Thursday, 29 October 2015

A FOOTBALL PUNDETTE EXCLUSIVE






A lot of people think footballers are untouchable. Most tend to think they are ridiculously overpaid, self-absorbed and out of touch with reality. They live in a world with a fantasy lifestyle that us mere mortals just simply can’t relate to.



That was until recently, when a footballer’s cry for help struck a chord for me so deep, it evoked painful and difficult memories that I’d struggled to battle through and tried so desperately yet so impossibly to forget. It’s a curious world we live in where said footballer’s activities hitting the headlines made me realise just how lucky I am – and how unfortunate I’d been in the past.



I could never have thought I’d ever have anything in common with Jake Livermore. We are both English – and that’s where any common ground normally ends. He earns his wage playing football for Championship side Hull City. I pay my bills through an administration role and writing. He’s seven years my junior. Frankly, we couldn’t be any more different.



That was until the midfielder hit the headlines in August. After testing positive for cocaine in May and being suspended from his duties pending an FA investigation, the revelation that Livermore and his partner lost their new born baby in May last year gave the FA a moral decision to make. The 25 year old said he turned to the substance after spiralling into depression following their loss. The FA deemed the situation ‘extenuating and exceptional circumstances’ and offered the footballer a reprieve.



Most of the reaction to this has been sensitive, considered and respectful. But there is always a minority who mock and sit in judgement.



‘He was out snorting cocaine while his poor missus mourned their loss.’



‘Losing a baby is no excuse to go taking drugs as a way of coping.’



It’s the easiest thing in the world to sit behind a keyboard and pass judgement: tapping out 140 characters of bile with no respect or compassion for the feelings of the person concerned. It’s much more difficult to try and understand, to empathise and to relate. Losing a baby is one of the hardest situations anybody can go through. There are other despicable things that can happen and I don’t want to take away from that. But it takes two to make a baby, so both parties should be expected to mourn. Just because Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus doesn’t mean the woman should be the only inconsolable party, the only one grieving.



I can relate to Jake Livermore because I’ve been through it. I’ve lost a baby and I’ve grieved. I’ve searched for answers and struggled to make sense of it. When it happens, you are simply left to deal with it. There are no manuals, no after care, nothing. All your hopes, dreams and plans for parenthood are left in tatters and you are left to somehow pick up the pieces and move on with life.



It just doesn’t happen like it. I have told the story behind my miscarriage here, so I won’t go into the details of when and where it happened. But I’ve never spoke in depth about just how much an affect it had on my life and on our life as a couple. This is why the Livermore case struck such a chord with me. It was too familiar – too close to home.



My initial reaction was a feeling of complete numbness. Although it was early days at seven weeks, probably nothing compared to the pain Jake and his partner must’ve gone through after actually meeting their son, Jake Junior who passed at birth, we had discussed names and become excited at the family life that lay ahead. We had embraced the prospect of being parents – and that had suddenly been taken away from us in a matter of minutes.



Looking back, the initial aftermath was a blur. I went to the doctors and asked for help; not really knowing what the standard protocol was in these situations. Is there a typical way of coping with losing a baby? Ah yes, silly me. Of course there is. The doctor prescribed me Citilopram and sent me on my way.



It wasn’t really explained to me what the tablets were about, what the possible side effects were and the potential change they’d make to my life. I didn’t know they were anti depressants. In hindsight I was probably na├»ve, thinking I could rely on a doctor to turn my monochrome world back into colour again. Like a little girl, I looked at the GP as a fairy with a magic wand, who could take my pain away and bring the light back into my life. Was I depressed? I didn’t feel depressed as in having suicidal thoughts, I just felt like somebody had turned the lights out in my world. All the life had evaporated from me. Is that what depression feels like? I had no idea what to do with myself.



I wasn’t ready to discuss it with him. He had been amazing during the incident and my time in hospital in Antigua, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t know what to say, I don’t think he did, so we couldn’t and didn’t take comfort in one another. It remained a taboo subject, one that was never to be talked about and that proved detrimental. Instead, we attempted to move on with our lives as best we could. Back to work, back to the future, minus our baby. Minus the future.



When Jake Livermore turned to cocaine, it was clearly an attempt to block out the monumental pain and loss that he had suffered. Nobody has the right to say he was selfish. Nobody has the right to act self-righteous and dictate what the right or wrong way to react in that situation is. There is no right or wrong. There is nothing. There is pain, inconsolable and isolating heartbreak and torrential devastation. A loss so severe it turns your world upside down; destroys the status quo. How do you suggest anyone copes with that?



Now tell me the death of a child is merely an ‘excuse’ to take drugs. Explain to me how best to deal with that level of pain. Of torture. People react differently to grief and should be allowed to do so free from judgement. When you’re at your lowest ebb, it’s anything to help ease the agony and anguish.



Our loss was profound to the interaction we had with each other. He also went to the doctor and, surprise surprise, was also given Citalopram. With both of us on anti depressants, skirting conversations about our loss and coming home from work to our apartment together tinged with awkwardness, my sense of loss was unbearable. I couldn’t cope. My heart had been set on our baby, a new life, an amazing blessing to anybody’s lives.



I didn’t sit and weep constantly. We just gradually started to drink more. Neither of us had read the small print on the box of tablets that warned against the consumption of alcohol with the pills, so we didn’t know the side effects. Hostility, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of sex live, mood or behaviour changes. They soon became apparent.



The arguments and fighting occurred normally after I’d had a bottle of wine and he had a few pints. Or wine. Sometimes it would turn physical (on my part), most of the time it was aggressively verbal. At first, we would kiss and make up the morning after, but as it became regular, I think we just accepted it as the new norm in our relationship. Drinking wasn’t just reserved for the weekends- it was a midweek thing now. It was a way of coping: the only way I knew how.



People would ask when we would be trying again to conceive. That was another taboo subject. Anything to do with children was. Our sex life was almost non-existent: I’m sure paranoia on his part in case I fell pregnant. The loss had started to change my personality: I became bitter, resentful and probably deeply unlikeable. Only at the time I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I was in too deep: the mixture of alcohol and tablets proved to be my release. The two combined became my coping mechanism. My life was over as I knew it: the cocktail of drugs and wine or vodka made me feel alive again.



Certain personal relationships deteriorated beyond recognition: I’m not sure if people knew just how bad it got, if they understood what was going on or whether they just thought I’d had a personality transplant. I really tried to put on a front, a mask if you like. But it was so hard. Marriage and babies surrounded me and I felt like I was drowning. I knew nothing was right anymore. I just didn’t know what to do about it. So if I wasn’t as close to you if you had a baby during that time, don’t take it personally. Try to understand. I just lived in a zombie-esque trance. For it wasn’t life anymore, it was a mere existence.



We got engaged in June 2011. Looking back at the photographs from that night it was there for all to see: we were both drunk therefore we were both happy. Let’s put a ring on it. No plans were ever really made for a wedding. We bought pet chameleons- again an attempt to fill the drastic void left by our loss. Although they brought colour and fun into our lives, an animal can never truly be a substitute for a child. Particularly when the animal dies…



I thought about going elsewhere for sex. My high drive hadn’t been affected and I was in an impotent relationship with no sign of that improving: one night he caught me drunk texting an old flame from university. He retaliated but neither one of us would’ve actually done anything about it. As twisted as things had become, deep down we knew we still loved each other too much. I was tempted, but that’s as far as it went. We remained loyal and, as far as I’m aware, in love.



That was, until things reached breaking point for us over Christmas 2011: I’d had a deeply regrettable violent encounter with an individual whilst under the influence of my reliable drink and drug concoction and enough was enough. He told me he didn’t love me anymore- those words jolted me more than anything ever had since our loss. He was all I knew, my world: although we brought out the worst in each other, I still believed we were unbreakable. I was wrong. That was rock bottom. Dad invited me to stay with him for a couple of weeks in the Far East- and it was the best thing I ever did.



The two weeks in Hong Kong, China and Bangkok did me the world of good. It transformed my life. The break switched the light back on, illuminated my world and made my life technicolour again. I saw wonderful sights, spent precious time with my Dad and had a lot of time to myself, with myself. I think the time away brought a lot of clarity for me: I stopped taking the tablets, I didn’t think about them whatsoever. I was too distracted by my surroundings. I did have one night in Hong Kong where I drank a copious amount of vodka and met an adorable man from New York. Say no more (well, we were on a break). After 18 months of anarchy and destruction, I’d found an inner serenity I didn’t know existed. I’d finally come to terms with our loss- it was time to try and move on in earnest.



I think looking back we would both admit the relationship should’ve ended there. But it didn’t: he met me at the airport; we resolved our differences and both agreed to put the tablets and the past behind us. For a long time it worked; we even went on holiday to the Far East together for Christmas and New Year, going to the places I’d visited during my stay earlier that year, places that aided me so much in my recovery.



But it wasn’t to be. A drunken argument on his part in front of my family (and at New Year his) brought back painful memories, yet we still continued in the pursuit of happiness. I knew it wasn’t right, my friends attempted to scream sense into me, but I am a hopeless romantic who was blinded by insecurity, love and loyalty. Ultimately, it wasn’t my choice. We had spent five years together, 18 months of which before I fell pregnant were incredibly happy times, but he ended it in January 2014.



A week later I found out I was pregnant.



Fast forward almost two years and I am blessed to have a beautiful and healthy one year old son, Vincent. He makes me forever proud and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel fortunate to have him in my life. I’m also privileged to have met the most selfless, wonderful man, Adam. Together, they both make me strive to be the best person I can possibly be, to live every day looking on the brightest side with nothing but gratitude. 



I could never have imagined I’d be where I am right now: I’ve never been so optimistic about the future and I can’t wait to spent my life with my two men – and add to our little family one day. I am lucky to be surrounded by love and happiness and that’s something I will never take for granted. I wish Chris nothing but contentment and good health: he was a big chapter in my life but that is over now and it’s time to look to the future in earnest.



I pinch myself daily: although I will never forget about the angel I have over my shoulder, I know that Vincent is never alone at play time. I see him smiling and giggling into thin air, I know who’s with him. It’s not just me.



I’m glad that life does go on. The memories are never forgotten, but time does work wonders as a healer. You develop coping mechanisms. Without Vincent I would feel like something is missing: I feel like my calling in life has always been to be a mother- and a wife. Most of us girls do dream of our picture perfect ending- but realise that life isn’t always how Disney portrays it. 



After being suspended pending an investigation, Jake is back playing football for Hull City- he’s had a second chance and is grasping it with both hands. There are struggles, pain and loss. There’s no harm in admitting that and you’re not defined by how you deal with that. Sometimes to have a second chance at it, another shot, is more than you can ever dream of.



Life is not a fairytale – but we are always capable of finding our Happy Ever After.

Monday, 19 October 2015

King of the Kippax & Football Pundette Presents...



I originally started writing for the popular Manchester City fanzine 'King of the Kippax' when I was at high school, back in 1997. I became a regular writer for Dave and Sue but had to give it up in 2010 when I was working at the club. This is my first article for them for five years- and I'm delighted and honoured to be back.





The last time I contributed to King of the Kippax it was August 2010: I’d graduated from university, was working for City and was living with my boyfriend of two years. Life had gone pretty crazy; almost like I’d been strapped to a rocket and blasted into the stratosphere. At the time I was just holding on and trying to enjoy the ride. Sadly, because of my job at the time, I’d been told I couldn’t continue writing for the fanzine that was so close to my heart. I was gutted. It’s always been an institution for City fans- and a part of my life since my first piece was published by Dave and Sue back in 1997 (the article was an exclusive interview with Nicky Weaver, by the way).



Things were taking off for City too five years ago. The club had just parted ways with Martin Petrov, Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy and welcomed Yaya Toure, David Silva and Mario Balotelli into the fold. Times were changing: under the guidance of Roberto Mancini, the club were building a squad to challenge on all fronts for major honours after the takeover of 2008 and had just qualified for the Europa League. It was an exciting time. The anticipation and optimism levels were high. Nobody really knew what to expect- or what we were capable of.



Here we are, five years later, and so much has changed: the job, the apartment and the boyfriend. The career-driven mindset hasn’t disappeared entirely, but it’s been replaced with a very maternal outlook. For now I am a Mama to a one year old called Vincent (of course he is named after him!). He is the ever-lasting product of a now-redundant five year relationship I was in. I have since met a new suitor- adorned in blue of course- and eight months later all is very well. Sports journalism is now more of a hobby than career, but never say never. I now work part time in administration and I have to say, have never been happier with the way life is.



It’s strange to think that back when I submitted my last piece to Dave and Sue, Blackburn, Birmingham and Bolton were in the Premier League. An earthquake in Haiti left 230,000 dead. 33 miners were trapped in San Jose 700 metres under the earth. Wayne Rooney was crowned PFA Player of the Year. Wills popped the question and put a finger on it with Kate. Joe Hart made the PFA Team of the Year playing at Birmingham City. The World Cup in South Africa began with an octopus calling the shots, continued with a soundtrack of vuvuzelas and ended with Spain holding aloft the golden trophy. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that Chelsea were reigning Champions. Although perhaps for how much longer I’m not quite sure…



You don’t need a lesson in history to be reminded of just how much City have achieved in those five years. The FA Cup win in 2011 that got the ball rolling, the iconic Aguero moment just a year later that clinched our first Premier League trophy and the 2012-13 season when Manuel Pellegrini won the double. For the vast majority of those five years have been a football fairytale brought to life, making City fans’ dreams come true in blue. We’ve seen things we never thought we’d see at our club; we’ve come so far I barely recognise who we were – but I’ll always be grateful, that’s for sure.



The club as a whole have made huge strides both on and off the pitch. Carrington has gone and has been replaced with the City Football Academy, linked to the Etihad Campus by a huge footbridge. The Academy Stadium is home to both the Elite Development Squad games and City’s Women (who it was widely reported five years ago, were City Ladies and struggling financially, with their begging emails to City going unnoticed. How that’s changed…). Rumour has it the site that ASDA is on has been bought and plans are afoot to develop further there. The City franchise has gone worldwide, with New York City FC and Melbourne City, with more plans to expand into the highly lucrative Asian market. Imagine all this five years ago? Not a chance!



But sometimes it’s a case of careful what you wish for. City fans never seem to be happy. Some of the conversations I hear at the Etihad are mind-numbingly stupid, laughable or mind-boggling. Moaning about the current crop of players that we have, about the influx of new supporters to the Etihad, Pellegrini’s tactics, the weather…no matter what the success, the moaning will never change. It will always be there. Latest scapegoats include Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri, Aleksandar Kolarov (okay, he’s been one for a while!) and Jesus Navas (see Kolarov).



It certainly makes for interesting listening, but it’s such a worthy argument. You can have the key spine of players like City have: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero. But you need the right players around that spine to compliment and conquer. A famous voice and close friend once said to me: look at the starting 11. If you think you could replace that player was one that would only benefit the club, than the player isn’t good enough and needs to be sold. Is it that cutthroat? Or is it unrealistic to have a team filled with such first class quality across the board? Like a Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds album; you know the standard that you’re dealing with, but you also expect a couple of mediocre fillers along the way to bulk it out (sorry Noel!).



Take Wilfried Bony for example. He scored 25 goals for Swansea during the 2013-14 season. That’s up there with the figures for the Premier League Golden Boot. Granted he’s had injuries problems at City and Aguero to contend with, but during the Juventus game he looked noticeably inferior to the majority of the standard of the players competing that night. It was a debate that illuminated South Stand Block 117 that evening: Bony or Edin Dzeko? ‘Oh Dzeko’s such a lazy bastard.’ ‘Bony needs time, he’ll come good, just you wait and see. Technically he’s better.’ The debate raged on for approximately 20 minutes, before the fans in question picked their next target.



‘Jesus Navas, oh Jesus wept why is he bringing him on? Why? He can’t cross a box on a questionnaire, never mind a ball!’ Incidentally, Pellegrini opted to bring Aguero on instead of Navas. Nasri didn’t escape the tyrannous wrath of the clearly enraged Blue. ‘Samir, he’s such a moody bastard. He only performs when he can be arsed. We need to sell him; we need to hope that Wenger will buy him back. He offers nothing in midfield: it’s like playing with 10 men when he’s on the pitch.’



At this point, a female voice chipped in. ‘Look, I’ve listened to you guys rattle on now about players who wear the blue shirt and who you think aren’t good enough for long enough now. We are here at a Champions League match. The Champions League! And all you guys can do is stand here and bitch about the players who we need on our side. Do you realise how far we’ve come? Just be grateful of the occasion and never take that for granted, let alone the standard of the players we have now compared to where we’ve come from.’



I smiled to myself. Whoever that woman was, I liked her. There will always be bitching, frustration, a difference of opinion, strong mindsets and players coming and going. We’ve just got to hope that the players who do come give it their best shot towards winning the silverware for us (think Balotelli: an enigma, a Marmite player but he only had one assist for City…). Yes Dzeko had his moments. He could be lazy; he wanted the ball at his feet with impeccable service, but look at the goals he scored for us. Look at his overall contribution and just be grateful he was part of the story. Sometimes there’s isn’t room for sentiment: I was the first person to say that towards Yaya Toure when he looked set to leave at the end of last season. But there is only one Yaya: and again the part he has played in City’s legacy moving forward is simply unequivocal. His goals. His presence. His marauding, blistering runs that always leave him knackered but often result in a goal. When he leaves, City can always buy another midfielder and the number 42 shirt will be worn again. But the memories will live on forever.



Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes we’ve got to be thankful for the memories we’ve created along the way, live in the present moment and remember to enjoy ourselves before it passes us by. You’ll never live another day like today again. You’ve no idea what will happen tomorrow. But we’ve just got to roll with it and embrace the future with a hearty optimism. Sometimes we think we’ve had the best times but they’re waiting for us round the corner. That’s how it’s always been with City: every season, every game, every player. They break our heart, they make us cry with joy and our moods are forever dictated by their results every weekend. But no matter what happens, they’re always there for us.



Life changes: those five years have flown by for me and my life now is barely recognisable. But the one consistency has always been City. The blood that circulates through our veins, that rules our life. That influences the name I gave to my son. That brings together new relationships, binds together old friendships and harmonises marriages. It’s all we know, it’s all we’ll ever know. Some things never change: despite the success, City will forever be our common denominator. It’s good to be back!



Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily