Express & Star

Former Wolves hardman who was 'saved by God's hand' after a life of turmoil on and off the pitch

God has forgiven and embraced soccer sinner Derek Jefferson, despite the livid stud-marks that remain on a succession of forwards who pitted their skill against his centre-half savagery.

Derek Jefferson at Ipswich Town

And in the Almighty, the grandfather has found purpose and fulfilment in a once troubled life.

Having witnessed the violence Jefferson doled out while prowling Wolves’ backline, his allegiance to Solihull Renewal Christian Centre – described as a “dynamic family church” - is hard to comprehend.

He has helped those battling addictions, he has provided church-led football coaching courses.

Derek Jefferson

Derek is a very different individual from the brutal hatchet-man who spread a thick layer of fear over football pitches.

His private life was a chaotic rollercoaster ride of women, booze and brawls.

Derek is now one of God’s footballers, a description first bestowed on Old Gold hero Peter Knowles by protest singer Billy Bragg.

The father-of-six is happy, content and settled. He and second wife Linda – Derek’s rakish ways wrecked his first marriage – have been together for 43 years. She is the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher.

Sobriety, common sense and sadness have re-shaped the hardman. He lost a daughter when she was only two years old and, more recently, five friends were taken by Covid.

His 'Saul on the road to Damascus' moment came in 1978, following a serious motorway crash near Worcester.

“I’d been drinking, maybe taken something,” he told me this week, “and was in hospital for two days with concussion. I went back to my parents’ home in Middlesbrough to rehabilitate, attended church and realised the life I was living was not up to God’s standards.

“I just burst out crying. I dropped to my knees and asked God for forgiveness.”

Derek Jefferson of Ipswich Town in action during the Football League Division One match between West Bromwich Albion and Ipswich Town at The Hawthorns on April 12, 1971 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images)Row: Tommy Carroll, Peter Morris, Billy Baxter, Ken Hancock, Mick McNeil, Derek Jefferson, Bill Houghton, Bobby Hunt..Centre Charlie Woods, Danny Hegan, John O’Rourke, Ray Crawford, Colin Viljoen, Frank Brogan, Eddie Spearritt.Front Row: Mick Mills, Chris Barnard.

Derek had belatedly stepped back on the Biblical path his parents placed him on decades before. “As a child, they’d take me to a little evangelical church,” he said. “I’d sit at the back and throw sweets at the girls. I wasn’t interested.”

There are a number of 1970s terrace idols, still carrying the scars from X-rated collisions with Derek, who will wish Christianity called during his playing days.

He took no prisoners, often administering tackles so late they began in a different time zone.