Football

The person I owe everything

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The person I owe everything

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To understand me – what’s important to me, what drives me, what defines me – you have to understand my Mum, Carol.

 

When I was 10, Mum and Dad divorced. They obviously had issues. But I don’t see myself as having come from a broken home.

 

Not when you get as much family support as I had. You won’t believe my family, when I tell you about them. They have all helped shape me as a person.

 

I grew up in western Sydney, at Plumpton. Dad paid child support, but Mum took responsibility for my sister and I and she was working fulltime to support us. She was always the leader of the house. Money was tight. I’m sure there were some tough times, but Mum didn’t let on much. She didn’t want her kids to worry. The biggest worry for me was making sure I did my homework.

 

 

 

THE LIFE LESSONS OF A SINGLE MUM

I watched Mum run our household as a kid but it wasn’t until years later I realised all the life lessons she was teaching me in the process. Mum would only let my sister and I get a $1 chocolate that was on special on a Friday. We’d eat home-cooked meals and on the weekend we could have a bit of take-away. It was just Mum being disciplined, because she could only afford so much, being a single mother.

 

My sister’s school fees, my school fees, my $1000-a-year or more soccer fees – Mum was always paying these things off in instalments because she could never afford to do it all at once and that taught us to be smart with our money when we became adults and not take things for granted.

 

Money was tight. I’m sure there were some tough times, but Mum didn’t let on much. She didn’t want her kids to worry. The biggest worry for me was making sure I did my homework.

 

My older sister, Megan, and me stayed mostly with Mum and with Dad on the odd weekend here and there, but the older we got the more say we had in what we wanted to do. We were just kids and we wanted our parents to get back together, so when Dad was eventually seeing someone else and we went around to his place to stay, it just felt uncomfortable. I didn’t enjoy it.

 

The older we got, the more we understood. It took Mum a while longer before she was ready to see someone else, but even though that was uncomfortable at first as well, we knew she deserved to have the company of someone and be happy in her life too.

 

Mum has always been so good to me, always opening up the house to my friends and making them feel so welcome. A lot of them I’d grown up with playing football or going to Westfields Sports High together. Bernie Ibini, Anthony Caceres, Nick Fitzgerald, Kieren Paull and Alex Mansueto are among them. We’ll always be great mates.

 

We’d use our house as a base when we were going for a night out and Mum would let them all come back and stay. There were times when we’d have too much to drink, but we’d always look after each other when we were out. If we were sleeping it off in the morning, Mum would come in and open the windows to get the fresh air circling.

 

 

THE STRANGE PATH TO FOOTBALL

I played so many sports as a kid but, in the end, it came down to a decision between tennis and football.

 

I was a sore loser at tennis. I was still mentally raw at that age and it was easy to spit the dummy and break racquets and get grounded by my Mother. Racquets were expensive and Mum would storm off when I smashed one.

 

Then there was football. I didn’t start off as a goalkeeper. I was a striker and me and my mate from next door, Adam Jenner, used to destroy the opposition as kids in the local team, playing together up front. We scored a lot of goals and I don’t remember if we ever lost a game.

 

Adam’s Dad was massively into soccer. He was always out training Adam and his brothers. They were playing for Marconi juniors and halfway through one season they needed a goalkeeper. I used to go to training with them sometimes and the coach asked me if I wanted to have a crack at it.

 

I had no experience at being a goalkeeper at all, but they threw me in at training and I started throwing myself around, doing my best to stop the shots, and a couple of days later, boom, the coach said I was in the team if I wanted to play ‘keeper.

 

I was a sore loser at tennis. I was still mentally raw at that age and it was easy to spit the dummy and break racquets and get grounded by my Mother. Racquets were expensive and Mum would storm off when I smashed one.

 

I jumped in goal and that’s where it all started. I was 10. I did have one more year out on the field later, as a defender at Blacktown City, but after that I went back in to goal and stuck with it for good.

 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. At one stage Blacktown weren’t looking to re-sign me. People were saying I wasn’t tall enough, not good enough, I wasn’t making State teams, guys bigger than me were getting in, so you start questioning yourself.

 

But the constant theme back then from John Crawley, a great goalkeeping coach I first met at Blacktown City and who I’ve been lucky to have in my life for so long, and my Mum was to control the things you can control.

 

I can still remember what they would say: ‘Do you want to be the best now or the best in five years from now? Work towards that.

 

Work on your strength, your ability, your physicality, your speed. Be the best footballer you can be and hopefully everything you want will come to fruition.’

 

All those little battle scars that came from being rejected by teams helped me to mature and learn things aren’t handed to you on a platter. If you want them you have to go out and work for them. Being the man in the house from an early age forced me to mature and grow up a lot quicker as well and that has helped me on the pitch, having that work-hard mentality and trying to be mentally strong and push through bad times.

 

 

 

LIFE IN A CARAVAN

The whole family – Mum, my aunties and uncles – decided to invest in a caravan with an annexe attached to it up at Soldiers Beach, Norah Head, one of those holiday destinations on the Central Coast. We used it every opportunity in school holidays and mainly Christmas holidays. We would spend Christmas Day at home and then head up there until about January 20 before going back to get ready for school and, in my case, start football training as well.

 

We had about 30 family members trying to fit into this area, with sofa beds and bunk beds. My grandparents would be in the double bed in the caravan, some kids in bunk beds, lounges in the annexe with three or four more kids and an aunty and uncle there. Plus, we’d pitch massive tents around the caravan, with sleeping bags to fit another 10 or 15 people.

 

It would be chock-a-block around Christmas holidays, but we loved each other’s company. We’d have BBQs in the morning, fish and chips at night and make new friends from the other people staying at the caravan park.

 

When I joined Central Coast Mariners, I lived in that caravan with one of my teammates, Bernie Ibini, who’d become a close mate from our time together at Blacktown City.

 

Bernie and I signed on youth contracts, so we obviously weren’t getting much money. We thought instead of getting an apartment we’d use the caravan as a residence. It had everything we needed, a kitchen, BBQ, beds. The toilet amenities block was about 100 metres away, but that didn’t matter. It was a great place and that’s where Bernie and I learned how to fend for ourselves.

 

We stayed there the whole time until I headed over to Belgium four years later, when I’d just turned 21. The quality of the caravan wasn’t top-class, it was getting a bit old by then, but the location was beautiful. We had a little flat-screen TV in there, we had our PlayStation, nice beds, we’d cook up our chickens and vegetables . . . It was the life. What else does an 18, 19, 20-year-old bloke need?

 

Being the man in the house from an early age forced me to mature and grow up a lot quicker as well and that has helped me on the pitch, having that work-hard mentality and trying to be mentally strong and push through bad times.

 

‘Vuka’ (Danny Vukovic) leaving the Mariners gave me my chance in the top team there. It was a magnificent development period for me, playing under ‘Arnie’ (coach Graham Arnold). The Mariners were always near the top of the table and in my very last A-League game for the club we won the 2013 Grand Final.

 

My stay at the club set me up to attract opportunities overseas and when Club Brugge came calling I was on my way, but I remember the rude shock I got when I first moved to Europe. My friends and family weren’t just a drive away anymore. Even at the Mariners I had the option of driving home to Sydney when we had a day or two off.

 

 

GIVING BACK

I know my Mum would do anything for me. Everyone in my family looks out for each other. This is why family is so important to me and now that I’m financially secure I can support Mum a bit more. I wanted to do something for her in return and she’s over in England with me now, having the trip of her life.

 

She quit her job and came over with Megan to link up with me after the Confederations Cup. I met them at Wimbledon on July 3.

 

I’m friends with Kim Clijsters from when I was playing in Belgium and she got us tickets. I loved the US when I went there last year and wanted to discover more of that, so we went to Chicago and then on to New York. Jimmy Troisi and Tim Cahill were there at the time.

 

 

After that we went to Croatia where I could recharge the batteries before getting to Brighton and meeting all the challenges the Premier League was going to bring. Mum and Megan went to Malta and Scotland together and Mum did a tour of Italy while I was doing pre-season training. Megan has gone back home, but Mum’s here for a while longer. She’s been coming to the Brighton games, of course.

 

You only get one crack at this beautiful life and Mum didn’t have anything holding her back in Australia. She has developed a love for exploring the world now. I love having her here. Mum and Megan had been over to Europe to visit me in the past, but only while I was playing. This time, we got the chance to get away and do a few things together.

 

It’s probably the first time I’ve spent a lot of time with my sister where we haven’t had a fight, like brothers and sisters do when you’re growing up. Whether that’s just us maturing or me having been overseas for so long, I don’t know. This is my fifth year away now and we’ve stopped picking on each other.

 

The time the three of us have spent together is very special to me. I’ll cherish it forever.

 

Maty Ryan  -  Founding Contributor

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