How Football Changed My Life

I would like to share with you two stories that have changed my life and my perspective on Football teams and Clubs and their impact on young men and women. The first is my own story of the challenges I have faced and the way in which football clubs, teams and coaches have changed my path. The second is a good friend of mine who I only recently found out has been fighting a battle that most of us would never understand or even think about in our everyday lives and the impact a football club has had on his life.

My story has two main parts, my junior football and then my transition to senior football. I began playing soccer at the age of 6 but would always rather go and watch my brother play AFL and harass mum and dad about when I could start playing. That moment came when I was 8. I joined the under 9’s at Golden Grove Football Club in South Australia and my love of footy began. My first coach was Gerry Griffiths and he would be the greatest influence on my childhood. He was more than a football coach. He taught us about respect for the game, respect for others and that winning was not everything. He was my coach for the next 4 years and showed me that the game of football was not solely about me but rather my teammates and the club itself. He had time for all players no matter their ability and made the game enjoyable win, lose or draw. His attitude towards all players and the club as a whole is the reason why I now coach and am involved at committee level as much as possible. If I can impact half as many children and people in a positive manner as he did I will be a very happy man. This was never more evident than when sadly Gerry lost his battle with cancer in 2016 and at the funeral there were thousands of people from when he coached me in under 9’s now 22 years later to kids he coached until his last day. He was a great man and changed my life in a great way.

In 2004 I was 17 and was deeply in love with the game of football. I played at my local club Narre Warren and also was fortunate enough to be on the list at the Dandenong Stingrays. My life was great. I was completing year 12 and just being a kid who loved his sport. In the middle of the year my family had the heartbreaking news that my mum had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This shocked me and my whole family as she had never had any health issues before. I thought I was strong and could be brave and not let this break me. I lasted 18 hours. The day after I found out I was at school getting ready for Geography class and had 2 minutes alone to think and I broke down. I went home laid in my room and never wanted to leave. Why did this have to happen to my mum? What had she done so wrong? I stayed there for two days and didn’t move. Then came Thursday night. Football training. I told my dad I didn’t want to go as I wanted to be by mum. He made me go which I can never thank him enough for. I arrived at the club and was met with love and support I never knew existed. I was playing under 18s and players from our senior team who I looked up to and aspired to be like took the time to come and speak to me and ask if I was ok. This meant the world to me. Committee members and people from the club I had never spoken to came up and chatted to me as if I was their own son. Football was now my release. For 2 hours every Tuesday night, Thursday night and Saturdays nothing else mattered. I was playing the game I loved with people who supported me even though they never really knew me. And the best part was my mum was there every week with a smile on her face as nothing made her happier than seeing her boys do what they loved. I have no idea what would have happened or what path in life I would have travelled down if it wasn’t for the football club and my teammates. They truly shaped the person I am today.

One of my longest and greatest mates posted on social media a few days ago outlining a battle that he has faced forever and the true impact of this battle. He has had eczema his whole life but it is untreatable. He has seen specialist after specialist with nothing that can fix or even help reduce the effects. I want to share with you his daily routine and the impact of words and football clubs from his own words.

Mornings: They are the second worst time of day for me. So, I am coming off an average of 4 ½ hours’ sleep with only two of them a deep sleep. I wake up to my alarm move my arm to turn it off and it hurts because I am dry and stiff. Then I’m saying to myself, “I haven’t slept I need to stay in bed or I will not be able to function”. So, I set 5 more alarms on my phone and I keep going back to sleep because I’m not going anywhere till I get more sleep!  Eventually I have to get up so I force myself out of bed and notice blood on my pillow, “I’ve scratched in my sleep”.  I then get into the bathroom look in the mirror and say, “nope not a chance I’m going to my customer appointments today”. As my face is scaly and dry, I proceed into the shower to help wake myself up with a “warm shower” (not hot because that will dry your skin out). So many little tricks with eczema it’s a joke. I then get out of the shower, pat myself dry, start lathering the moisturiser all over me, and I’m telling you, it’s like having a beer at the end of a hard week on the tools! REFRESHING!  But, after I’ve put the moisturiser on I am still red! I still look like I’ve been in the sun all day with no sunscreen on. I still put my work clothes on, get myself out the door, in the car and I’m on the way to work. Now think about how I am feeling. I’ve had to force myself to leave the house not liking the way look, I still don’t feel good about myself, but I have to do it, it’s my life.

Working hours 8-5: I’ve pulled up to work remembering that I’m still feeling horrible because I’m red, I’ve had no sleep and I’m in pain when I move. I am looking at the entrance to the office where I work, with such lovely people there, and once again I force myself into work and get underway! Although I feel somewhat comfortable around them when my skin is bad, I still don’t want anyone to see me like this. I know they only ask questions because they really do care about me.

I am an account/sales manager at Viatek and I love my job. I really think it’s one of the best jobs you can do. One of my roles is to go visit my current customers to make sure our equipment is meeting their needs and also have a chat about their personal life. I do this as you can learn a lot about life through other people’s experiences! To do this in my job, what I’m about to share with you makes this extremely difficult, I will use an example that happen to me recently.

I am in the office doing some paperwork and making appointments with my customers over the phone and its coming up to lunch time and I am saying to myself “don’t go down the street you’re red and people will notice and probably say something”. I force myself down the street with my sunnies on, walking through the town straight to the bakery where I wanted a roast pork and gravy roll. I get in there and take my sunnies off and place my order with the lovely lady working and then I move to the side to wait for her to make it. There is currently 5 other people getting something for lunch and 3 ladies working. I am standing there checking my phone when I hear “if we run out of tomato’s we can just cut you up”.

Now I knew this was directed at me and I was acting like I didn’t hear it. I then made eye contact with her and I replied with, “pardon?” She then repeated it out loud so that everyone in the shop could hear it, “if we run out of tomato’s we can just cut you up”. I was that embarrassed I just smiled said, “I have a skin condition.” I took my lunch and walked out. She didn’t have time to say sorry as her jaw hit the ground. I go back to the office cancel an afternoon appointment, because I couldn’t handle anymore that day! I finished the day planning appointments for the next day.

Evenings: The best time! I’ve finished work and I am going to footy training down at Casey Fields where I am the forward line coach of the VFL women’s side and one of the assistants of the VFL men’s side! This is where nothing else matters in the world, it’s at least two hours of my day where I’m confident and my appearance doesn’t matter! I really, really think if I didn’t have footy in my life I wouldn’t be here today, that’s how much I love and respect the game and the people involved. But, footy finishes and I’m hot, sticky and agitated. I get home and have a cool shower to try cool down and hop in bed. This is when my mind ticks over about what happened during the day, I can deal with work problems, relationship problems, footy problems but I can’t fix my skin problem, it’s there and its staying. So, I toss and turn, I get up 3 or 4 times a night, I go outside and sit down and this whole time I am thinking why am I doing this? This is too hard! I’m so tired! I’ve played thunderstorm sounds on my phone, I’ve played ocean sounds, and I’ve watched 3 episodes of Mike Sheehan interviewing ex-AFL players for the fourth time that week. I’m falling asleep, I wake up in half an hour and my mind is still thinking all these bad thoughts!! Eventually I am that wrecked even my brain can’t think anymore and I’ll get at least 2 hours of deep sleep.

This happens pretty much every day.

This man is the happiest, joyful and genuinely a great guy to be around all the time. He has fought these internal battles daily his whole life and you would never know if you spent time with him. As he said in his post “I really, really think if I didn’t have footy in my life I wouldn’t be here today”. This is the impact a football club has on one man. The people, the atmosphere and the comradery can truly save and change lives forever.

If you can take two things from this blog may they be Think Before You Say as you never know what people are going through and Football clubs can be the strongest support network and can possibly change or even save you or your child’s life in a positive manner.