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Richard Keogh opens up on car crash torment that got him sacked by Derby

Richard Keogh opens up on the car crash torment that got him sacked by Derby County, something which happened two years ago.

The Blackpool defender has talked with The Guardian to go even more in depth about what happened that night as well as the aftermath.

He got into the car of a teammate, Tom Lawrence, who had been drinking, and before he knew it, ended up coming around to paramedics by his side.

INTERVIEW | Richard Keogh On New Derby Contract - YouTube

Richard Keogh opens up on car crash torment that got him sacked by Derby

Keogh recalled to that very time, speaking on how he could feel the pain but at first he didn’t know where it was coming from. Hearing a voice which made no sense to him. The scene was lit up with blue lights with the front of a black Range Rove smashed up around a lamp-post. Keogh recalled how it was his hand that hurt like hell as well as his eye. He was told. “you’ve been involved in a crash. You’ve been unconscious.”

It was Tuesday the 24th of September 2019 that Keogh’s had the harrowing experience, with Keogh, the Derby captain at the time, saying it was the start of the nightmare. He was dealt with physical and mental torment that would see him abandoned by his club – his contract terminated – and pushed to the brink. He had depression and for a time, a period where he came to hate the game he had always loved, was ready to give up on recovery and just retire.

Keogh’s story is an emotional rollercoaster, but it also sees him go through the elements of healing. He celebrated the birth of his second son, Myles, in May – shortly after he had won a lengthy and draining compensation claim against Derby for breach of contract.

Keogh has gone on to play for three clubs since leaving the Rams, including MK Dons, Huddersfield and now Championship newcomers Blackpool. Derby, meanwhile, have had a crisis of their own – going into administration and handed a 12-point deduction with potential further sanctions coming after the owner, Mel Morris, found himself in over his head and unable to sell.

The footballer’s wife, Charlie, admits he would be bereft, being sad over the ordeal he went through, everything from the day of the crash to the battle he endured with the club and recovery.

“There were times when I went to bed with him downstairs thinking that I’ve got to go down and get a glass of water because he could have done something to himself,” she says. “I was going to bed thinking: ‘Oh my God,’ getting that sick feeling. It was awful.”

Richard Keogh seen on crutches for Derby vs Wigan after Bennett and  Lawrence spared jail for drink-drive car crash

Richard Keogh opens up on car crash torment that got him sacked by Derby

Keogh says he didn’t contemplate suicide, before going on to say: “I’ve had this conversation before. I wasn’t feeling suicidal. I wasn’t. Some days, I was in depression – I genuinely do believe that. But mainly I think I was right on the cusp of it. I was literally on the line for a lot of the time.”

The topic of conversation goes straight to the night he and his then Derby teammates had gone for dinner and drinks at the Joiners Arms in Quarndon, after a game of bowling. The team-bonding day was just what Keogh needed after learning the devastation of losing his grandmother Iris the previous Friday.

“We got a call to say that she’s going to die, basically,” Keogh says. “Luckily, we managed to get her on the phone. That meant a lot, just to speak to her. I think she knew it was me. Ten minutes after that, she passed away. My family were with her and she was kind of holding on.”

Keogh didn’t tell anyone about this at Derby and, and the next day, he led the team out for the 1-1 draw at Leeds.

At the Joiners Arms, Keogh was part of the group that stayed on until last orders. “I would say I was a bit drunk,” Keogh says. “I wasn’t drinking heavily. I think with my nan passing, it was a combination of emotionally not being in a great place and having a few drinks. It’s probably not a great combination for anyone.”

Keogh had missed his lift home, however his teammate Tom Lawrence was in his Range Rover and was prepared to take him home, with there a Derby player in the passenger seat and another in the back. Keogh chose not to name them. Keogh believed that Lawrence was sober and, with two others already in the car, he saw no reason not to get into the back.

“I hadn’t spent the evening with Tom,” Keogh says. “I had no reason to believe he was over the limit. Everyone was in there before me so I didn’t think: ‘Hang on a minute.’ It was just: ‘OK. I need to get home. Let’s go.’ The next thing I know I’m waking up and speaking to the paramedics.”

Lawrence had followed another Derby player, Mason Bennett, out of the pub. Bennett drove his Mercedes with no passengers on board and, after a minute or two he stopped at a give-way line, only for Lawrence to go into the back of him, and went straight into a lamp-post. In the panic that followed, everyone but Keogh fled the scene. His own teammates abandoned him, left unconscious in the wreckage of Lawrence’s car. To all intents, he was left for dead, something Keogh was shocked at after he realised later on. “I was like: ‘Wow. OK,’” he says.

Lawrence and Bennett returned to the scene 45 minutes later, by which time Keogh had headed home. In a bid to avoid being taken to A&E – where he stood to be recognised and, doubtless, caught by cameraphones – he persuaded the paramedics to let him walk. He had set off along the A6, adrenaline battling the disorientation, before a police car picked him up and drove him the short distance back.

Lawrence and Bennett were arrested and they would plead guilty at Derby magistrates court on the 15th of October 2019 to drink-driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident. The punishment was community service and driving bans rather than jail.

“I could tell he was very remorseful,” Keogh says. “He came and visited me and we stayed in touch so from my point of view he was genuine. If we could all turn back the clock, we would.”

The morning after the crash, Keogh felt just how much his hand and eye suffered from the impact. However the big injury was to his knee, suffering extensive damage to the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments and required operations. The surgeon, Sam Church, told him that he was looking at 15 months out with twelve months being the best case scenario. The sliver of positivity came when Church assured him that he would make a full recovery.

Keogh describes the pain for the two weeks after the first surgery – to the MCL – as “horrific, 12 out of 10, next level”. According to Charlie, he was “nearly passing out every time he stood up”. Psychologically it became more agonising due to factors beyond his control, that of the Derby hierarchy, led by Morris.

Morris chose to sack Keogh at the end of October 2019 for gross misconduct, having retained the services of Lawrence and Bennett. Morris did hand the duo a fine but he essentially stood by them, despite their criminal convictions.

Derby didn’t want to compare their treatment of Keogh with that of Lawrence and Bennett; to them, each case had to be judged separately. Keogh was a passenger and the other two drove the cars. “I’ve struggled with this part of it – I think that’s what upset me the most,” the 35-year-old says.

In Keogh’s opinion, it is impossible to overlook the financial context. He is a veteran player on a basic £24,000 a week plus bonuses until June 2021, and had no value on the transfer market whereas Lawrence, a former Manchester United trainee, who was 25 at the time, and 23 year old Bennett, were saleable assets. Bennett joined Millwall in January 2020, initially on loan. “I think it’s pretty obvious to most people what happened,” Keogh says.

Image

Mason Bennett caught downing a pint

Derby initially tried to agree a settlement with Keogh’s agent, Cos Toffis – who made an offer to him worth a fraction of the remaining value of Keogh’s contract. They also promised him an unspecified non-playing role. To Keogh, it felt like enforced retirement, something he wouldn’t accept.

“Derby tried to say it was a negotiation but in my view it wasn’t,” Keogh says. “I felt pressured to accept the offer.”

Derby’s gross misconduct case hinged on Keogh’s failure to wear a seatbelt in Lawrence’s car and how his judgment had been impaired by alcohol. They also said in a statement that the players had “ignored the opportunity to be driven home using cars laid on by the club”, yet Keogh disputes that line. According to him, there were no club cars outside the public house at any point. Instead, there was merely a club employee who had a number to call for a driver.

“The way they put it was as if the club had officially laid on cars and we ignored them, that we walked straight past the chauffeurs to get into our own cars,” Keogh says. “It’s just absolute nonsense. The car thing annoyed me and it annoyed the other lads as well because there were no cars.”

Keogh went on to suffer badly with his mental health. Friday nights and Saturday afternoons were awful. He went from preparing or playing, to reaching his lowest point when the first Covid lockdown set in at the end of March 2020. He was getting up late and losing his drive – a sign of depression.

Derby had first tried to agree a settlement with Keogh’s agent, Cos Toffis – they made an offer to him worth a fraction of the remaining value of Keogh’s contract. They also promised the central defender an unspecified non-playing role. To Keogh, it felt like enforced retirement. There was never any way that he could have accepted it.

“Derby tried to say it was a negotiation but in my view it wasn’t,” Keogh says. “I felt pressured to accept the offer.”

Richard Keogh seen on crutches as Derby leave it late to beat Wigan -  Mirror Online

Richard Keogh opens up on car crash torment that got him sacked by Derby (Credit: The Mirror)

Derby’s gross misconduct case hinged on Keogh’s failure to wear a seatbelt in Lawrence’s car and how his judgment had been impaired by alcohol. They also said in a statement that the players had “ignored the opportunity to be driven home using cars laid on by the club”, although Keogh disputes this particular line. According to him, there were no club cars outside the pub at any point. Instead, there was merely a club employee who had a number to call for a driver.

“The way they put it was as if the club had officially laid on cars and we ignored them, that we walked straight past the chauffeurs to get into our own cars,” Keogh says. “It’s just absolute nonsense. The car thing annoyed me and it annoyed the other lads as well because there were no cars.”

Stripped of his livelihood and mired in an unforgiving rehabilitation, Keogh felt his mental health crash. Friday nights and Saturday afternoons were awful, when he ought to have been preparing or playing, but he reached his lowest point when the first Covid lockdown kicked in at the end of March 2020. He was getting up late and losing his drive – tell-tale signs of depression.

Keogh realises who his friends truly are, naming a long list who have helped him every step of the way following the crash as well as the recovery.

Republic of Ireland managers and coaches Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor, plus Paul Clement and Frank Lampard, who managed him at Derby. Player-wise, Keogh added Tom Huddlestone, David McGoldrick, Mason Mount, Bradley Johnson, Craig Forsyth, Martyn Waghorn and Lee Grant. Mount, the Chelsea midfielder, who spent the 2018-19 season on loan at Derby, was at the hospital when Keogh came round after his MCL operation.

Derby captain Richard Keogh pictured on crutches for the first time since  horror crash | Daily Mail Online

Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett arrive at court

Keogh has employed a life coach from summer 2020 which has been a big help. “I’ve learned a lot about myself – why certain things affected me a lot more because of character traits and values that I have,” he says. “I just think I have more clarity.”

“Time is a healer,” Keogh says. “And as much as it’s never going to heal everything, it does heal certain wounds.”

Some would think Keogh would have negative feelings towards Derby, yet when he played at Pride Park with Huddersfield in February, he felt “all these memories come flooding back … of all the fantastic times”.

Keogh said on seeing the situation Derby are in now: “It’s really affected me to see the club in the state it’s in. It’s made me realise that it’s still a massive part of me and always will be.”

On Mel Morris: “Our relationship has gone but, again, time is a healer,” Keogh says. “I think that’s probably how far I’ve come, mentally, with everything.”

Keogh on seeing himself back at Derby: “If there is an opportunity in the future, then yes,” he replies.

Derby were ordered by the EFL’s Player Related Dispute Commission (upheld on appeal to the League Appeals Committee) to pay up the full value of the remainder of his contract – a sum of about £2.3m. Keogh was also found to have been wrongly dismissed by Derby and not to have committed gross misconduct or brought the club into serious disrepute.

Need help? In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie.

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