What changed? How did Troy Deeney go from being a 15-year-old kid who couldn’t be bothered to attend the first few days of a trial at Aston Villa to captaining a Premier League football club?

It would be easy to look at his prison spell in 2012 and put it solely down to that. But that would be too simplistic, for it has been a journey.

Deeney grew up in Chelmsley Wood in the West Midlands – at one time the biggest housing estate in Europe and the area chosen by the BBC for the second series of ‘People Like Us’, a reality programme that follows a number of residents from low-income families.

Crime and gangs were commonplace and as one of three children to a single mother, following his parents’ separation when he was 11, things were not easy.

Football helped him avoid much of the trouble and his mother worked three jobs to try to give her children the best lives possible.

But as a teenager Deeney was not the motivated frontman you see today. He had the talent, which resulted in a four-day trial at Aston Villa, but he didn’t show up until the final day. Unsurprisingly, he was sent packing.

“I was 15 and we were on the summer holidays so what do you think I wanted to do? Play football or go to the park where all the girls were?”

He left school with no GCSEs and was training to become a bricklayer on £120 a week while playing at his local club Chelmsley Wood.

By his own admission the 18-year-old was deluded; thinking playing for Chelmsley was “the pinnacle” because “all the cool kids in my area played for them” and it made him a somebody.

And even when he did finally attract the interest of a professional club, it was down to a large slice of fortune.

Walsall’s head of youth, Mick Halsall, was meant to be at a different game but after it was called off due to rain, he went to watch his son play against Chelmsley. A drunk Deeney scored seven that day in an 11-4 win and was offered a trial.

But even then, it was Chelmsley’s manager who dragged him out of bed on the morning of the trial and gave the 18-year-old the £20 needed for a taxi.

Joining the Saddlers in 2006 was to be a significant turning point in Deeney’s approach to football. However, it wasn’t due to the prospect of playing in the Premier League one day or the like, it was simply because it gave him an easier life.

He said: “[When at Chelmsley] I used to go to work at 6.30am in the morning and come back at like 8pm at night and then have to go to football, compared to training at 9am and finishing at 2pm at Walsall.

"So the lads [at Walsall] would say how tired they were and I used to be like ‘are you lot for real? This is easy!’ “I knew I could make more money for less work so I thought let’s see how far I could take it.”

Watford Observer: Deeney Walsall Action Images

His attitude improved and his impressive 2009/10 campaign, when he was Walsall’s top scorer with 14 goals, persuaded then Watford manager Malky Mackay to sign the 22-year-old.

Deeney had been told he would be leaving the Saddlers early into pre-season but a hard negotiating stance resulted in him throwing the metaphorical toys out of the pram as he handed in a transfer request and didn’t put 100 per cent into training as he attempted to cement his move away from Bescot Stadium.

It meant when the transfer to Watford finally came around on the first day of the season, Deeney was several weeks behind his team-mates in terms of fitness and he struggled to make the step up to Championship level.

He only scored three times in his first 54 games, although in his defence many were from the bench or on the right of midfield, but it was the change to his bank balance that had the biggest impact on the naive Deeney.

The striker went from earning £1,200 a week at Walsall to £6,000 at Watford and he said: “My salary went up considerably at the age of 22 so I was ‘Jack the Lad’ and I used to call the lads out every weekend and thought let’s enjoy it because they are going to realise I’m crap at football soon and get rid of me.”

Excessive drinking and partying was still a problem when he finally found form in the yellow of Watford and it contributed to his involvement in a brawl outside a Birmingham nightclub in February 2012. The conviction for affray resulted in two-and-a-half months in prison.

From being able to provide his son, partner and mother with almost everything they wanted, Deeney had to watch on from behind bars as his family struggled with the striker no longer being paid by the club.

For all of his problems in the past, family has always been a driving force for Deeney and his spell inside made him re-evaluate what was most important in his life. By his own admission prison ended up being the best thing that ever happened to him.

Watford Observer: Deeney release

In an interview following his release Deeney spoke about his desire to leave a legacy for future generations of his family and that remains the case today.

He explained: “My little cousin is just about to graduate as a nurse and she is the only person in the history of my family who has been to university. I have a pretty big family with about 30 cousins in total, if not more, and no-one has ever been to uni or done anything like that. And no-one has taken football to the level I have taken it to.

“So my sister, who was at uni but left, has now gone back to uni because she saw how proud my cousin is of her achievement.

“It (motivation) is the money side of it in the sense of saying financially ‘right, well you can do whatever you want to do without having to worry about having bills to pay’.

"So of course if I can help out then I’m going to do that but it is about having the freedom so my family do not have to do what every other family does in Chelmsley Wood. I want my family to be the best. I want us to be better than every other family.

"I want the other families to say ‘do you remember Troy who used to kick footballs around with us, he is now playing in the Premier League’ and I want to inspire people – without making myself sound like a hero.

“I want people to say ‘he went to the same school as me, messed around as a kid but he worked hard and went from there’.”

One of the people Deeney is already helping is his brother Ellis, the Worcester City midfielder who was Aston Villa’s academy captain before being released in 2011.

The 23-year-old is in the process of becoming a personal trainer and Deeney said: “My brother is very good with fitness work and just needs to get his qualifications so what is the point in him going to work in a factory just to pay the bills.

"So I said to him ‘I will cover your bills for three years and you keep doing what you are doing’ and then he will have a lifestyle and a career for his family.

"He has another kid on the way and then the family legacy continues because he will probably end up owning a gym or something and his children will have something to aspire to.

“That is what I’m talking about, trying to make the family bigger and better. If you see your parents working at the Land Rover factory [in Solihull] then that is what the rest of the family will look towards because that is the way it has always been. I always want more for my family.”

Deeney is also aware of setting a good example for his son Myles, who is six at the end of this month, and young daughter Amelia.

Kicked out of school at 14 and then let back in at 15, Deeney did not take his education seriously and left with no qualifications. He has addressed that somewhat since his release from prison by passing his English, maths and science GCSEs.

Watford Observer: Deeney AI

“I’ve done the basic stuff that you need because I don’t want to be a hypocrite and tell my son ‘you need to do right at school’ and him say ‘what have you got?’ ‘Oh nothing’.”

It isn’t just those in his immediate family that Deeney tries to help though. He has partaken in a lot of community work since his release, including regular work with former offenders and youngsters, but he doesn’t want to publicise it as “it is cheesy as f*** when people do that”.

One of the things he does is give out free football boots to children who need them. He said: “I try to speak to the kids and also if the kids in my area need boots then nine times out of ten I have provided them.

"That isn’t just in Chelmsley Wood, it is anyone that knows me. I know footballers who do not have boot deals and theyhave said “Troy, can you help me out?” and I will.

“It is not because I want to say ‘Oh, I’m the great and mighty Troy’. It is just that I know what it is like. My first football boots were out of the Kays catalogue and cost me about £2.50 for 52 weeks to pay them off. I know what it is like.

"I have been there and done it so if I can help you out with boots I will. Will Jones (Watford’s kitman) will say ‘we have these boots that are going to be thrown away, do you want them?’ and I will say ‘of course’ because I can give them to someone who needs them. 

“It just might help inspire the next generation not to be a lazy b*****d because with the internet and iPads now there is no reason to go outside, is there?”

Time flies when in the company of Deeney and he is one of the most entertaining interviews around. Even his tangents are interesting and provide insight into the man.

“Don’t be a lazy b*****d; that is my one pet hate in life,” he continued. “I’m also massive on manners, because I hate people who don’t have manners, and I can’t stand people who blame everything else for the way they are.

"Do you know how many people I speak to in pubs who say ‘I could have been a player you know but I had a bad knee’. So did Ledley King but he still made a career so there are no excuses.”

Watford Observer:

Deeney says what he thinks and if he is not careful his brutal honesty could end up causing him problems when it comes to the scrutiny of being a Premier League footballer.

But for local reporters and the fans he is refreshing in an era of media management and PR spin.

He has a big presence and is ready to pounce on anyone who wears the wrong clothes or gets a suspect haircut but for all the showmanship, he wasn’t afraid to admit that Watford’s promotion to the Premier League made him cry for the first time in five years – the last time being when his great nan passed away.

Considering he has lost his dad to cancer, seen his grandad die days after being told he was in remission, plus been through a gruelling court case and sent to prison in that time, not to mention having a second child, why was the night of April 25 so emotional?

He said: “We all know what happened (when Deeney went to prison) but from three years ago until now, going into the Premier League, not having my dad and my Grandad to celebrate it with is a bit s*** to be fair. 

“I spoke to my mum [when promotion was secured] and she said your grandad would be proud and as soon as she said that I just went (started crying). I could feel it coming any way but as soon as she mentioned it I was gone.

"And then the day after my nan texted me saying ‘it is only just sinking in now that you are a Premier League footballer and your grandad will be up there having a brandy for you’.

"I didn’t cry that time but everyone who knows me know how much these people meant to me so to now have everything that I wanted and more in life and not have the people I want most to celebrate it with hit me all at one point and that is why I cried.”

He looks up to the sky prior to each game in memory of his dad and grandad, and former Walsall team-mate Anton Reid who died suddenly in training in 2007 at the age of just 16 after suffering a heart attack when the ball hit him in the chest.

“I don’t do it to make sure I score that day or anything like that, I just ask for the strength to carry the team over the line and for me to make everyone proud,” he said.

Considering the events of his life so far, and his personality, you are inclined to believe Deeney when he claims he doesn’t feel pressure entering the pitch.

“For me playing football and winning games is not pressure; it is sport,” he stated. “I know what real pressure is in real day-to-day life.

"Pressure is paying bills and not having the money. Making sure the lights are on and things like that. That is pressure. I can leave the lights on now. I’m comfortable now [financially] and I don’t mean that in a big-headed way.

“In a football match you are either going to win, lose or draw. You feel great when you win yes, you feel s*** when you don’t but there is another opportunity to do it. I don’t class it as pressure.

“I have been through more than enough in my life to know what real pressure is and what is hard and football is the easy stuff.”

Next season the crowds will be bigger, those who know his name will be worldwide, but Deeney is adamant that his mentality will not change.

Watford Observer: Deeney Action Images

“I look at playing in the Premier League with enjoyment. It is nothing to be scared of. It is a daunting task but at the end of the day we play football for a living so it is not the be all and end all.

“If I am not good enough for the Prem then I am pretty sure you guys (journalists), Match of the Day and Sky Sports will tell me I am not good enough. It is just a challenge.

“Eight years ago I was playing for Chelmsley Town with my mates, paying to play football. Now I am being paid to play football in front of 40,000 or 50,000 people. I’m going to enjoy it. I see it as a challenge.”

“Now I have this opportunity there is no way anyone is going to work harder than me to stay in this team and keep showing what I can do on the main stage,” he added.

It has been a long road for Deeney to reach this point; one which could have seen not only his football career but also his life take a very different route on more than one occasion had it not been for certain people standing by Deeney during his journey. 

He is now repaying that faith after turning his life around. No doubt his grandad will raise his glass of brandy once more when his grandson runs out as a Premier League footballer for the first time.