Jake Livermore says his positive test for cocaine was the “get out of jail free card” he needed to start to come to terms with the death of his son.
The 26-year-old Hull midfielder failed a drugs test in May 2015, almost a year after his newborn son Jake Junior died.
The Football Association decided not to ban him because of “the unique nature of circumstances” involved.
“It was a human being who got lost in circumstances and didn’t know how to react,” Livermore told Football Focus.
“The drugs were irrelevant. It was something a lot deeper than that that I needed to get off my chest.
“But whether you’re too strong to talk about it it or not strong enough, either way it didn’t come out.”
Hull finished the 2013-14 Premier League season in 16th place. A year after winning promotion from the Championship they had avoided relegation and were about to play Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
Livermore’s partner was also expecting their first son.
“It should have been the best weekend of my life,” Livermore said in an interview with his former Tottenham team-mate Jermaine Jenas to be broadcast on BBC One from 12:00 BST on Saturday.
“It’s what kids dream of. We were on a high that season, we’d already got safe and really we overachieved. It’s always disappointing to lose a final but we were all looking forward to happy times ahead. What happened after we weren’t really expecting.
“The day after the final my missus went into labour and from then it all sort of spiralled out of control.
“To lose a son in a scenario which should have been under control – and was under control at one point – makes it all harder to deal with.
“It should have been a glorious and happy time for everyone. It was tragic, and very difficult to stomach. That is one place I wouldn’t want anyone to be.
“Where I found it difficult was the timing. At the end of the season it’s difficult. With your usual day-to-day life at the club, people can pick up on your behaviour, they’ll know what’s happened.
“But everyone I would normally turn to: my mum, my dad, my partner, my grandparents, whoever it may be, they were all affected like I was.
“I felt it was time to for me to step up and be that rock for everyone else. For the vast majority of time I thought I did that relatively well.
“But you almost lie to yourself, tell yourself you’re strong and you can get through. Because of the timing, no-one was able to pick up on it.
“I put on a brave face, and coming in for a few hours every day was enough to put on a show and tell everyone I was OK, when obviously back home it was a different story.”
Livermore was notified he had failed a drugs test towards the end of the following season, on 13 May 2015. It related to a urine sample given after a Premier League match against Crystal Palace on 25 April 2015.
“I was obviously nervous and it was starting to hit home that people were going to realise, but something needed to be done and sometimes God works in mysterious ways. It was my get out of jail free card,” Livermore said.
“My career didn’t even come in to it. Football took the back seat. I was worried about how it would affect those around me – my mum, dad, nan, brother sister, nephew, manager.
“It brought everything to light. Something had to come to a head and it just so happened to be something completely irrelevant.
“It’s so far from me as a person and my family’s traits. The drugs were irrelevant – they weren’t the problem.
“I needed people to understand that it wasn’t about a jumped-up footballer. It was a young human being who got lost in circumstances and didn’t know how to react.
“I almost felt relieved. I put my hands behind my head and laid back in the manager’s office. He looked at me, saying this could be serious, this could be two years or four years banned. I didn’t care.
“At least people knew that the mental state I was in needed addressing. It was something a lot deeper that I needed to get off my chest, but whether you’re too strong to talk about it it or not strong enough, either way it didn’t come out.”
Steve Bruce, who was manager of Hull at the time, said he felt he let Livermore down by not realising he needed help.
“That’s a really difficult one. Steve isn’t at Hull any more but he was fantastic,” said Livermore.
“On top of all the pressure of being a football manager you have 25 players, kids, men to look after. Being one of his senior ones so to speak, if I tell him I’m OK then I should be OK.
“It’s only once it’s happened that you realise who is there and who it would be beneficial to speak with.
“The FA and Professional Footballers’ Association, once it all came out, have been nothing but supportive. That’s something I would urge any young player with troubles to do – to go and talk to those people.
“The chairman of Hull, Assem Allam, was fantastic. He was very worried for my welfare.
“Then I started to get support from those close to me. My dad was a rock for me. A few close friends were also very, very close in that time.
“It gave me that lift back to being Jake again. If I got two years, I got two years. That’s the price you pay for being in a desperate situation. But thankfully it didn’t work out that way.”
Livermore was temporarily suspended following his positive test, but following an FA hearing it was decided he would not be banned. He returned to the Hull side in September 2015 and helped them win promotion from the Championship last season.
“When I got back to my team-mates there weren’t any words to be said, it was more just, ‘Give us a cuddle’. There couldn’t have been any words more fitting.
“Walking onto the pitch when making my comeback was up there with one of the best football moments of my life.
“This club is a very special place. The fans were fantastic. Everyone in the surrounding area, not just football fans, people you bump into at petrol stations with words of encouragement. Little things like that can give human beings a lift.
“I’m thankful we could return to the Premier League at the first attempt and I’m really enjoying my football, I think we all are here. There is such a powerful feeling, a bond that takes people through anything.
“I wasn’t able to play with a smile on my face for a little while. Now it’s come back.”
- Football Focus will be broadcast at 12:00 BST on BBC One on Saturday, 27 August.