News and events

Part 2 of Paul Canoville's story

Former Reading FC star’s lengthy battle back from career-ending knee injury.

Ex-Royals winger faces alcohol, drugs, and cancer after having his playing career cut short.

Paul Canoville
Paul Canoville (left) alongside the manager that brought him to Reading, Ian Branfoot 

It was a moment which changed Paul Canoville's life forever.

October 21, 1986 was the date, and Reading's speedy 24-year-old left winger was brought down by Sunderland's Dave Swindlehurst. Canoville was playing in just his 12th game for Royals, having been signed the previous summer from Chelsea - where he was the first black player - for £50,000.

But the tackle was to ultimately end his playing career for good - rupturing cartilage and ligaments in his knee which he would never completely recover from.

He recalls: "That's when life changed for me to be honest.
"Unfortunately the fans never saw the real best of me. You never know what might have happened if we had a full season - only Ian Branfoot (the manager) could tell us.
"It was very hard to accept after the physio and specialist said it was difficult to come back.
"I always thought it would mend but it just wasn't to be."

Canoville, who made 79 appearances at Chelsea prior to Reading, said he found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the injury. The Londoner would turn to drugs and alcohol, in an attempt to come to deal with his new lifestyle. And these contributed to him hitting what he called 'rock bottom'.

"All I knew was football," he said.
"It was difficult to accept not being able to play.
"What was I going to do with my life?
"That's where my life spiralled and it went downhill. Drug issues and the cancer came about.
"When we say it hit rock bottom, it did. I had to find a new career and for me it was really difficult.
"It was a 9-5 to job and I had been used to 10-12 training. I started making excuses and phoning up ill and the next thing you know you don't turn up."

He added: "Regrettably, I turned to drugs.
"They were the worst thing. I was forgetting everything and it let me forget all my problems but they were still there.
"They never disappeared."

To add to Canoville's problems, he was diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions. He credits a former team-mate and ex player Simon Chandler, who manages Reading Sunday League side Wrightchoice FC to helping him getting his life back on track.

"Simon saw me on the road in London," said Canoville.
"I was so embarassed. I tried to hide. I looked a state.
"He said 'Canners, you don't know who you are, what you have achieved,' and I didn't understand him at the time.
"He took me in.
"He said 'you need to go detox, you need to go rehab', he kept patience with me.
"I went into detox went in to rehab, and that's when I found out I had cancer.
"I couldn't accept it, I didn't believe it. I just thought it was a cold at first.
"But I had to go into hospital and I went through the treatment.
"I've had cancer three times now and the second time it really shook me up, going through the radiotherapy and chemotherapy, going in and out of hospital and coming out."

Canoville came out of rehabilitation in 2003, which is when he was approached by Chelsea, to go into school to recount his experiences of his short playing career. He became a target of Blues supporters while at Chelsea and was the subject of regular racist chanting.

Canoville became a teaching assistant for five years and went on to write a book - Black and Blue - recounting his life on and off the field. The book won the Best Autobiography Award at the British Sports Awards in 2009. He has since set up a foundation - Motivate to Change, an organisation which sees Canoville tour the the country, delivering workshops in schools, prisons and community groups.

Ian Branfoot was the manager who brought Canoville to Reading from under the noses of Brentford in 1986. He said: "Paul's story is an incredible one.
"To say outstanding is a gross understatement.
"It's amazing and all credit to him.
"I signed him because he was a very hard worker.
"That was the very sad thing and at the time i think if you got the same injury now they could probably put the knee right.
"But at that time there was no chance.
"I could remember seeing it.
"It was horrendous.
"For him to come through what he has come through, it's absolutely amazing.
"He's a great example."

Did you go to the event? Do you remember Canoville playing for Reading? Let us know in by contacting richard@readingfcformerplayers.co.uk

03 April 2015



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