Jose Baxter admits he suffered from “bad thoughts" after being handed a second drugs ban during his time as a Sheffield United player.
The former Everton youngster has now returned to football after serving the 12-month suspension, and scored his first goal since 2015 recently for Oldham Athletic against Grimsby Town in League Two.
And, in an interview with The Times, Baxter remembers the aftermath of the FA handing down the suspension, and a £4,000 fine, after traces of cocaine were found in his urine following a drug test. Earlier in his Blades career he was banned for five months, three of which were suspended, after testing positive for ecstasy – the FA panel accepting his insistence that he was spiked with the drug.
“There were times where you wonder will you ever play again,” said Baxter. “Will you ever, sometimes, live again . . . You have bad thoughts. Sometimes you think the only way is to deny everything. But you’ve got to be a man and face it, get through it, and come through stronger.”
Baxter joined United from Oldham, after making history as Everton’s youngest ever player aged just 16 years and 191 days. He scored the first goal in United’s FA Cup semi-final against Hull City at Wembley in 2014, which they eventually lost 5-3, but was released when his Bramall Lane contract expired.
Baxter kept in physical shape at a gym in his native Liverpool – under the terms of his suspension, he wasn’t allowed to train with a club – and was handed a lifeline by Everton, who offered him a contract with their U23 side. He rejoined Oldham earlier this season.
Asked why both Everton and Oldham had seen fit to give him another chance, Baxter replied: “I don’t know. I’d like to think I’m a nice lad, I’d like to think that... I’ve made silly mistakes, but what young kid hasn’t? It just gets looked at more because of how many people watch our game.
“There are young kids out there every week making mistakes. If you go through your life and you don’t make a mistake, one way or the other, then I’ll call you a liar, because everyone does. Everton is an unbelievable club, I can’t speak highly enough of the people there. And I had a special bond with the fans at Oldham first time around. I think I played my best football here. It just works being back here again.”
Baxter became a father earlier this year, to Dahlia, and insists he still has ambitions of playing in the Premier League.
“I still want to play at the top,” he added. “I don’t think anything can stop you if you’ve got the right mindset, stay fit, stay injury free. You need to have big goals, dreams of success, and that’s what I’ve got. No one can stop me, only myself.”