FA Cup: Ex-Everton midfielder George Green on self-destruction and depression
It is October 2011 and 15-year-old George Green is travelling to London for a trial with Tottenham Hotspur when a phone call changes everything. Everton have agreed a £2m deal with Bradford City for the schoolboy midfielder.
Green signs a two-and-a-half-year contract, receives a £45,000 signing-on fee in three instalments of £15,000, and a promising future with the Toffees beckons for the Dewsbury teenager.
Four years later he is standing on railway tracks near his hometown waiting for the next train so that he can end his life, Green's hopes of making it as a Premier League player ruined by cocaine and alcohol.
"I was in that much debt, I thought I'd lost my partner because of my drug use, and I didn't see a way back for me with football," the 22-year-old told BBC Sport.
Now at sixth-tier Chester, who beat City of Liverpool 4-0 in the FA Cup second qualifying round on Saturday, Green opens up about having too much too soon, self-destruction, depression and how he is attempting to rebuild his life.
"Mental health and addiction is an everyday battle. I'm giving it my best shot," he says. "If others can learn from it, I'd rather help."
'A £2,000-a-month cocaine addiction'
It was Everton Under-21s boss David Unsworth who broke the news to a tearful Green, then aged 19, he was no longer required after a loan at League Two Tranmere Rovers in 2015.
Green left without playing a first-team game having spent five weeks of his four years at Goodison Park in London's Priory hospital, which provides a range of mental health and addictions treatments.
"Everton paid for it all, I think it was about £5,000-a-week," said Green, who was playing in the Toffees' U21 side by the age of 16 alongside future England internationals John Stones and Ross Barkley.
"Before I turned 18 you wouldn't catch me out at night. As soon as I was 18 it was like a new world opened up. I was drinking, doing drugs and playing football.
"The first time I took drugs I'd gone to watch football in a pub with mates. I was offered cocaine and it changed my life."
At first Green was able to hide his habit from the likes of Kevin Sheedy, his youth-team coach, but before long he was taking 30 grams a month and life was spiralling out of control.
"I was spending way over £2,000 a month. I remember one particular Monday morning I was supposed to be training. I didn't wake up until the afternoon.
"The night before I'd gone to a friend's house for drink and drugs. I think that's when alarm bells started ringing at Everton.
"I remember phoning a welfare officer at Everton one night. I was crying and said 'I need help'. Soon after I was admitted to the Priory."
'I've earned £500,000 - I've got an iPad to show for it'
Having joined Everton as a £150-a-week schoolboy, Green's earnings reached £110,000-a-year at the Premier League club.
Since leaving three years ago, he has also had spells with Burnley and Oldham Athletic - as well as Viking in Norway's top flight under Englishman Ian Burchnall, now boss at Swedish side Ostersunds.
Green, who has also featured in the Scottish Premiership for Kilmarnock, believes he has earned at least £500,000 playing football.
"I have an iPad to show for it. That's how much of a downfall my life has become because of drugs," he added.
"I squandered it all. I'm embarrassed."
At Everton, the former England youth international did most of his socialising back home in Yorkshire.
"A good night out? I'd easily spend about £1,500. A meal would cost between £200 and £300," he said.
"I'd be like 'let's get a bottle of champagne' and then a girl would come and sit next to me and I'd be like 'would you like a bottle of champagne?'
"Earning the money I was, I thought it was never going to end.
"Everybody wanted to know who I was and I was enjoying life. But I never got introduced to people who would keep me on the straight and narrow. They drank or did drugs and I fell into that circle.
"I got a brand new Mercedes-Benz A-Class and did about £4,000 damage to it. That stemmed from drink-driving. I was ridiculous, I used to drink-drive everywhere."
'It wasn't my time to go'
Green had four clubs within 14 months of leaving Everton. Soon after his release from the Toffees, he joined League One Oldham on a two-year deal. He lasted five months before his contract was cancelled by mutual consent in November 2015.
"It was due to drink and drugs, I'd fallen out of love with the game and decided I didn't want to play any more."
By now, Green was on a downward spiral. He had a drink-driving conviction and, after blowing much of his earnings on alcohol and cocaine, he was struggling financially. In addition, he was suffering from depression.
He did not stay away from football for long.
A week after leaving Oldham, Green had signed for non-league Yorkshire side Ossett Albion for £80-a-game. He had gone from Everton to the eighth tier of English football in less than six months.
It was around this time he first contemplated suicide.
"Leaving Everton hit me hard," he said. "I was stood on a railway track close to Mirfield station near Dewsbury ready for a train to come. I remember it being around eight or nine o'clock at night.
"I hadn't written a note. It was all the pressures of everything in my life. The drugs, the alcohol, my mental health, football wasn't going well, lack of money.
"Then there was an announcement over the speakers that the next train was delayed.
"I thought 'it must be a sign that it can't be my time to go'. I broke down in tears and walked away."
Green's mental health problems continued. He took an overdose after joining Salford City on loan from Burnley in early 2017.
"I went in the pill cupboard at home and took everything there was. I wanted to die at that time," he added.
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, Salford's co-owner, offered his support.
Green said: "I was invited round to his house. I had been in hospital for taking too many tablets. We spoke for an hour about football and things Salford could do to help me."
Five months clean and a baby on the way
He lives near Dewsbury with his two-year-old daughter Daisy and fiancee, Charli, while the couple are due to welcome a baby boy to the family in October.
Gone are the flash cars and the hangers-on who formed part of his life when he was at Everton.
Instead of a Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Green now drives a Kia Rio to and from Chester, the club he joined in July from National League North rivals Nuneaton.
Money is tight but the player blames no-one but himself.
He relapsed in April but says he has not touched drink or drugs since, and attends weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous meetings.
Green's support network includes former Aston Villa and England defender Gary Charles, a recovering alcoholic who now has a business which provides care to people who are experiencing a wide range of problems, including depression and alcohol/drug dependency.
"There's not a day I don't speak to him. He's a lifesaver," adds Green.
'Without football, I'd be dead'
At the time of this interview, Green has an additional battle in his life. Two months after signing, he has yet to make his Chester debut because of a back injury which is likely to require surgery. He's frustrated and impatient.
He has kept himself busy by getting to know Chester fans at home games, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Chester, a fan-owned club with a community trust, run a weekly mental health and wellbeing session which offers vulnerable members of society a chance to get out and play football.
Green hopes opening up about his problems will raise awareness of mental health and addiction issues.
"Football is the only thing I am good at. Without it I'd be dead," he added.
"I thought my career would be over if I came out and started talking about my issues with drugs.
"Then I said to myself 'how about being honest for once in your life and admit your problems'.
"If my story helps one person, I'm happy to tell it. I'm happier, healthier and way more positive than I was."
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, advice and support can be accessed here.