CANVEY Island footballer Mike Jones admits the beautiful game was the “only constant” in his life in what was a harrowing upbringing.

Jones talks with a set-expression as he details his difficult childhood, from his father who was murdered in his early teens to his mother, who suffered with her own personal problems.

Jones grew up in Devon Mansions, in Bermondsey, and was taken into foster care when he was only six years old.

The 25-year-old midfielder moved to Spain with his foster-parents as he aimed to overcome his broken youth and came back a changed man.

He has now worked with children for more than five years, is engaged to his childhood sweetheart of 13 years, Julia, and has two young boys of his own to look after.

And Jones says he is now able to better reflect on his childhood, and he cannot underestimate the part football played in getting him on the straight and narrow.

“I first connected with football when I was in foster care,” he said. “It was all I had. I didn’t enjoy being with the people I lived with so I was a frustrated child. I ended up spending a lot of my time kicking the ball against the wall. I had a ball with me everywhere.

“In all honesty, I was all over the shop and football was the only consistency I had.

“My mum had her problems and my dad was a criminal. He was shot 13 times when I was 14. And, although I speak to my mum, I keep my distance.

“My dad would tell me about the robberies he oversaw – it was my bedtime story. He said he didn’t care. He told me he was caught with 450kg of marijuana in Birmingham. He did a long sentence.

“I grew up fast and I had to to survive.”

But even when his father was telling him about his dealings, Jones said he knew what he was doing was wrong.

“I think every child knows wrong from right,” he said. “You look up to your father as a role model so when you see him carrying a gun at a young age you accept it. I have an infatuation with guns now but the difference is I will go airsofting or paintballing or play Call of Duty.

“I look from outside the box. I saw how paranoid he was. They had money but dad wasn’t happy. You have to watch your back 24/7 whereas I would just want to enjoy the time with my family.”

And Jones did get to spend some quality time with his father only a month before he was shot dead at his home.

Jones had moved to Torrevieja, in Alicante on the South East coast of Spain, when he was 12 with his foster-parents, Belinda and Mick.

But on one of his bi-annual visits back to the UK to discuss his care, he went to look for his dad as he said he thought he knew where he was staying.

And Jones couldn’t believe it when he walked onto the estate and looked up to see him standing on the balcony.

“He was a nasty man but he treated me well,” said Jones. “I moved to Spain when I was 12 and I wasn’t allowed to see him but I came back when I was 14 (for regular visits twice a year).

“I thought I knew where he lived so I went to look for him and there he was. I saw him a month or two before he died. I spoke with him for an hour and I remember he asked me ‘how are the senoritas?’ “He offered me money but I never took it. I just wanted to see him. And that was the last time I ever did.”


Mike Jones, seen here playing for Canvey against Maidstone on Saturday, has had an eventful 25 years 

Back in Spain Jones was, unsurprisingly, playing football when he heard about his father’s death.

He said one of his closest friends ran up to him to tell him his foster-parents needed to see him straight away.

“My first thought was ‘what have I done?’” he said. “I ran home and they told to me to sit down and they said my dad was dead.

“It didn’t sink in. I had just seen him and hadn’t seen him for two years before. I didn’t see him anyway so that didn’t change much, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. It was painful but for another child who lived with their dad it would be unbearable.”

Michael John Jones was killed, aged 53, on October 16, 2003. He was shot 13 times in total, in the head and abdomen. It is believed he was shot as he answered the door. The perpetrators have never been found.

“I don’t think the police will ever catch anyone. It was in October so there were bangs left, right and centre anyway on the estate. A lot of people thought it was fireworks.”

Jones continued living in Spain with his foster-parents until he was 17. But Jones admits he struggled to settle in Alicante.

Expelled from two Spanish schools after he was bullied, Jones saw another family fall apart when Mick and Belinda told him they would be separating when he was 15.

“It came out of the blue,” he said. “They didn’t argue in front of me so it came as a shock when they broke up.

“But I have to see the positives in life. I’m very patient. Maybe that’s why if a boss tells me to do something I can easily do it.

“But I chose to stay with my foster-dad in Spain when my mum came home.

“I wasn’t brave enough to say no. I wanted to leave him as soon as Belinda left, but he made me feel as though I couldn’t leave.

“Around 16 he left and said stay with your mates for the weekend and I thought ‘great, a bit of freedom!’ But he didn’t come back for two months.”

But Jones got on with it. He worked six days a week in a beach-front bar and restaurant, and spent Saturdays playing football. And he said he really enjoyed it.

“I had to get a job. I needed to get on my own two feet, yet when he came back he tried to stop me as he didn’t like me being away.

“I never got Christmas presents and I felt repressed. We rowed a lot and I finally told him I would be coming back to England when I was approaching 18.

“I was able to get a council flat so I went back to live with some friends. But I had no education. My only GCSE was Spanish, which I got an A* in.”

Jones said he never told social services about his treatment at the hands of his foster-dad, until the final review when he was 17-and-a-half.

And he said it came as quite a shock to them when he told them the truth.

“I came back and said everything was hunky-dory as usual,” he said. “I told them I wanted to play football and my foster-dad didn’t know I had brought everything I needed to play back with me.

“I stayed with social services and they were shocked as they thought it was all OK. But I told them the truth.”

Jones’ foster-dad, Mick, died four years ago from cancer and, although they grew apart, he said it still hit him hard.

“We didn’t get on well but I cried more for him than my own dad. He smoked and drank his life away.

“I stayed with friends until I found my own place in Peckham and I managed to get a place at Lewisham College. It was halfway through the year so I found it hard to fit in at first but I did a mini sports taster course and the year after I did a level two football course. And I was one of the best there!”

Jones played in the Dallas Cup, an international youth tournament held in the USA, citing it as the best experience of his life.

Although he says one of the most significant moments was meeting his fiancée Julia Sharp.

Having met her on his first summer holiday in Spain, she soon moved abroad and they got together.


Mike Jones and Julia Sharp, in the early throes of their relationship

And Jones was reunited with Julia after he had come back to England to study and she moved in with him in Peckham.

Her family soon followed from Spain and Jones said the role Julia, exactly one year younger than her fiancé, has played in his life cannot be emphasised enough.

“She has been my rock and kept me on the straight and narrow,” he said. “Four years ago we started a family when our son Jacob was born and Thomas was born eight months ago.

“It’s the best thing ever to happen to me, apart from her.”

And Jones says he has taken to parenting like a duck to water, although he was not short of practice.

Despite his own troubles at home, in his teenage years he was caring for more than 10 different children as a babysitter.

“I have always been good with kids. I was babysitter all the time and earned a lot of money through babysitting – sometimes about 50 euros a night. I took my PlayStation in my bag and played on that with them.

“I have got a good reputation with kids. I’m a big kid myself.”

Such is his affection for youngsters, Jones has now forged a career working with them. Although that occurred because of his love for football.

Employed to run Walworth College’s football academy by the Principal Devon Hanson, who was also his football coach at Greenwich Borough at the time, Jones was seen as a positive role model.

Leaving the University of East London to take up the job, Jones thrived in his role.

Jones moved to Walworth Academy five years ago and when a new principal came in she felt Jones could do even more with the young people.

“The new principal said they needed people with my traits and skills to help the kids and I am now in charge of behaviour for Year 10 and am deputy head of the year.

“I’m very passionate about helping them. I know how difficult it can be. I never shout at them, as it doesn’t help. You have to understand. If a child has a problem you have to find the root of that problem.

“I was also doing voluntary work at my old youth club – the Oxford and Bermondsey Youth Club.

“My old football manager was running the club and I wanted to help them as when I was their age I was stealing motorbikes. I was a little terror!

“In Spain I realised this and I vowed to never step on a stolen motorbike. I knew it was wrong. They had worked hard for it.

“You have to show them that if they can earn money by stealing that doesn’t make it right. But you can’t read a book and say here is £200. So you have to teach them.

“There are a lot of vulnerable children and people who prey on them. I do the best I can. Saving one child is a massive thing.

“The kids took to me and I wanted to guide them through. It’s great to see these people grow and it is rewarding. Just like my foster-parents helped me you can do the same for someone else.”

But Jones was never fully fulfilled until he connected once again with football.

Refining his skills in Spain, he admits he loved pulling out the skills in five-a-side, but said local non-league clubs didn’t spot his talent until he was 20 and playing seven-a-side football.

“I was playing and Marlon Patterson (who played for Bromley) saw me and asked where I was playing. I said I was with Greenwich Borough and he asked me to come to training the following week.

“I played my first game against the Chelsea Reserves and I came on and set up a goal and scored. The in my first league game I came on and scored the winner.

“But then I stayed on the bench for four games and that knocked my confidence. I had stepped up about four leagues so it was hard. I had to bite my tongue for the first year and in the second year I only started about 15 games.

“And after the next pre-season, I said I wanted to go out on loan. Canvey wanted a centre back but I had never played there. But I went, Danny Heale (Canvey manager) liked me and wanted to sign me. I had wasted two years not playing so I loved playing. It’s a long way to travel but I play a lot, every league game since I’ve been here in fact.”

And Jones says playing an important role for Canvey, as well as at home and in other people’s lives has made him a better person.

“I want to be the best parent I can be for my own children. My four-year-old son will say to me when we’re on a walk ‘She’s naughty! She’s smoking!’ and I will say ‘yes’ as I want him to know he should not be doing these types of things.

“I have a long way to go before I can fully move passed what has happened in my past.

“I want to buy my own place and move out of London. Julia’s 11-year-old sister is best friends with Jacob and seeing them together is beautiful as they are such great kids.

“But I’m not embarrassed to say I am who I am and this is where I came from. I don’t hold grudges because if I didn’t go through those hardships I wouldn’t be the nice, kind young man I am now.

“One day I want to write about it all. But for now I am happy with my lot. And that means a lot.”


Mike and Julia in a recent photo