Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock has had his share of ups and downs over the years, navigating footballing fame to bankruptcy in 2011, and TV celebrity to serious health problems.
His 17 years as a tough-tackling defender saw him play for a string of English clubs, including Tottenham (where he broke his leg on his first appearance), and Liverpool (where he broke both an opposing player’s legs). He gained one cap for England in 1994, and was once dubbed to be among ‘the hardest footballer of all time’.
After retiring from the game, Ruddock launched his TV career with a spot on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2004. More recently, in 2019 he reached the final three on Celebrity MasterChef, before appearing in Harry’s Heroes, which saw Harry Redknapp train up a group of former players for one more game. Concerns over his health led to Ruddock to get a check-up that revealed serious problems with his heart.
Now 52, his latest project is a book, The World According To Razor: My Closest Shaves, which is “like having a pint down the pub with the man himself”, according to his publisher.
Here, the man himself tells us why he hasn’t been down the pub in quite a while, for some very good reasons…
Drink has been a major part of your life, hasn’t it?
“I was brought up with drinking. You’d go out with your team-mates on a Tuesday and after the game. You do what the older players do. It’s like traditions in families – I knew no different. Now, there’s no drinking after the game – they go home to bed.”
Do you think football is better now?
“I think the players are fitter, but as a spectacle I think the game was much better in my day. It’s very tactical now, a bit boring. In my day, there were more goals, and you were allowed to kick each other without the other player rolling about trying to get you sent off. We didn’t need VAR [Video Assistant Referee].”
You mention in the book it became hard to separate your on-pitch and off-pitch personas. Can you tell us about that?
“I was sort of the biggest personality in the dressing room. Everyone wanted to have a drink with you, have a laugh with you, and it was difficult to keep that up. It was like a mask, really. Some days I couldn’t wait to get home to take that mask off and just be normal.
“When you’re growing up, it’s nice to be recognised, everybody loves you. But the older you get, it’s not so nice, you just want to be left alone.”
When did the sheen start to wear off?
“I couldn’t wait to get to 35 and retire. My knees were going. People don’t understand – you’re putting your legs through miles and miles of training, heading 100 balls a day, and your body can’t do what it used to. You know it’s time, but you wait for that 35th birthday because that’s when you get your pension.”
How was retirement initially?
“Within a year, I was in rehab. I couldn’t admit back then that I had a drinking problem. It’s different now. You’d think if you were drowning you’d put your hand out for help, but back then the manager would tell you you’re a big girl’s blouse and man up and get on with it, so you wouldn’t tell anybody.”
What was it about retirement that changed things?
“There’s only so much golf you can play. You miss the lads and you’ve got no discipline, nothing to fill your days. When you’re at school, you’re told what to do, then in football you’re told what to do. Then when you get to 35, you can suddenly do what you want, and playing golf and sitting on your a*** becomes boring. You go down the pub out of boredom.
“It’s hard, and it’s not only me. Back then, within two or three years of retiring, three out of four footballers divorced. I did. It’s because with no discipline, they just go down the crazy road.”
What got you back to work?
“I was lucky enough to get into TV – a new skill, another string to my bow. From TV, I got into after-dinner speaking – now that’s my main job. I can talk for an hour-and-a-half without notes. It’s all in my head. So the boredom went and I can enjoy my drinking now.”
More recently you credited TV with saving your life. Tell us about that?
“On Harry’s Heroes, they found my heart was racing at 130 beats a minute, but I thought that was just how everybody felt. I was a typical man – ‘I’m all right, it won’t happen to me’.
“They had to stop my heart and zap it. Then they tested it at night and it was stopping for seven or eight seconds at a time, so I had to have a pacemaker put in. Without Harry’s Heroes, that would have been it. It was a big shock.
“Then when I was recovering, Covid came along. A lot of people have struggled with Covid, but for me it’s been a big help, [because] I wasn’t allowed out. If everyone else was going out, it would have been tough. I’ve got through it now.”
Would you say you’re a changed man?
“100% – I’m up at 7.30 doing the school run [Ruddock has a son and daughter from his first marriage, and two young daughters with second wife Leah Newman]. I’m back into my golf. I don’t go out – I stay home with my wife and share a bottle of wine.”
Was it hard to cut down on drinking?
“I think it’s just a routine you get into. Saturday afternoon down the golf club, nine holes and get p*****. Now my routine is relax and behave.”
Has your wife, Leah, played an important part?
“I used to think it was criticism – that she was having a moan at me – but now I realise it was advice. Before, if the lads had a holiday, I couldn’t wait to get away. Now she’s like my best mate and we have a laugh. I’d rather be at home with her.”
You say in the book that your greatest fear is upsetting her?
“Oh yes. My biggest fear is Leah, then fights, and then spiders.”
What’s been the highlight of your career?
“I think playing top flight football and making my dad proud was my biggest goal [Ruddock’s dad passed away in 2013]. He followed me everywhere round Europe – everywhere I played, my dad came with his mates. I could just imagine him going into the factory where he worked, saying, ‘My son plays for Liverpool’. I can still see his face now.”
The World According To Razor: My Closest Shaves by Neil Ruddock is published by Constable, priced £20. Available now.