“So I just turned around, put me leg up on the wall, pulled me gun out and pointed it at his head. Then I looked up to him and said, ‘What are you gonna fucking do now then?’”
Best remembered on the back pages for his pivotal role in Howard Kendall’s world-beating Everton team and on the front pages for his failed marriage to Mandy Smith, Pat Van Den Hauwe once nearly killed a man over £100.
His weapon of choice was a ’38 snub’ that he’d borrowed for protection on the advice of a friend.
“I used to wear an ankle strap and at night if I went out, I carried it. There was just one incident, some guy who owed me money. He kept ducking me and ducking me and after I’d had a few drinks and god knows what, I bumped into him outside a pub. I said ‘Where’s me money?’ and because he was a black belt in karate I thought “I’m not gonna fuck around with this”. He said to me ‘Well, what you gonna do about it?’ and you know when I lose my temper, I lose my temper.”
Luckily, Van Den Hauwe didn’t shoot the man that day, although insists he came very close.
“I had a moment where it was touch and go, and, I really thought to myself ‘Before I do the ultimate wrong thing, it’s time to give it back,’ you know? Because once it goes wrong there, you’re banged up for life. I had to think seriously about it. I’m not a violent person anyway, you know what I mean?”
“I would say, that incident, carrying it, pulling it, pissing about with it, it was just a matter of time for me. I think it was a life changing thing. It calmed me down.”
This March, the paperback edition of Van Den Hauwe’s latest autobiography was released, a text thick with humour and distress in increasingly unequal measures. The book recounts his illustrious playing career and infamous drinking habits, though in parts it delivers a darker tone and the suggestion of depression is ever present.
“It was a relief to do it, actually. Because you know, after my football career and two marriages there in the UK, it was just something I needed to get off me bleedin’ chest. Whether people liked it or not, it’s all about opinions, so I couldn’t give a fuck to be honest. It was my life, I lived it the way I wanted to, could’ve done a lot better, but could’ve been a lot worse.”
In the book, Van Den Hauwe is often brutal in his assessments of certain ex-colleagues and associates, but in particular, his ex-wife Mandy Smith and her family. There’s been no reaction to her depiction in the book from the Smith family, but it’s clear that if there was, Van Den Hauwe wouldn’t want to hear it.
“I haven’t spoken to that thing in years, and I don’t want to, thank you very much.”
Prior to his marriage with Smith, Van Den Hauwe had a child with his first wife Susan Cross. During this period of his life, the book makes mention of his frequent infidelities, a fact that must have made difficult reading for his family.
“My daughter’s just had a child, but she read the book. She had a one-to-one talk with me when I was in South Africa a couple of years ago and she said ‘Why did you leave? Why did you leave me?’
I thought ‘Fucking hell, how’d you answer that question?’ And that was very, very hard for me. That was very, very hard. But we got through it, and now, we talk to each other, we see each other when I’m down there.”
Though his decision to leave Susan Cross is left unexplored, he describes it as one of his biggest mistakes.
“I do regret that. Especially when you go down the road in life, and you meet another one like Mandy and then this one over here [his third wife, in South Africa, their marriage is now over], you know you just tend to ponder a bit and think to yourself, well fucking hell, after all these years I’m back to square one. And that’s a sad thing. You’ve lost again, per say, whether it’s financial, and material, or love.”
“To find yourself alone at a certain age is not cool either. Some people like it, I don’t. And for me to start again with all that, at my age, it’s a bit of a mission. So, I dunno. Looks like I’m alone for a while.”
Van Den Hauwe’s autobiography uses his hard man reputation as its selling point, describing it as “probably the most explicit book ever written by a former footballer”, but it’s not his drunken antics that make a mark, it’s his fragility. During the epilogue of his first autobiography, he bravely discussed the suicidal contemplation that dogged periods of his life in the UK and South Africa. How difficult was this to discuss?
“Actually, that was very hard. Once you’ve gone down the road of life a bit and you give it all you’ve got, and people take things away from you deliberately, and then you have your own personal situations with marriages and then that breaks down, then you find yourself when there’s no work for a certain period of time, it just creeps up, it creeps up.”
How close did he come to suicide?
“I thought about it and I was close, believe you me. I was very close. I thought to myself ‘fuck all this, what’s it all been worth?’ All the hard slog and fucking going through this. Honestly, it was very close for me. But to pull out of it is another thing to do. Because it’s constantly there isn’t it? And you have a beer and it gets worse, you know? You think, where do I go, who do I turn to?”
During a particularly tough period at Millwall, Van Den Hauwe sought help and the club assisted in getting him to see a therapist. Unfortunately, it was a negative experience and he was unable to take anything from it.
“You know what it was, the fucker didn’t listen to me properly, and that irritated me. I was telling him from my heart how I felt, and he said, ‘Well, I can prescribe these relaxing tablets,’ or whatever, and I said, ‘You haven’t been listening have you?’ I said, ‘I’m a footballer, how can I take fucking tablets and go and train and play and do them things’. So basically, I said ‘I’ve wasted my time, so you can fuck off’. And from then on, I’ve not sat down with another one, they drive me nuts.”
“What I wanted was basically someone to listen. Because I’m not really one to open up to a lot of people about my business and my feelings and things. I’m normally a private one. But I thought, I’d take a chance on that one and I was hoping that being a ‘so-called’ psychiatrist, he could give me the right advice. And I was looking for it and praying for it and hoping for it. And when he mentioned that I thought ‘Oh, God,’ so then I told him to go and just carried on.”
Despite describing some of his actions as a cry for help in his first autobiography, it seems that the right type of help wasn’t available when it was needed. Alongside his troubled personal life, Van Den Hauwe seems to have been left believing that only he can help himself.
“I think you’ve just got to work it out yourself in the end. If you come to a decision where you want to take your life, then you have to come to a decision not to. You know? You’ve got to fight for yourself.”
Though, perhaps torn on the best form of action, he also suggests that communication is key to battling depression. What advice would he offer to other professionals suffering from depression?
“Go and talk to people. Whether it’s family, close friends or even asking the club to organise you someone that’s qualified, for you to go and speak to them.”
Although he describes writing his autobiography as, “a relief,” he later reveals that he’s yet to read it.
“I haven’t read it, by the way. I’m deadly serious.”
“I thought to myself, once this story is told, done and dusted, then it’s done. So, I don’t need to read the book. Whether it’s the hardback copy or the paperback copy, and go back and relive all them good times and bad times. Once it’s done, I’ll put it to bed. It’s finished.”
Regardless of the books various interpretations, it is nothing if not brutally honest. Mental health issues in sports are of steadily growing concern, a fact sadly echoed by the suicides of Robert Enke and Gary Speed.
At 54, and recently separated, the Everton legend has once again begun rebuilding his life in South Africa. Is he happy?
“Let’s put it this way. Not unhappy, but not happy. So, let me say, it’s been a hard nine months. I have slowly come out, I was a bit depressed, and frustrated and angry, very angry with some people that took houses away from me and money from me, even family over here have done that. So, I’ve got myself back on track and um, what can I say? Life goes on, doesn’t it?”
You can follow Joe Devine on Twitter (@JM_Devine)
You can read a review of Pat’s book here.