Paddy Lacey is preparing for his fourth pro bout
Photo Credit: Accrington Stanley FC
Paddy Lacey is no ordinary carpet fitter. The remarkable 28-year-old is also a semi-professional footballer and undefeated professional boxer, preparing for his fourth fight at the Liverpool Olympia on March 5, 2022.
If working full-time while balancing being a professional in two different sports isn't impressive enough, the Liverpudlian fought three times in just eight weeks last year. The super-welterweight had his pro debut in October 2021, then fought again in November and December to reach 3-0. Lacey won every round of his trio of four-round fights, each one scored at 40-36.
Now he's about to have his fourth pro fight on March 5 on a VIP Promotions event, promoted by Steve Wood, who is also Josh Warrington's manager.
The baller-turned-boxer will compete in another four-round super-welterweight contest.
On Friday, November 26, the busy boxer triumphed in his second professional fight at Liverpool Olympia, then come Saturday at 3pm, he was back to being a footballer again, and by Monday he was back laying carpets full-time.
For his last fight on Saturday, December 11, he got given the day off from Chester FC's game at Spennymoor to appear on the undercard of Conor Benn vs Chris Algieri at the M&S Bank Arena, live on DAZN.
Lacey knows full well it is not the big time yet. Nor is he the first footballer try to try his hand in the fight game.
The likes of Curtis Woodhouse, who became British super-lightweight champion and Leon McKenzie took the same path.
Then there was cricketer Andrew Flintoff – and his much publicised brief encounter with the ring. Big Cumbrian striker Grant Holt had a go at wrestling. And England rugby union flanker James Haskell was hoping for a new career in mixed martial arts until he had to have back surgery.
But, in Lacey, you meet one totally determined, transformed individual who knows, after a 14-month drug ban from football, quickly followed by a 16-month prison sentence, that he had to a lot to do to get back on the rails.
Life sure looks better than it did this time four years ago when it was viewed from a prison bed.
"I've been through some stuff," he told BBC Sport. "It was just bad news after bad news after bad news. A mad two or three years of torment."
The son of a Toxteth-born former Liverpool apprentice, life looked promising for the cheery Lacey when he all too briefly spent time on the books of several EFL clubs as a junior, including Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City, before finding his feet a bit more, first at Barrow, then at Accrington Stanley.
But it all started to turn sour for him in November 2016 when he tested positive for cocaine after an Accrington game, was given a 14-month ban, and shown the door by the Lancashire club. the following May.
Worse was to follow. With time on his hands, and now finding himself in the wrong company, he went to the 2017 Glastonbury Festival, where he was found in possession of cocaine, MDMA and more than £500 in counterfeit notes.
He served only five months of the 16-month prison sentence that followed, first in Bristol, then closer to his Merseyside home at Risley, near Warrington, before coming out to spend the next four months 'on tag'.
But Lacey knows now that, mentally at least, he had already turned a corner.
"That was my medicine," he said. "To be honest, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
"I thought the judge was harsh on me. I got 14 months for the forged notes and another two months for possession of drugs at Glastonbury.
"When I went down to the court, the judge said 'Look, I deal with people every day who have nothing going for them. You've got a letter here off England Boxing, you've got letters from football clubs to say you're a professional footballer. You've got the world at your feet and you keep messing up. You're going to have to learn a harsh lesson'.
"It gave me that thinking time when you're sat there 23 hours a day."
One inspiration while he was in there serving his time was the realisation that he was not the first footballer from his home city to get punished.
He found Joey Barton's book in the prison library, a brutally frank autobiography that begins in the days when the former Manchester City and QPR midfielder, and now Bristol Rovers manager, was also behind bars.
"It's funny that I read it in prison," admits Lacey. "The rest of the books were all old but the Joey Barton one was brand new.
"It kind of called out to me and it certainly lifted my spirits.
"When I came out everyone was saying 'You've made a mistake. Get back on your football and make a fresh start'."
But little did Lacey realise that, from the bad hand he had been dealt, there was still one more ill-fated card to play.
"That first weekend I was out, I played locally with the lads, snapped my cruciate ligament and broke and dislocated my arm," he said.
"That was another year out just when I was trying to get going again."
And it actually could have been even worse. He ended up contracting sepsis after his ACL operation, lost three stone in weight – and suffered some very dark days.
"It's paralysing. I just wanted to stay in bed and avoid my dad," Lacey said.
"Especially when my auntie died. My dad had just lost his sister and I had to tell him I was going to be in prison.
"You just think dark thoughts. There have been days when I don't know what motivates me to get out of bed and carry on. But I did.
"I was banned from football for 14 months. I needed some sort of aim so I went with the boxing.
"And the ending was the start. I'd been coming through non-league, not taking my football as seriously as I should and mixing in circles I shouldn't have.
"I didn't safeguard myself. I'd love to go and speak to kids now in a similar position. You've got to refocus. You can't let people mislead you. It's all about growing as a person.
"It's only really over the last year that I've managed to start putting things straight, with the attitude I have now. It's been a case of keeping my head down at times, but also keeping my chin high. I've come through and come out the other side.
"My business is flourishing, I've won my first two fights and I'm playing well for Chester after coming through a second ACL op on my other knee. I certainly haven't given up on the football. Chester have been very good to me."
But, while football remains a passion for this lifelong Liverpool fan, Lacey also recognises that he still has the chance to go on a bit longer with boxing.
So far his fight record reads as two four-round points victories over a Croatian, Stanko Jermelic, followed by Friday's latest triumph, against Pavel Albrecht, from the Czech Republic.
But what will stem from his next step up in grade on Saturday week?
"I'm at an age where I know I'm not going to go on and earn great money but maybe I can do it with boxing. And I want to do both. They help each other," he says.
"I've got fantastic stamina. But there's a balance between doing too much and I've got to be careful and listen to my coaches when they say I'm starting to look a little leggy and tired in the gym.
"My love for boxing started with my dad. He boxed as a schoolboy and then he was on the books at Liverpool. He was there in that great era of that team that went and won [the European Cup] in Rome in 1984, with Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness and the like.
"He played for Liverpool until he was 17 then, when he got released, he started boxing again. And I used to go down the gym with him to keep fit.
"We were always watching boxing when we were kids. Let's face it, football and fighting are the two biggest sports in Liverpool.
"I always wanted to box but when I was going round the likes of Manchester United, Blackburn and Liverpool, they all said to me 'there's no need to take punches in the face if you don't have to'.
"I got back into it when I had a charity fight with a school teacher when I was 21 or 22. My dad came to watch and he said 'son, you've got some natural ability'.
"I then started bowling over a load of amateurs, and getting a bit of a reputation in Liverpool that I might be a decent little fighter. And now I just want to embrace it as long as I can.
"I feel like I've developed so much, as a boxer and as a person. I feel really happy at the way I've come on.
"I'm hoping in 2022 that I could be knocking on the door for a central area title. And then let's see what happens.
"Carl Froch was in his 30s before he hit his best years, don't forget. You peak a little later in boxing."
Also appearing on the March 5 are unbeaten Super-Featherweight prospects Joe Kavanagh (4-0) and Michael Hedges (3-0-1) who are set to clash in a brilliant six rounder. Also on the bill staged by VIP Promotions in association with Trinity Entertainment is Isle of Man Super-Lightweight Matt Rennie (6-0-1) and big hitting Liverpool Cruiserweight Jay Farrell (9-2, 5 KOs) box six rounders.
There will also be four rounder featuring Liverpool prospects, Lightweight debutants Josh Rooney Wright and Ethan Brown, Super-Bantamweight Jake Harrison (2-0, 1KO), Super Welterweight Sean Arkwright (2-0) and Welterweight Bryan Collins (2-0).
Boxers have tickets at various prices including ringside, but £35 tickets are available from www.vipboxing.co.uk and 01942 874241.