Former Norwich City hero Peter Mendham talks for the first time about his fall from grace
It was, by any account, a spectacular fall from grace. Peter Mendham, a local lad who rose through the youth ranks at Carrow Road to play 267 first team matches for Norwich City from 1976 to 1987, was a much-loved city hero.
Manager Ken Brown once said of Mendham: 'If you cut him open, his blood would flow yellow and green' – neatly summing up the former player's enduring dedication to the Canaries and to his home county of Norfolk.
The Milk Cup and Second Division Championship successes secured Mendham the respect and gratitude of a city that would never forget his role in those glorious, trophy-winning seasons.
But in 2006, the 51-year-old's life began to unravel in a very public manner, starting with a drink-driving conviction in July and a subsequent year-long ban from the wheel.
Three months and 'a moment of madness' later, Mendham was arrested for the attempted murder of his then girlfriend, Charlotte Hyam, who had been stabbed with a kitchen knife at his home in Trowse after a romantic meal turned sour. Ms Hyam suffered a severed artery in the attack, lost eight litres of blood through two wounds and had to undergo a life-saving operation to remove a kidney.
Admitting wounding with intent at Norwich Crown Court in January 2007, Mendham was originally sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, but this was reduced on appeal and the charge of attempted murder was dropped.
'I did something terrible, I expected to go to prison, but at the same time I knew that the person responsible for this incident wasn't really me: I'm not a man with a temper, I'm not a violent man,' Mendham said in his first candid interview since release from prison. The incident shocked me more than anything: that I was capable or allowed myself to get so low to do that to someone I loved and cared about. It really was a moment of madness.
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'I believe that's what stress, depression and not having the correct balance in your lifestyle can lead to. I had never had to deal with the situation I found myself in and I dealt with it in the very worst way possible. I look back, and I am not the same man.'
Finding himself on remand before facing trial, Mendham drew strength from the support of his family and friends, who made it clear they would stand by him. In particular, letters he received from sons Ross, 28, and Jamie, 26, became talismans to guide him through his darkest days.
'My most treasured possessions are two letters which I have in frames from my sons and they are the most important documents in my life, my Desiderata if you like,' he explained, visibly moved. 'They were written to me when I was arrested and held in police cells and they said everything I needed to hear: that my sons loved me, that they wanted me to be strong for them, that they missed me already.
'Those two letters are always with me and they remind me just how precious my boys are to me.
'Prison is a shocking place – 900 guys who are locked up for 23 hours of every day, it can really do your head in. I found out a lot about myself and, while I was upset to be there, it taught me a lot of good things about me and about the people who are important to me.'
In November 2006, while on remand awaiting his trial, Mendham's beloved mother Molly died.
'It was my very lowest point,' he said. 'The Prison Service was very good and let me out for a few hours and got me to the hospital bedside so that I could say goodbye. I went to the funeral, but it was an awful time.'
Mendham does not shy away from talking about the tough times in prison and after his release, when he found himself homeless and living in a van on the edges of the city that once hailed him a hero.
Now employed and living with his eldest son, he is channelling his new-found positivity into a charity venture which he hopes will help him give something back to the community he is so passionate about.
The Yellow Brick Road Foundation will offer cash grants to worthy causes, either charities or individuals, raising cash through a series of special events beginning with a Carrow Road charity football match featuring legendary players such as Darren Huckerby and Darren Eadie on May 20. 'It was an idea of mine which came about because of my incarceration and bankruptcy,' he said.
'The name came to me from The Wizard of Oz where the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow were travelling along this road to get to where they wanted to be to better themselves and better the lives of those around them.
'I was in my element when I fund-raised for the East Anglian Air Ambulance and I think I can bring that to this new charity: I just want to help people who really need help.'
His determination that something positive should emerge from the toughest period of his life saw him embark on a programme of learning in prison which earned him a diploma in sports psychology and counselling and a role as a Samaritan.
He added: 'I'm a better father now. I take the time to listen to my boys, to be part of their lives, to love them as much as they deserve to be loved. I realise that they are the most important thing in my life, along with my granddaughter (Alyssia, four) who is my little princess.
'Every single day is fantastic to me because I know how priceless freedom is – being able to walk down the street and into a coffee shop or going out with my sons for breakfast or to watch Norwich City. I walk down the street every day thinking: 'Isn't life great?''
In prison, Mendham also spent time writing two books: one with the title Beauty on the Inside and the other a no-holds-barred autobiography which reaches back into childhood ('and there's some interesting stuff there!') and up to the present day.
Next Monday: Mendham's life after prison, from bail hostel to castle to living in a van parked on the edge of the city centre and the charity work which is helping him to find peace.
If you would like to find out more about the Yellow Brick Road Foundation, telephone 01603 224880.