I was the 'new Maradona', had a boot deal as a kid & starred on TV shows but it all got too much – now I'm a cab driver | The Sun

SONNY PIKE was once dubbed the "new Diego Maradona" but now works as a taxi driver.

Pike, 40, was once Britain's biggest football prodigy, but things all got too much and he quit the game having never made a professional appearance.

His story began when he was a schoolboy, first playing at local side Enfield FC with a dream of emulating his idol Paul Gascoigne.

It wasn't long before he started competing against older children for at school and for his Sunday League team, catching the attention of the press having netted over 100 goals in one season.

Pike's first television appearance came on 1990s news show London Tonight before he was then interviewed on hit programmes like Fantasy Football League and The Big Breakfast.

He had the world's media in a frenzy as they hyped him up as the "next Maradona or George Best".


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It alerted the likes of Ajax, who had developed a reputation for nurturing some of the best talents in the game.

The Dutch side invited him to a trial in Amsterdam with the then 12-year-old being followed by Blue Peter cameras while in Holland.

He set about dazzling coaches with his technique and skill despite Pike focusing his future on becoming a Premier League hero one day.

The fanfare grew on his return from Ajax with his new-found celebrity status.

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He was soon being snapped up by huge companies in sponsorship deals with the likes of McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Mizuno as all tried to get a piece of the action.

Pike explained to Flashscore: "I was on the pitch for Coca Cola Cup finals doing kick-ups before the games, I was doing McDonald's adverts, I was getting Paul Smith making me suits.

"I started to get awards from Sky Sports at this point in time obviously the Premier League and Sky Sports were just kicking off.

“I was sponsored by Mizuno and was doing things with [Gianfranco] Zola and all these guys but in the early to mid-90s.

"Only one or two players out of a Premier League team would have their own boot deal. People were saying, ‘Who’s this Sonny kid, he's everywhere. He's a little kid, he's got deals, he's going in Hello magazine.'

"It was rubbing some professionals up the wrong way – but I was just a kid getting all this attention.”

As quickly as fame arrived, it soon began to disappear and Pike's life began to spiral downwards.

Aged 14, the pressure got too much and it was reported that his legs were insured for £1million.

It led to Pike being on the receiving end of disgusting abuse from jealous parents that wanted their kids to injure him.

He told SunSport: "Because I had long hair they used to say, 'he's only a girl, break his legs.'

"Not just that, off the pitch and at school I got different treatment that didn't help me either.

"Once I remember a guy came up to me on the street to tell me he put a bet on me to play for England. It was scary."

Pike is reluctant to blame his father for his downfall but one huge moment led to his career stalling.

He was signed as a youth player by Leyton Orient and his dad Mickey pushed his son to appear in a documentary called 'Coaching and Poaching' presented by Greg Dyke.

Pike was stunned to hear the documentary, instead of looking at his life as a youngster, actually exposed that Chelsea were tapping him up, with the young star unaware he had broken any rules.

The FA banned him and his relationship with his father became further strained when he began to believe Mickey was making money off his name.

His parents also divorced and Pike was left without a club due to his ban.

Opened up on the dark time, he said: "After watching that documentary, I came out of the pub and I stood in the middle of the main road in Edmonton, actually on a roundabout.

"There's cars just whizzing around me and I just felt that's what my head was getting like. ‘This is too much, enough of this now.'

"Then a month later my dad turns up, I’d not seen him for a few weeks. As soon as he comes up towards me, the first thing I'm gonna say to him is, for the very first time, ‘I don't want to do this no more.’

"He told me that he had some more work for me, some more TV stuff and I'm literally about to walk up to and say the complete opposite.

"He said, ‘If you don't do it, you ain't got a dad.’"

Eventually, Pike was handed a chance by Crystal Palace but made the news again when his father did an interview with a newspaper claiming how big offers had ripped the family apart.

On the pitch, he could no longer cope, revealing: "I pretty-much had a mental breakdown on the pitch. I came on for 15 minutes, I was given the opportunity and I just walked off.

"The pressure of me going on, it was just too much. I looked at the coach and just walked off.

"I broke down and I knew it was all over from then."

Pike then spent two years at non-league Stevenage until he was 18-years-old on a YTS scheme but his heart was no longer in football.

Battles with depression continued but the wonderkid managed to turn his life around with the pressures of expectation and media attention gone.

Pike started a new career working as a cab driver in London while he also helps young and upcoming footballers not fall into the trap of stardom.

He does coaching sessions but offers support for off-field matters as he delivers talks to parents and players about protecting mental health and the dangers that lie ahead for future pros.

Pike also wrote a book called "The Greatest Footballer That Never Was" further explaining his story.

On his life within football now, he says: "I'm talking to their parents and then trying to get the player through that process because obviously I can relate to it a lot – the attention and the pressure they get – I’ve been there. 

“I get a lot of other kids come in… a boy was sent down from up north and had a professional contract given to him but he didn't want to sign it.

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"His mum and dad sent him down to me, just to talk to me. I get a lot of that."

Pike adds: "Instead of grabbing all the sponsorship deals and this sort of stuff, getting excited over a few pairs of boots or an advert or whatever else, think long-term and concentrate on and promote the love of football more.”

You’re Not Alone

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.

It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

  • CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
  • Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
  • Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
  • Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
  • Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
  • Movember, www.uk.movember.com
  • Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm


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