Family tragedy puts life into perspective for Defoe

Sep 05, 2012 - 08:29
  • England forward Jermain Defoe speaks during a press conference near Watford in Hertfordshire north of London on September 4, 2012. PHOTO/ AFP

At any other time in his career, Jermain Defoe would be a nervous wreck this week as he waits to discover if he will be selected to lead England's attack against Moldova, but a heart-breaking series of family tragedies have given the Tottenham striker a new perspective on life.

With Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll ruled out through injury, Spurs striker Defoe has a golden opportunity to stake his claim for more regular international action if he can deliver a goal-scoring display in Friday's opening World Cup qualifier.

The 29-year-old is competing with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge for a place in Roy Hodgson's starting line-up and, for someone who has always treated football as by far the most important thing in his life, in the past Defoe would have been shattered if he doesn't get the nod.

But not anymore. A devastating sequence of deaths in his family has made Defoe realise that there are far more important things in life than football.

Defoe's father Jimmy died of throat cancer just before the start of Euro 2012 and he flew home from England's base in Poland to attend the funeral before returning to the tournament.

As if that wasn't enough heartache for Defoe to cope with, he then learned while he was on holiday after the Euros that his 20-year-old cousin Hannah had been electrocuted as she dived into a hotel pool on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

Those two tragic incidents hit Defoe especially hard as he has already had to deal with too much pain in his young life.

His half-brother Jade Defoe, 26, died in a fight in 2009 - Jade's grandmother then died at the funeral at which Jermain was a pallbearer - while another cousin Allan Edgar was killed in a robbery in St Lucia in December.

"It has been hard. Especially with my dad. From day one, when he was diagnosed, I was with him from the first meeting in the hospital. I am only 29 and to deal with that was quite difficult," Defoe said.

"I had to tell dad 'it will be okay and be positive, keep praying and have faith.'

"I have always known about cancer but to be around someone who has cancer and to see what it does in such a short space of time was mad. It makes you think about your life.

"My cousin, as well. She was only 20. When that happened, you start to ask questions like 'why is this happening'. I was in America with Tottenham and had to fly home again to be with my family. It has been hard."

Defoe admits he is now a more family orientated man after so much tragedy and, while he still maintains a healthy appetite for goals, he derives as much pleasure from spending time with his family as terrorising opposition defences.

"I have got a big family and we have always been close. It does make you think about life and what is important," he said.

"If you have an argument with someone and you sulk, sometimes you don't want to speak to them. But it is important to keep your friends close to you and do the right things.

"When you are young nothing is more important than football but as you get older, you get married, have kids and lose people. Then you realise your family is more important. This comes with age."

One silver lining from Defoe's recent troubles was the human touch shown by Hodgson during his father's illness.

Hodgson allowed the former West Ham star to visit his dad every day while England were still based at home before the Euros and Defoe appreciated the gesture.

"He was brilliant before the Euros. We had a training camp and every afternoon I got a car to go to the hospital where I would spend a few hours with my dad," Defoe added.

"I said to the manager could I go for one day and he said 'make sure you see your dad every afternoon'.

"That was really nice. It helps when you feel you can approach the manager and speak about other things than football."

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