Marcus Maddison was always considered the creative maverick, an unconventional character that did not conform with most team-mates in a Football League career that included spells with Peterborough United, Hull City, Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers.
His retirement at the age of 27 did little to dispel those perceptions in 2021, but now, after being sentenced to 20 months in prison for a “horrific” attack on a 60-year-old woman, Maddison has seen an inglorious full stop added to the life he had hoped to revive only last summer.
The 29-year-old cut a meek figure in the dock of Teesside Crown Court yesterday morning.
A guilty plea had already been entered at an earlier hearing and all that remained was for Maddison to learn the length of time he would spend in prison. The sports bag he carried into courtroom eight, packed full of clothes and belongings, underlined both his expectations and the inevitable.
Maddison, heavily tattooed and wearing a grey suit, glasses and a gold earring, stood to hear the sentencing delivered by recorder Paul Reid, speaking via video link from York Crown Court, and was eventually taken away knowing his punishment might have been more severe.
The guilty plea, thus avoiding a trial by jury, meant Maddison avoided a custodial sentence of two and a half years and was instead imprisoned for 20 months for his actions in the early hours of September 22 last year.
Maddison did not contest those events at the half-hour sentencing hearing. He had been drinking heavily with his friend at The Gate cocktail bar in Darlington, where he was attempting to resume his playing career with the town’s National League North club.
Their night had ended at a kebab shop and Maddison soon became involved in a heated altercation with two women. Maddison, it was heard, told one of them: “Fuck off, don’t come near me you fat slag.” One of the women responded by saying: “You fucking wait,” to which he replied: “You won’t fucking catch me.”
Maddison was urged by his friend to return home, but the one-time Newcastle United academy player then threw his chips at the mother and daughter pair, falling over in the process. When returning to his feet, he then threw a single punch that hit the 60-year-old woman with “devastating force”.
An oversized ring, worn by Maddison on his right fist that connected with the victim, was likened to a knuckle duster and therefore considered a weapon in the attack.
A “pop” was heard by Maddison’s friend after the blow was landed. Reid added that “two other people in the vicinity had said ‘What the fuck was that (noise)?’”
A victim statement, read out in court, heard the woman suffered a broken jaw in “multiple places” and had been left with potentially lasting damage, with pain still felt in her teeth and gums. She was also said to have suffered from anxiety, PTSD and headaches after an attack that saw police find the victim lying in a pool of blood in Duke Street, Darlington, at 3.45am.
Maddison had fled the scene by that point and, on September 25, initially gave a no-comment interview to police investigating the attack. Only five days later, when voluntarily handing himself into police, did he accept responsibility. Maddison would later enter a guilty plea for the charge of grievous bodily harm without intent during a hearing at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court on June 20.
By that time, the midfielder’s short-lived attempts to resume his playing career were effectively over. Darlington boss Alun Armstrong had called the signing of Maddison a “no-brainer” given his pedigree at a higher level, but within three months of his arrival, the decision had been made to terminate the player’s contract by mutual consent.
“Darlington FC is a fan-owned club and has a zero tolerance towards discrimination, violence or abusive behaviour,” said a club statement last month.
Maddison does not expect to play professional football again. During the defence’s statements, delivered by his barrister, Tabitha Buck, it was revealed the player intends to become a tattoo artist and has demonstrated his remorse by temporarily cutting ties with his four-year-old daughter while serving his custodial sentence. The court was also told that Maddison had since quit drinking alcohol and that the attack ought to be considered to be “wholly out of character”.
That character, though, has been a difficult one to unpick. Those that worked with Maddison during his playing days considered him to be complex and awkward to manage. His professionalism, or lack of it, was seen to be the greatest obstacle preventing him from climbing up the football ladder following his release from Newcastle United aged 18.
Maddison’s best days undoubtedly came at Peterborough United, the club he joined from Gateshead in 2014. It was there he would help inspire the goalscoring exploits of centre-forwards including Jack Marriott and Ivan Toney and, at one point, he amassed the most assists of any player in the top four divisions of English football across a five-year period that spanned 2014 to 2019.
“He is sublimely talented,” said his former chairman at Peterborough, Darragh MacAnthony. “He could play as high as he wants, I’ve always said that, but that’s down to the player.
“That’s a player who will look back on his career in years to come and regret the fact he didn’t sprinkle his magic at the top, but he has the ability, he has the talent.”
Grant McCann, his manager at Peterborough and Hull, called Maddison the “best player in League One on his day”.
Others saw it, too. Charlton, then of the Championship, were prepared to pay up to £2million (now $2.54m) to sign Maddison in January 2020, only for the player to reject the move. With only half a year left on his Peterborough contract, he eventually joined Hull City on loan for a six-figure sum.
Maddison eventually joined Charlton as a free agent in October 2020, calling it a “fresh start”. Only it did not last. By the January of that season, he had been loaned to Bolton Wanderers in League Two and within three months he had quit altogether.
Maddison chose to retire at half-time of Bolton Wanderers’ League Two win over Harrogate Town in April 2021. The forward had been withdrawn and felt unable to continue an unhappy loan spell. The deal was terminated in the days that followed, with Maddison citing his mental health.
“The football industry has eventually broke me,” Maddison later wrote on Instagram. He was only 27.
It was in February of last year that Maddison had a change of heart. Time spent pursuing an interest in gaming had not provided enough fulfilment — or financial comfort — and following a short spell with Spalding United, a part-time club in the Northern Premier League, he told the world of his ambitions to resume his playing career in the 2022-23 season.
That, however, needed help. A GoFundMe page was set up with the hope of raising £3,000 for private knee surgery. “Without it, I will never run again never mind play football,” he wrote. Within days, Maddison had raised £3,655, a sum that included a £1,000 donation from former Peterborough team-mate Michael Doughty and a series of smaller amounts from supporters.
Successful surgery enabled Maddison to join Darlington at the start of last season but, within six weeks of making his debut in the National League North, a night out where he drank to excess ended with the attack that has led him to prison.
Maddison attempted to offer mitigation by saying his life as a professional footballer had seen him previously become the victim of violence during social nights out and that an injury prevented him running away from the altercation in Darlington. “She either hit me or I hit her,” Maddison had said. “I had no other option.” Reid reminded the defendant that he had the option of walking away, as encouraged to do so by his friend.
Maddison, who was supported in court by his partner, told reporters outside before his sentencing that he was “devastated” by what he had done, but his actions had consequences.
“Public violence like this is so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence can possibly be justified,” said Reid, who called Maddison’s actions “egregious violence”.
Maddison once held a reputation as the most creative player in English football’s lower leagues, but, disgraced and imprisoned, he now has an altogether different one. A talent irretrievably squandered.
(Top photo: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)