By Andrew Halloway
John Hayes and John Cartledge used to look at each other from opposite sides of the courtroom. One would be the accused, in the dock, and the other — a lawyer — would be his accuser.
But now the two Johns are the best of friends and have written a book together — which tells their very different life stories.
The book, Alcohol: Thriller or Killer?, highlights how booze destroyed the life of former sportsman John Cartledge, and how former Senior Legal Advisor John Hayes used to see many others like him in his work at the Magistrates Court.
The two Johns have known each other for over 30 years, having met as 'enemies' in court on numerous occasions. One administered the law and the other fell foul of it, and, when their paths crossed, John Cartledge usually got punished. So how did they become great friends?
John Cartledge had a very promising career as a professional footballer, and as a youngster trained at Manchester City. He was also a fine boxer, and worked in his father's business, married Jennifer and had three children. Everything looked rosy.
But over a period of eight years John went from a social drinker to an alcoholic. Eventually, like many other alcoholics, he ended up living rough, drinking on park benches, sleeping in derelict houses and stealing to find more alcohol.
Soon his wife and family were totally neglected, and when he did go home he caused havoc. He remembers: "On one occasion I pulled the gas fire from the wall while it was still lit! The gas fitter who came to fix it said I was fortunate not to have blown the house up."
It is hard to believe that John gave up all the good things he had for a life in police cells, mental hospitals, halfway houses, rehabilitation clinics and eventually prison. But that's what alcoholism can do to a person. And while he was in prison, his wife eventually divorced him.
In 1991 he was admitted once again to a mental hospital. For the last 15 years he had tried every possible way to stop drinking, but all to no avail. After coming through 'withdrawal' in the hospital, he finally decided to look at the last option available to him. He knew he couldn't help himself, so maybe God could change him.
John picked up a Bible, and as he read it he could find no mention of 'alcoholism' or 'alcoholic' (terms unknown in Jesus' time). But he did find the words 'drunkard' and 'sinner', and it became clear to him that his problem was sin and the only way to change was to confess all his bad words and deeds to God. As soon as he did, he was immediately forgiven and cleansed of his addiction. God's Holy Spirit miraculously took the desire for alcohol away from him.
From that day on, all John wanted to do was to serve his new found Lord.
He went to a Christian college with the aim of becoming a missionary and he later set up a Christian book centre in Ghana, built with the money God provided through gifts from Christians.
John also married Akua and they now have a son, Sean. Then miraculously at a church he started attending, he was reintroduced to John Hayes.
The two Johns recognised each other from the times they had met in court and soon bonded over their mutual faith in Jesus.
John Hayes had been brought up in a Christian home, but realised that didn't make him a Christian, "no more than being born in a garage would make me car", he jokes. Like his friend John, he too had to ask God for forgiveness and make his own decision to follow Christ.
As a result of their experiences with alcohol — one having 'been there, done that, got the T-shirt', the other having seen what it does to people in its grip — they eventually felt God was leading them to write a book to help people break free of alcoholism.
As a result of the book's success once published, the two Johns now share a passion to speak together about how alcohol can ruin lives but also how God can restore them. •
Alcohol: Thriller or Killer? is published by Ambassador Productions, Belfast.