“I woke up and I realised I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move a muscle in my body, I was completely rigid. I thought I was going to die. I tried to knock her [Linda, his then wife], but I couldn’t move. Eventually, I gasped a breath and as soon as my faculties came back, it felt like every joint in my body was agony. I’d gone to sleep a professional footballer, looking forward to the next season, and I’d woken up never to play again.”

I’m Skyping with David Icke, former professional goalkeeper and sports journalist, current public speaker, writer and conspiracy theorist. Although he’s perhaps better known today for accusing the queen of being a lizard-person, I’m more interested in his short career in football and his continued relationship with it. He’s speaking to me from his home on the Isle of Wight, recounting his agonising exit from the game in 1973, at 21 years of age.

“I went to Coventry at 15 and it was all kind of hunky dory. And then, six months into my career, I was in training, and I jumped for a high ball. A guy came in from the side and kneed me in the thigh, which created what they call a haematoma, which we used to call at Coventry ‘week-at-home-as’, because they sent you home strapped up for a week to let it settle down.

“Anyway, when the bandage came off, this is six months into my career, the left knee was swollen, and the physio, a guy called Norman Pilgrim – one of the few professional physios around [then] – he said to me, ‘Oh it’s okay, that’s just debris from the thigh injury, it’ll settle down, the swelling will go.’ It’s not gone to this day.”

Icke sat on the sidelines for six months while doctors tried to work out what was wrong with him. When they couldn’t, he just started playing again.

“I’m playing with this swollen knee, but I’m doing all right. We got to the final of the FA Youth Cup, played against [Graeme] Souness and [Steve] Perryman and these sort of people in the final. Four games it took, before they beat us 1-0. And, I was going on fine. And then my right ankle started to swell, and then my left elbow, and so it went on, then my right knee. I was then told that ‘you’ve got to stop playing because you’ve got rheumatoid arthritis.’ At which point, I thought I’d never play again.”

Icke’s story flows, in the way that stories which have been told numerous times do. I’m talking to the broadcaster, the public speaker. Icke is a man with a history of being afforded little time to voice his case, constantly challenged, once ridiculed. He has clearly learnt to speak unfalteringly and with pace. 

By the time I digest the magnitude of his injuries and prepare to ask about that 19-year-old goalkeeper’s state of mind, Icke has continued, telling me about how “the great John Charles”, then manager of Hereford United, had called for his services. 

“He asked me if I wanted to come down and play for them. He said they only played part-time and trained once a week, so you might get by with it. So I go down there and John Charles was just the most lovely, lovely man. They called him the ‘Gentle Giant’; he was.”

Icke played a full 60-game season for Hereford that year. He recalls keeping the pain of his arthritis a secret from the club. “I didn’t tell the club, because I wouldn’t have been playing anymore, but every day the training session warm-up was agony. Because, although it seemed that I didn’t show signs of the arthritis, I felt it. It was agony. Especially on freezing cold mornings.

“And, so here I am, playing league football, I was only 20 and that was young for a goalkeeper in league football. And I weren’t gonna give it up without a fight. So, that year triggered a determination in me which has absolutely been vital in the years since 1990-91 and all the mass ridicule.”

After that season with Hereford United, Icke never played professional football again. At 21, he left the game, shortly to return as a broadcaster, starting out as a reporter with a local newspaper in Leicester and gradually working his way up, eventually finding roles as a sports presenter on Newsnight, Breakfast Time and co-hosting Grandstand, then the BBC’s flagship sports programme.

His natural demeanour was well suited to broadcasting work. Icke was confident, slick and likeable. He understood the way the media worked yet remained relatable. He became a well-known figure, widely admired.

It was during this time that Icke began exploring his interest in New Age philosophies. He consulted a psychic healer, who told him that a spirit was going to pass ideas to him and forewarn him of disasters. He visited Peru, activated his chakras, entered his famed ‘Turquoise Period’, during which he frequently wore turquoise shell suits, believing the colour to have a positive energy. 

In 1991, Icke held a press conference to announce that he was “the son of the Godhead” and to warn the world of approaching hurricanes and other natural disasters. He was subsequently invited onto the Wogan talk show for an infamous interview during which he was ridiculed by both Terry Wogan and the audience.

Keen to know how he thinks his life may have turned out differently, I ask again about his arthritis. I ponder the role the emotional impact of his career-ending injury played in his exploration of New Age philosophies, and his penchant for conspiracy. “When I look at what happened to me between age 21 and 35, that was absolutely vital to what I’ve done since, in terms of the experiences I had. Then, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, and I wouldn’t want to do anything in all existence at the moment other than what I’m doing, so, in that way, I say in my books, ‘life often gives you your greatest gifts, brilliantly disguised as your worst nightmares.’

“They told me, ‘you’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re in your thirties.’ I’m 64 now and I’m just about to go out on a power-walk for two hours.”

“And stand on a stage for 10 hours,” I say, in reference to his lengthy public talks. On tour, Icke’s shows frequently last that long; a series of two-hour talks with brief adjournments. For £65 – the price of a ticket to David’s Worldwide Wakeup Tour talk at the 02 Academy in Brixton – you’ll learn nearly everything there is to know about lizard people or the Illuminati. Whether or not you’re convinced, you certainly get your money’s worth – as I found out, transcribing the original 14,000 words of this interview.

“Yeah. People so often live within a sense of limitation, which is only their sense of limitation, it’s not actually a limitation. It’s interesting that people didn’t break the four-minute mile because they didn’t think it could be beaten. When it was beaten by the most tiny fraction of a second, suddenly people started beating it.”

As a fan, Icke clearly remains a member of the goalkeepers’ union, citing the “art form” of positioning and body language. An expert on the role, Icke gets frustrated at the lack of decent goalkeeping analysis from commentary and punditry teams.

“A ball will come into the box close to the goal and someone will hit it at close range. Because it rebounds back out, the immediate reaction is, ‘Fantastic save. What an amazing save!’ And then they go to the pundits, who’ve have time to look at it and they’re going, ‘Well, yeah, that was an amazing save by the goalkeeper. I don’t know how he got to that!’ Well, I’ll tell you how he got to that, or I’ll tell you how he wouldn’t have got to it. The only way he wouldn’t have kept that out was if he de-manifested. Because it was straight at him. What’s he going to do? Get out the way?”

I ask if goalkeeping is different now compared to the 1970s and he tells me about the first time he saw modern gloves. “I put these gloves on, these latex gloves, and I couldn’t frickin’ believe it. It was harder to drop, right? 

“In my day, and Gordon Banks’s day, amid the mud and filth, and the wet and slippery mud on the ball, you had what they called ‘string gloves’ which were nothing more than woollen gloves and when it was dry you didn’t even use gloves, you used your hands. And so, in terms of catching the ball today, it’s so much easier. But on the other side, the way balls move now can make you look a complete frickin’ idiot.”

Listening to Icke discuss modern football, I considered the complexity of his current relationship with it. His continued fandom of the sport, coupled with the nature of his political and social views, would seem to create something of an impasse. Is it not contradictory to spend the week publicly opposing the rich and powerful – in some cases accusing individuals of child molestation, murder, conspiracy and being lizards – and then stick the footie on at the weekend?

I ask Icke about his theory of the ‘Totalitarian Tip-Toe’. The idea suggests, using gameshows as an example, that some forms of entertainment are used to hold the attention of the general population, allowing certain individuals a greater freedom to centralise power and enhance their status without it being noticed by the public. 

“If a magician is doing a trick with his left hand, he wants you looking at the right one. What we need to do is look at both. You can look at the right hand and see if Leicester City are going to win today, but you’re also not so engrossed and totally consumed by that that you’re also looking at the other hand at the same time.”

Is football the same as the gameshow?

“100%. That’s why my relationship with football is a bit of entertainment. I might want Leicester to win, but if they lost, I’m not going to lose sleep about it, I’m not going to throw anything at the wall.

“You can get fun from football, if you get it in perspective. Or football can become the wrong end of a telescope, where everything else passes you by. And that’s what the magicians want.”

In a way I am now accustomed to after some time on the call, Icke spends a few minutes setting the groundwork for his next point, by explaining that he tends to listen to TalkSport radio on his two-hour power-walks. “I hear people come on, callers, and they’re absolutely furious, some of them. They’re indignant, they’re outraged, because of something going on at Newcastle or Man United or wherever. And I’m thinking, if you focused your outrage on frickin’ austerity, on the power in the world going to fewer hands by the day, on robotics and transhumanist technology that take all the jobs and livelihoods away, we might have a chance of doing something about it.

“Football can be a bit of entertainment or it can become very, very dangerous.”

Feeling a lack of clarity, I again press Icke to justify his relationship with the sport.

“It’s a relationship with the entertainment on the field, that’s it. I watch my football on television. I work six to seven days a week and I live on the Isle of Wight, so it’s not easy to get to football. So, I watch it on television, I watch quite a lot of it.

“The problem is when it becomes a focus of your life, just like anything, when you focus on a dot, you lose peripheral vision and don’t see the picture. And that’s what I think is happening all over the place. People focus on religion, they focus on football, they focus on whatever. That dot then denies them peripheral vision, to see what else is going on in the world and how it’s affecting them and others.”

“I see this with football fans so focused on whether the team wins or not, they couldn’t give a shit who owns it. So, some oil sheikh comes out, who’s claiming to be royal when it’s just a made-up bloody term1, and they buy a club, they pour vast amounts of money into it, because it’s back pocket change to them. I’m also talking about [Roman] Abramovich, I mean I’ve looked into a bit about his background and crikey, if he was owning my club I certainly wouldn’t be turning up.”

At this point, I feel as if I should interject and remind Icke that his team, Leicester City, are owned by a large consortium. I hesitate and he continues, though he later acknowledges this fact unprompted. “If they’re successful, the crowd couldn’t give a damn the fact that some despot is funding and bankrolling it and using their club with its fantastic history as a play thing. They only get interested in the owners when the team stop winning.

“That’s why I have terrific respect for the people at Manchester United who went off and started FC United of Manchester. The ones that went away and said, ‘No, this is morally unacceptable, we’re not having it.’ I tell you what, if we had that mentality in the world in general society, then the power would be in a lot fewer hands than it currently is2."

Icke’s view of anti-modern football movements is admirable, yet his interpretation of events on a national scale are slightly harder to understand. I am reminded that he campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, as we discuss the decreasing ‘Britishness’ of British football.

“I think it’s really sad, because what’s happening is British football is increasingly not British football. On so many levels. When I was a kid trying to become a professional footballer, all my rivals were either English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh. All the managers were. And thus, the pool that you were competing with was much smaller. Now these academies are bringing players in from all over the world, the British players are competing with a vast reservoir of the best people in the world and people that would’ve got into first teams before are not getting there, people who would’ve got into the first division are not getting there.

“We’ve got English and British coaches that are losing ground to overseas coaches. You’ve got overseas owners coming in and buying the clubs. This is not xenophobia; it’s basically stating the obvious fact. Because of course, some of these overseas players are brilliant, of course they enhance the entertainment. But a lot of them who have come in are no better than English players, British players would’ve been. It’s just an obvious statement, but when we talk about British football, it’s increasingly not British football.”

It seems that his view of immigration, where it concerns British football, doesn’t quite gel with his belief that elites seek to divide and conquer. Where Icke does recognise a divide, however, is in the size of footballers’ wages and the price of tickets, calling it an “insult to the fans”. 

“But the fans keep paying it. Again, it’s like life – people say, ‘This is not right, I don’t like this, this is unjust.’ Okay, what are you going to do about it? ‘Well, what can you do about it, you just have to accept it don’t you?’ And then you have people saying, ‘The bloody prices at football matches are outrageous.’ 

Icke raises his voice for the first time in the interview. “Well don’t frickin’ go then! If you’re not going to do something about what you say is unjust then accept the injustice, that’s the choice.”

“Football’s a microcosm of life. In many ways, I found this when I was a footballer, if you use football right it can be an immense builder of character, because you’re having emotional highs and lows sometimes seconds and minutes apart, whereas with life experience, they might be weeks apart. So, if you use it right it’s a tremendous … football is a concentration of life into a small space and into a small period of time.”

I get the impression that we’re now speaking unscripted. Icke is careful with his choice of words, deliberately re-structuring his sentences, but sounding like he’s saying them for the first time. “The same mentality that allows the injustices in mainstream society allows the injustices of what’s happening in football. What’s the difference between this frickin’ Kraft coming in and buying up old British companies that have no need to sell, in terms of profits and stuff, most of them and some Arab sheikh coming in and buying Manchester City, or Abramovich coming in and buying Chelsea? There’s no difference, they’re just expressions of the same theme, the same global process.

“Leicester – although they’re owned by someone with a lot of money, let’s not forget that – in so many ways they symbolise the little man – as they’re perceived, no one is if they’d only wake up – coming together and challenging this edifice of power which is running out of total control at the moment and is planning to continue to do so.”

Icke speaks of Leicester as though he’s caught between two opinions, two personas. His admission that the club’s owners have wealth in some ways undercuts his argument, yet he continues to make it. He shifts allegiances between his football life and his current cause. I wonder whether Leicester’s success represents an issue with his wider appreciation of the game. 

Despite his claim that this relationship is based solely on entertainment, does watching games not contribute to the problem? In contribution, is there not a contradiction in his fandom?

“It’s not a contradiction, it’s a confirmation. It’s the opposite of a contradiction.”

I feel no clearer. I note that Rupert Murdoch owns Sky. Is watching football on television not inadvertently supporting him? “Football is not divorced from life; it’s not divorced from the rest of society. It’s an expression of that society. And thus, I see in football symbolic expressions of that core injustice and that core, constant takeover of the world by the grotesquely rich, who are usually grotesquely corrupt at the same time, the two are completely connected in most people, if not everybody. I wouldn’t want to support something that was owned by someone who I think is deeply corrupt, I wouldn’t want to do that. But of course, what do you do? What do you do in terms of where you shop, when all the little local shops are gone? What do you do…?” 

I remember Icke earlier complaining that this was the defence of fans complaining about ticket prices [‘What can you do? Don’t frickin’ go’]. I put that to him.

“Well, what you can do about it, as a football fan is just not go. And that would change things immediately.”

Presumably that involves watching it on television also?

“Well, I suppose so. It’s a matter of choice. It’s a matter of how far you want to go. I only have Sky as a knock on from BT, actually. I have BT broadband and actually I don’t contribute to the companies apart from the broadband because I get the rest for free. So, I’m not actually contributing to them and I’ve got to have broadband with someone, so why don’t I have it with someone who I get something like that for free from, because, I mean, you know, we’re all talking about the corporate world.”

I do not interject here. Yet, I again get the impression that he is a figure caught between two worlds. I wonder how many of his followers would appreciate the notion that he contributes to a Rupert Murdoch company (however indirectly). In an interview about football, I feel like Icke is concerned about saying the wrong thing. 

“There’s a balance. I use search engines, for instance, that are run by big corporate entities and that allows me to get together information to challenge those entities.

“What I’m saying is, if you don’t challenge the system in any way but just complain, then the system’s not going to change. The system changes when there’s an impact upon it. And, if it came to it, then, fine. Stop buying Sky – I mean, I don’t, for reasons I’ve just said – stop buying subscriptions if that would make a difference.”

There is a balance. And it would be harsh to criticise Icke too heavily for his stance. After all, if his theories are correct, then he is as much a victim of the ‘Totalitarian Tip-Toe’ of football as the rest of us. He too is engrossed in the soap opera. As Icke insinuates himself, unless you want to live in a cabin in the woods, you must, at least in some ways, embrace society. Icke would seek to collapse the system from the inside, just perhaps not football, or at least his BT subscription says otherwise.