Stig Tofting on tragedy of his parents, losing a baby and being jailed

Stig Tofting on tragedy of his parents, losing a baby and being jailed

December 20, 2018

‘My dad shot my mum dead then killed himself… that does something to you’: Ex-Bolton star Stig Tofting on the tragedy of his parents, losing a baby and being jailed for assault

  • Former Bolton player Stig Tofting lost both of his parents when he was just 13 
  • His father had shot his mother dead before turning the gun on himself 
  • The Dane’s fourth child died from meningitis just three weeks after being born
  • He also recieved a four-month prison sentence for assaulting a restaurant owner

‘Follow me,’ instructs Stig Tofting, the former Bolton and Denmark midfielder, leading the way through his home in the leafy suburb of Viby near Aarhus.

‘This bedroom, this is where I moved to when I was 13, after I lost both of my parents.’

It was on Saturday July 30, 1983, that an excited Tofting raced home to the family’s fourth-floor apartment on Frederiks Alle — a bustling city street a few miles from where we are now — to tell his mother and father he would be playing in a cup final for AGF Aarhus Juniors the following day in front of the national-team boss.

Stig Tofting, pictured during his boxing days, told Sportsmail his story from his home in Aarhus

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His first cause for concern was when neither parent appeared at the kitchen window to greet him, as was usual upon the sound of his bike screeching to a stop outside.

Entering the apartment, the family dog, Lady, ran to him. ‘Something felt wrong,’ he remembers.

It was then that he saw the body of his 41-year-old father, Poul, lying in a pool of blood in the hallway. A hunting rifle was next to him. Further inside, on the floor by the kitchen, was his mother, Kirsten — she was 34. ‘I did not know if it was a bad dream,’ he says.

His father had shot his mother before turning the gun on himself, leaving their only child to discover the scene. Tofting, two weeks from his 14th birthday, grabbed Lady and ran to his grandparents’ home, ‘crying and screaming’.

‘Losing your parents, at 13, it does something to you,’ he tells Sportsmail, revealing his story for the first time in English. But if Tofting’s life was always destined to be shaped by the darkness of that summer’s evening, then he has used it as a force for good.

At 49, he is now a grandfather and, while he still does not have all the answers he once would have liked, there is neither anger nor upset 35 years on.

The former Denmark midfielder spent the 2002-03 season at Bolton Wanderers 

‘I learned to live with the memory of that day,’ he says. ‘In that situation, I could not do anything. There were two other possibilities — if I had been at home, maybe I could have prevented it, but if not, I could have gone as well, and I wouldn’t be here now.’

The question is delivered with a little apprehension, but did he even give a second’s thought to his cup final?

‘I played,’ he says, unflinching, as if no alternative existed. ‘They did not want me to, but it was the best place for me. My team-mates knew nothing, it had happened 18 hours before. But I had no doubt. We won and I was man of the match, chosen by the manager of Denmark.’

Tofting produces a picture from his autobiography, No Regrets. There it is, Sepp Piontek, boss of the famous Danish Dynamite team of the 1980s, holding aloft the arm of the blond teenager, his prize a pair of Hummel football boots.

This one story, perhaps more than any other, captures the resilience of the boy whose life could have taken a very different path. Instead, the slender teen grew into a barrel-chested and formidable star of the national team, playing at four major tournaments.

Tofting tragically lost both of his parents when he was a 13-year-old aspiring footballer 

‘Football saved me,’ he says. ‘I always had that as a space where nothing could touch me. I went to see a psychologist, but no matter what happened, when I went on the pitch, I was in my own world. I could leave all the bad things outside and I delivered.

‘After training, they did not know if I would go berserk, but there was a good guy at AGF who looked after me, always taking the temperature, and I stayed in control.’

Tofting was raised by his Uncle Erik, his mother’s brother, and joined the family in the house in which we now sit.

‘It does not feel strange to be back,’ says Tofting, who lives here with his girlfriend, her daughter and his son. ‘It has happy memories.’ He made his debut for AGF in 1989 and played for Duisburg and Hamburg in the Bundesliga before joining Sam Allardyce’s Bolton in February 2002.

For nearly 20 years, the story of the murder-suicide remained a secret. Then, on the eve of the 2002 World Cup, a Danish magazine put it on their front page, breaking a code among those who knew of the horror. The editor was sacked.

The Dane says football saved him from being overcome by the tragic end of his parents

‘Everyone knew what happened, but they always wrote that I lost my parents in a tragic accident,’ he says.

‘My wife and I were in Japan and South Korea, our children were at home with grandparents. They were seven, eight and 10, they weren’t old enough to know what had happened. We had to call to get them away from the TV and newspapers. We had no choice but to tell them when we came home.

‘But in a way, it was good that it came out. It will always be there, nothing will change. I have lived with it for a long time now.’ 

‘Jail was nothing compared to losing a child,’ says Tofting. ‘I could do 10 years inside if it meant not losing my son.’

In the spring of 2003, Allardyce allowed the Dane to return home to prepare for a four-month prison sentence following his assault on a restaurant owner.

His wife had just given birth to their fourth child, Jon, and Tofting was at Manchester Airport when she called to say the baby had a fever and was in hospital.

Tofting, pictured with son Markus, lost his other son Jon to meningitis aged just three weeks

Jon had meningitis. On Sunday April 6, aged just three weeks, he died in the arms of his parents. They took Jon’s body home to say goodbye in his nursery, alongside his three siblings. ‘I was broken,’ says Tofting. ‘The worst thing that has happened to me…’ He pauses. But what he says next is not a surprise. It is, you feel, born from the events of July 30, 1983.

‘We were all so sad, but I cannot change what happened. I have tattoos of Jon on my arm, but no matter what I do, I can’t get him back. In life, you have to impact what you can. It takes too much energy worrying about things you cannot change. You look forward.’ 

For all of the sadness, Tofting is good-humoured, even when the conversation turns to prison and the night out with his Denmark team-mates which led to his conviction.

‘We were in Copenhagen celebrating after the World Cup,’ he starts. ‘We were drunk. The manager of the restaurant was staring at me. I went up to him, “Is there anything wrong?”

‘I thought he was going to… how do you say it? Head-bang me? So I head-banged him first. The doormen came and threw me out. Then the chef came on to the street and hit me in the face and ran away. I ran after him and I caught him. It was not good. S*** happens.’

Tofting was nicknamed The Lawnmower during his career, an upshot of covering every blade of grass. ‘So I get to jail and what job do they give me? Mowing the lawn…’ he says. ‘It was good. When it rained I couldn’t work so I sat on the bike or went running, and every night we played football — it was like a training camp!’

Twelve months earlier, Tofting had been part of the Denmark side beaten 3-0 by England in the last 16 of the World Cup.

The footballer leaves a court house after being sentenced to four months in jail for assualt

‘Over by half-time,’ he says. ‘My best memory is swapping shirts with David Beckham.’

With that, Tofting goes into his bedroom and returns with the jersey, signed by the England captain.

Call it instinct, but you feel a need to sniff a match-worn shirt. Tofting’s stare suggests this is not a Danish custom. We move on. 

‘He’s got my shirt, too,’ he says over his shoulder as he replaces the top. ‘I don’t think it’s hanging on his wall.’

Tofting reveals he and Beckham have a mutual friend in Thomas Gravesen, the Danish midfielder who was enforcer for the Galacticos at Real Madrid. He takes us back to 2005 with Gravesen about to leave Everton.

‘Thomas called and asked which club I thought he should join — Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Manchester United…’ explains Tofting.

‘At that time I had one offer — from a club in Sweden! He called two days later and said, “Can you be at Manchester Airport tomorrow? We’re going to Madrid!”

Tofting (L) tussles for the ball with David Beckham during the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup

‘When we landed in the private jet, I stepped out first. Journalists knew there was a Danish player signing, but when they saw me… “What the f***?” I would have loved that, but I don’t think Madrid thought the same.’

Tofting and Gravesen were a boisterous double act, partners in crime on and off the pitch. 

They made headlines before the World Cup in 2002 when a training-ground prank involving Chelsea’s Jesper Gronkjaer left the winger complaining of an injured eye.

‘I had an argument with Jesper and he said, “Okay, come and catch me”,’ begins Tofting. ‘I couldn’t catch him, he was so fast, he knew that. What he didn’t know was that Thomas was stood behind him.

‘I looked at Tommy and, with my eyes, I said, “Take him!”. Then he was down. We got the water and put it in his face and ice cubes down his shorts – he was crying like a little baby.

‘It wasn’t serious, it was fun. But because the press had pictures it made huge news.’ 

Tofting takes issue with the sensationalisation of stories involving him and lists a series of headlines — from association with Hell’s Angels to a traffic dispute which resulted in a fine. ‘It was nothing, a little push,’ he protests.

The 49-year-old retired from football 11 years ago and is now a popular TV pundit

But he smiles when mention is made of the Christmas party after his return to AGF in 2004. ‘The Rumble in the Jungle? One of my team-mates tore my shirt, so we had a fight. There was a clause in my contract that, if I did something to harm the club, they could sack me. So they sacked me.’

Tofting retired three years later and is now a popular TV pundit, but not before he entered the world of celebrity boxing. His first bout against a reality television star lasted eight seconds. ‘He was nothing, my little boy could have knocked him out.’ His second fight, however, featured on the undercard of Evander Holyfield.

‘My opponent was 15 kilos heavier and he used to box,’ says Tofting. ‘I knocked him down in the first round. I should have finished him, I had him. It went four rounds and it was a draw, my perfect record gone! But to get in that ring, it’s terrifying.’

It is a shock to learn Tofting is scared of anything and he includes Allardyce among the few to have intimidated him.

‘My first game against West Ham, we came in at half-time and he was angry,’ he recalls. ‘I remember his hands, twice as big as mine. He punched the tactics board and kicked the bag of balls. He was screaming. I liked it. I was trying not to laugh, I had my mouth inside my shirt. I thought, “Oh f***, if he sees me he’s going to kick my a**”. We won 1-0! I thought, “I’m in the right place here”.’

Tofting’s time at Bolton was cut short by his prison sentence. ‘It was not a good period,’ he says. ‘I had to go to jail, I had lost my son, but Sam helped me. He was honest and honourable.’

The tattoo stretching across his stomach reads ‘NO REGRETS’.

‘Everything I’ve been through has made me the person I am,’ he says. ‘If you do stupid things, you pay your sentence, move on. You make your life the best it can be.’

He has had every reason not to, but Tofting has been true to his own wisdom.

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