The game is Defoe’s solace
Jermain Defoe can remember very clearly the day in April his mother Sandra turned up in the car park of Tottenham Hotspur's training ground and told him that his brother Jade had two hours to live.
Jade, 26, had been in intensive care as a result of an attack but his condition had deteriorated to the point that doctors told the family to say their farewells. At the England team hotel in Hertfordshire this week, Defoe spoke for the first time about the death of Jade and how he stood with his family around the hospital bed as his brother passed away.
“The year before that I had lost my nan,” Defoe said. “It was strange. Look at my brother. He was 26-years-old. You don't expect to see that.
“When people are ill it's easier to understand when they die. You prepare yourself. You know it's going to happen at some time. But when it's like it was with Jade and you just get the phone call it's really not easy.
“I was at the training ground. Obviously I knew he was in intensive care. I remember I was training on the Friday before the Manchester United game [on April 25] and my mum turned up. The manager [Harry Redknapp] said to me, 'Your mum's in the car park.' I knew straight away when I saw her face.
“She basically just said to me, 'I think he's got two hours to live.' So I had to get myself to the hospital and just be there for him. I actually missed the United game but there are more important things than football. It was crazy. All the family were there and his close friends.”
Defoe, 26, is the man of the moment in the England team thanks to his two goals in the second half against the Netherlands last month and his part in the blistering start Spurs have made to the Premier League season.
He and Jade shared a father, Jimmy Defoe, 45. His brother had enjoyed moderate success as a musician/rapper in the “grime” music scene but his life was a long way from the Chigwell mansions and glamour girls of Jermain's Premier League existence.
“I was close [to Jade],” Defoe said. “I actually sat down with my cousin and said that the last year has been really difficult. Sometimes in life you get difficult times and at some point you get good times. This is my good time now and I'm really enjoying it. I just want keep myself strong and keep focused and make sure I have a good year.
“He was in the music industry and with me playing football I was always travelling. So it was difficult for us to see each other a lot. But he was my half-brother and we were close.
“We were a close family so when we heard the news you can imagine what it felt like. Now I just want to keep my head strong and enjoy my football.
“I think when you're playing it's the only place you get away from everything. You focus on football when you're on the pitch. When you're off the pitch you think about things. The reason why I play, get on with it and do so well is because that's where I get my peace.”
Defoe talks a lot about focusing on football, in fact it appears at the end of his sentences like a mantra. The perception of him is that he spends most of his time chasing the latest female reality television star or lads' mag model. And to an extent that is correct. But he is a good professional too. He is also a regular church-goer and the kind of boy who says he does what his mum tells him.
When Defoe talked about the death of his brother there was no faltering or outward emotion.
He was quite matter-of-fact about it. It was a glimpse of the steel of a player who, for all the bling and all the women, came from a single-parent home in Beckton, east London. At 14, he earned a place at the Football Association's now defunct Lilleshall school of excellence before signing for Charlton Athletic and then West Ham.
The conclusion was that — appalling though the death of his brother was — Defoe was not about to allow anything to blow his career off course.
He already has four goals for Spurs, another two for England, and ahead of Saturday's friendly with Slovenia and the World Cup qualifier against Croatia he is way ahead of Michael Owen in the pecking order to be Wayne Rooney's back-up — or maybe even more than that.
At the funeral for Jade in July, at which Defoe was one of the pallbearers, his paternal grandmother Rebecca Carr collapsed and later died. It would be something of an understatement to say it has been a difficult year for the family. “It has hurt us,” Defoe said. “It was hard with him being so young. It's difficult. You can't really understand it.
“Jade used to try to play football when he was younger at school but we joked it was then he realised that he never had it. All my cousins and brothers, my uncles and my dad used to play so it's a footballing family, but he went into the music and that was that.”
Last season, Defoe's Tottenham teammate Wilson Palacios also had to deal with the murder of his
16-year-old brother Edwin by kidnappers in his native Honduras. “I wanted to speak to him but sometimes in situations like that you don't really know what to say,” Defoe said. “I know what he's going through. It's difficult for him. You can see from the way he plays that he wants to do well for himself and his family. It shows in his football.”
The legal case around Jade's death is ongoing so the story has not finished yet and it is likely to be an issue again later in the season. “It was hard but I'm enjoying my football now and I just want to keep it going,” Defoe said.
You got the impression that he did not mean to sound insensitive, just that this was one more challenge that would have to be overcome.