Hall of Fame player. World Cup veteran. Former NCAA, university, club and Canadian under-20 coach. TV and newspaper analyst.
Paul James’s soccer pedigree is long and distinguished.
But away from the pitch, James lived a secret hell. For more than a decade, the intense, meticulous coach was a crack cocaine addict who lived in fear that his secret might leak out.
The 48-year-old James, after three trips to rehab, lifts the veil on his addiction in a self-published E-book called Cracked Open.
“In spite of losing so much – including my soccer employment, my financial security, and, many times over, my dignity – I appreciate that I should take comfort from the fact in 2012, I am indeed fortunate to be alive,” writes James.
James showed The Canadian Press excerpts from the book, which is slated for release Monday. It is a white-knuckle journey through addiction that also holds a mirror up to Canadian soccer.
Canadian soccer officials, coaches and players will read the book with interest and – in some cases – foreboding. Many of today’s Canadian stars passed through James’ youth team and some did not behave well.
James hopes his harrowing past might help shed light on addiction – and ultimately help others see warning signs and seek/provide help.
“For me, drug addiction has proven to be a cruel disease with no simple remedy – not a moral failing or a weakness of mind, but a unique, personal, and devastating experience,” he writes.
His double life will come as a shock to many.
“Everybody has said that to me. Anyone that I’ve opened up (to) has been stunned and shocked,” he said in an interview. “It’s not a badge of honour to wear but what it is, it’s to alert people and society in general that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors.”
He pulls no punches in the book, detailing disturbing incidents as the drug pulled him down one ugly rabbit hole after another.
Ten weeks before coaching Canada at the FIFA 2001 World Youth Championships, he found himself bloody and in need of stitches (he later had 16 to close three facial cuts), dazed and without any money “somewhere along Queen Street in Toronto.”
On a trip to London, England, after another incident with crack, he found himself at an automatic teller paying off the woman who apparently lived in the house where he was using.
In Saskatoon, after another episode, he was robbed with a Stanley knife at his throat.
“It was another nasty experience in a subculture that I was now a part of,” he writes. “Living the double life was terrorizing.”
And yet James kept functioning – and in most cases succeeding – as a coach.
He took his under-20 Canadian team to the 2001 World Youth Championship. And from 2004 to 2009 as “master coach” of York University soccer program, he led the women’s team to four championship appearances. He was CIS women’s coach of the year in 2007.
As a coach, James says he always gave his best to his employers.
“I gave everything I possibly could have to them as an organization. I hid this as best as I possibly could. I haven’t stolen from people. I haven’t hurt people. I haven’t committed crimes.”
At tournaments or on tour, James says he was in his element surrounded by people and focused on the task at hand. After the incident 10 weeks in advance of the 2001 World Youth Championships, for example, he says he was clean for 2 1/2 months.
It was alone at home that his demons reared.
He believes his ability to function at the professional level “might open up people’s eyes to a whole new world of other addicts that are out there. I don’t believe that I’m the only sport coach across the world that is either going through this or gone through it.”
“There are some extraordinary moments in my life that I wished hadn’t happened,” he added. “But when I look at it now, I feel by exposing those moments, I think it can not only help other addicts but maybe society as well in how we view addiction. We tend to stereotype, we’ve been conditioned in a certain way of what we see of addiction.”