Wishing I was anywhere else
Walking onto the ABC set in Melbourne, I remember wishing that I could be anywhere else in the world.
I’d just lost a really good friend and I wasn’t in the right headspace to be doing a TV interview. All I wanted was to lock myself away in my room and be alone with that grief.
But I was booked to promote the start of the 2017-18 A-League season, so I turned up. That was my job.
I sat down on the couch, across from the sports presenter Georgie Tunny, and tried to calm myself before the interview began. I could feel the heat of the lights and the cameras on me.
Then we were live.
Georgie asked the first question, which was something about the Grand Final rematch against Sydney FC in round one; a simple question.
And I froze.
I had to get out. So, I stood up and walked off set.
From that moment, I had countless people contacting me to check that I was alright. I think 140 people sent me messages on social media, offering their support. A lot of those messages were from people I didn’t even know. That meant a lot to me.
What made dealing with the whole thing more difficult was that it was so public – on national television.
There were a lot of jokes going around, and people laughing at me online as well. It made me angry at the time because those people didn’t know the full story. And if they did, they might have stayed quiet. At least that’s what I’d like to think.
Because the truth is, it was actually the third time in just a few years that I’d had to deal with the death of someone that I was close to. Each loss had taken its toll and without me realising, had worn me down.
And when I look back, the signs were there.
I don’t want this to come across as a sob story because I’ve dealt with this stuff and I’m stronger than ever now. I’m back playing football and doing plenty of media work again, which I love.
I just want to share what I’ve been through. And how I’ve overcome it.
MOST BLOKES WOULD HAVE RUN AWAY
I was a Manly United junior in Sydney, but my football career really started in the UK, with a club called Rotherham United.
I was born in England, so moving to the other side of the world when I was 16 wasn’t all that intimidating. If anything, it just meant I would be closer to my grandparents.
Rotherham sorted out accommodation for me and I served a proper English football apprenticeship. It was an incredible experience but after two years, the club didn’t have a pro contract for me.
It should have all ended there really, but I didn’t give up. I went to Sweden to play a season for a semi-pro team called Unik FK, which was based in Uppsala. And when I returned to England, I was offered a full-time contract with a club in the Conference North, Stalybridge Celtic.
It wasn’t big money and it wasn’t in the football league, but it was something.
My grandparents lived nearby, in Rochdale, so I moved in with them to make it work financially. But aside from being able to focus on my football career, I’m glad I got to share those couple of years with them.
My grandad was like a father to me while I was in the UK. He lived for my football and never missed a game, driving me all over the country.
He was my biggest supporter. Except for when I sat in his favourite chair! That would always earn me a clip over the ear.
I probably never told him, but I really looked up to grandad because he was one of the strongest people I knew. He never complained once, no matter how tough it got for him caring for a wife with multiple sclerosis.
Nanna was diagnosed before they got married and although most blokes would have run away, my grandad stuck by her side for 50 years. I think that says everything about his character.
If you don’t already know, MS is a terrible condition that effects the nervous system. It has kept nanna in a wheelchair for most of her life and means she can’t really look after herself. Grandad was her primary carer.
Seeing how he looked after nanna taught me a lot about the true meaning of love and loyalty.
Most blokes would have run away, but my grandad stuck by nanna’s side for 50 years. I think that says everything about his character.
But grandad’s health wasn’t great either. He was suffering from chronic pain while I lived with them and he had a lot of stomach problems as well. But like many men from his generation, he just tried to tough it out.
Eventually the pain got too much, and he went to see the doctor, who diagnosed him with liver cancer.
Grandad deteriorated really quickly after that and within a few weeks he was gone.
Living in that house, the loss hit me really hard. He was someone that couldn’t be replaced.
But what made it really difficult was seeing the effect it had on nanna. Her whole life was flipped on its head. All of a sudden there was no one to take care of her.
My uncle Brad held everyone together. He always found a way to cheer everyone up and make us remember the good times.
We couldn’t have got through that period without him.
WHY I REFUSED TO GIVE UP
It wasn’t long after grandad passed, that I got some bad news from back home.
My oldest friend had died in a motorbike accident in North Sydney, while riding to work one morning. His name was Nathan Kinny and he was my best mate.
Hearing about his death really rocked me because he had been a huge inspiration in my life, ever since we met on my first day of school in Australia when I was ten.
From the start, he was this larger-than-life Steve Irwin character who took me under his wing.
I remember we were out walking the dog one day and he found a green python up a tree. I bet him $10 that he wouldn’t touch it, but without a second thought he went straight up to that snake and gave it a pat on the back.
I don’t know whether he knew it wasn’t poisonous or not, he just loved an adventure.
I even let him take my sister to his year 12 formal, although I wasn’t completely happy about it!
And when we used to play sport, he had this never-say-die attitude. It rubbed off on me I think. It definitely helped when I was in England, dealing with a lot of setbacks.
He was that one friend you could always call, and he would cheer you up!
I could have come home after Rotherham, but I decided to graft it out in the lower divisions.
Then after Nathan passed, I was at a club called Cambridge United and I worked my way up to League 2, only to be loaned out to non-league clubs again. I still didn’t give up on football. I stuck it out, because that’s what Nathan would have done.
I still think of him and my grandfather before every game.
Nathan will always be my best mate and, in a way, his legacy lives on. He signed up as an organ donor not long before he passed, and I know that final gift has helped many people. It says everything about the kind of bloke he was.