From last-chance saloon to Second Chance

Recovering alcoholic Alex Rae has been sober since 1998. He is a dedicated football man but his legacy will be helping out addicts

Of all the contrasts that will be exposed when Notts County, that oldest of institutions, arrive today at Eastlands, home of a club with a sense of ambition and vanity renewed by a surge of almost limitless wealth, the deepest contradiction will be held within the knowledge of Alex Rae. As County's assistant manager, the possibilities of this FA Cup replay against Manchester City animate his imagination, but for all that football consumes him, one part of his life remains separated, and immune.

A recovering alcoholic who has been sober since 26 October 1998 – a date that remains central to his sense of identity because it was when he vowed to stop drinking – Rae is the founder of Second Chance, an addiction recovery programme. He set it up in Possil, a hard, impoverished area of Glasgow, after returning to the city of his birth when he signed for Rangers in 2004 and discovering the kind of treatment he benefited from was not available.

When Rae struck the bottom of his own distress after years of prolonged drinking and sought professional help, his club, Sunderland, and the Professional Footballers' Association arranged for him to receive treatment at The Priory. He used to binge, drinking heavily on Sundays and Mondays, but as the sessions began to move further into the week, and he began to admit to his sense of depression, Rae asked for help. In Glasgow, he discovered that most sufferers could only turn to maintenance programmes, where their addictions are controlled.

A believer in abstinence, Rae established Second Chance, raising money through football contacts and dinners. Now able to treat up to 15 patients a time, they are financially supported by Glasgow Addiction Services, although their funding application is up for renewal."It's the best thing I've ever done," Rae says. "You see someone coming through the door and their life is shattered, physically they look a mess, then some are able to graduate after three months and they're as strong as me, they look brilliant, their hygiene, their clothing, they're back into housing and employment. Glasgow needs a lot more places like this, because there are so many people whose lives are wasting away in front of them."

He talks passionately but without delivering a sermon. At 41, and with an enduring career that has involved a spell as the Dundee manager, then coach at MK Dons before moving to join Paul Ince at Notts County last October, Rae is comfortable with his immersion in the game. He has maintained his links with Second Chance because it is a way of making sense of his own experiences.

Rae was 28 when he addressed his problems, and was still fit enough last season to make a handful of appearances for MK Dons. He filled any empty spaces left by his sobriety with reading, chess and an interest in meditation, psychology and religion. Mostly, though, he feels compelled to offer somebody else the same chance that he received. "I was fortunate," he says. "These programmes are very common in the south-east of England and it's really sad because every time I go to visit one of these places, they are full of Scotsmen. I'm just trying to help someone else, because if someone wasn't there to help me, I don't know where I'd be now."

Having knocked Sunderland out of the FA Cup, and drawn 1-1 with City at Meadow Lane, County have a sense of expectation about today's tie. The players would have to work for four years to earn the same as Yaya Touré does in a week, but the likes of Lee Hughes, Craig Westcarr and Alan Gow are experienced, and confident enough, to express themselves. "You usually only get one crack at the big teams," Rae says. "If we did manage to pull it off, it would be one of the all-time giantkilling results, so we're looking forward to it."

Rae will be engrossed in the occasion, and will continue to surrender to the game that has been so central to him. But there will always be other, more significant, concerns in his life. He recalls the day he took a friend, George, to one of his last games as Dundee manager, and the coffee they shared afterwards.

"Alex, see when you look back son, you'll have all these great memories from football," George said. "But what you've done with this [Second Chance] project, it's life-changing, it has a ripple effect on friends and families. That will be your legacy,not the football."

Manchester City v Notts County is live on ITV1 from 2pm today

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes