripes as a manager in the youth set-up, with dreams to make it as a top coach one day.

Dyer believes black managers like Campbell don’t get the same opportunities

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Dyer believes black managers like Campbell don’t get the same opportunities

He’s been inspired by former England teammates Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard waltzing into top jobs, at Chelsea and Rangers, but the careers of talented black managers don’t fill him with confidence.

Dyer said: “I love that my era of players are getting top jobs. Scott Parker gets the Fulham job. Joey Barton gets the Fleetwood job. Frank Lampard gets Derby, Steven Gerrard gets Rangers, then Sol Campbell gets Macclesfield?

“Sol Campbell was right up there with all of them as players, but he has to start at Macclesfield.

“Paul Ince was a massive success in his first job, got the chance at Blackburn, it didn’t go well.

“Yes, he got a few other jobs afterwards. But you look at Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren, they get sacked, they get another top job.”


Presented by Steve Harmison and Leon McKenzie, ‘After The Lights Go Out’ focuses on the struggles of professional athletes after their retirement from sport – and the opening episode features Kieron Dyer this Sunday at 9.30pm on talkSPORT 



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