“It’s why you hear stories of footballers struggling with depression”: Former Scotland international discusses life after football

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The eyes of a crowd of 72,000, and millions at home, watched a 30-year-old step up and take a play-off final penalty, which could help send his boyhood club into the Premier League for the first time in 16 years. Paul Devlin subsequently scored his penalty 16 years ago, giving his name somewhat heroic status in the city of Birmingham.

Devlin considers himself as a “late bloomer” in the world of football, with his first professional contract being signed at the age of 19 and his first international cap coming at the age of 30. After a career spanning 17 years, the 45-year-old admitted retirement was a difficult period in his life.

“It’s really daunting to go out into the big wide world and try and earn yourself a few quid after football.

“The more footballers you speak to the more you’ll hear about how they’re advised badly through agent fees and financial advisers, and they’ve lost a lot of money. That’s why I think you hear a lot of stories about ex-players struggling with depression and finding themselves in dark places because they can’t handle it.”

Coaching

Despite the initial struggles, Devlin now finds himself settled down as an established football coach in the West Midlands, teaching children the enjoyment of being involved in football.

Devlin asserted his belief that the main reason he continues coaching is to make sure children of all backgrounds in the West Midlands are doing something they enjoy.

“I get kids of all different abilities, and as it’s just weekly coaching I’m not looking for the best eleven players every week,” he asserts. “So, a lad that’s not good enough to get into a team will enjoy it as much as he would’ve had going to an academy so it’s great to see them running around.

“At the end of the day, if they don’t enjoy it they’re never going to want to progress through their footballing life, so it’s a first step into their footballing pathway.”

Difficulties and Regrets

However, it hasn’t been a free-flowing retirement for Devlin after his playing career came to an end in 2008. A lack of qualifications outside of football alongside the financial crash that occurred just after his retirement, meant he found it difficult to find something to occupy himself with.

“I’ve always had the plan to do nothing but never had the money to be able to do that!”, he jokes. “I was involved in a building company which unfortunately went with the financial crash in 2008. The main reason [why coaching wasn’t a plan] is because I wasn’t qualified to do anything else.”

As a result of this, one of Devlin’s biggest regrets is not gaining his coaching badges whilst he could as a professional footballer.

“One thing you do have on your hands as a footballer is time. You look at the likes of Chris Wilder and Sean Dyche, both ex-teammates of mine, and they’re doing brilliantly well now after taking their badges while they were playing. You can never get enough education.”

Positive Memories

With a grin on his face, Devlin reflected back on a career that included over 500 Football League and Premier League appearances, Devlin found it difficult to decide which of his many footballing moments were his favourite.

“I’m a Blues [Birmingham] fan, and getting my chance to play for Blues and scoring in the play-off final in 2002 when we won on penalties and got promoted, that was unbelievable.”

Alongside the hundreds of appearances he made in club football, Devlin also managed 10 appearances for the Scotland National Team, an experience in which he is visibly grateful for.

“Making my international debut at the age of 30 was also incredible, it really was fantastic.”

Despite the difficulties Devlin initially faced following his retirement, he has now steadied himself in the career of football coaching following a period of uncertainty which included being involved in manual labour. It’s clear he misses being closely involved in football, but remains as close as he can be as a supporter. After his performances and heroics in the early 21st Century, Paul Devlin will long-be an unforgotten name throughout many supporters of Birmingham City.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers v Birmingham City: Match Preview

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Wolves have the chance to secure their return to the Premier League for the first time in 6 years against local rivals Birmingham City. 

Nuno Espirito Santo’s men require just three points this weekend following back-to-back wins and clean sheets over fellow promotion favourites Cardiff City and Derby County.

However, relegation-battlers Birmingham City will be no pushovers following a surge in form under new manager Garry Monk, which included three wins on the bounce before Tuesday’s loss to Bristol City.

There are no fresh injury concerns for Nuno Espirito Santo, however Leo Bonatini is eager for a recall following a recent poor run of form which saw him dropped for returning loanee Benik Afobe, who also finds himself short of goal scoring form.

The Blues are likely to remain without striker Sam Gallagher, who has been unavailable for the past month with a calf injury. Forward Che Adams will remain banned following his straight red card at Bolton, but midfielder Craig Gardner could make a return following a recent injury.

With plenty to play for both sides, it’s worth noting that there has been a red card in each of the last three meetings, with all three coming for Birmingham.

Wolves were victorious in the reverse fixture at St. Andrews with a narrow 1-0 win, however the last meeting at Molineux resulted in a 2-1 victory for the Blues.

The match will likely be a hard-fought affair, but there is a clear gulf of class between the two sides which falls in favour of Wolves who will look to seek promotion this weekend.

 

 

An emphatic hat-trick from summer signing Orlando Sa secured Reading’s first home win of the season against Ipswich Town

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Reading 5-1 Ipswich Town on 11th September 2015

Reading had not scored at the Madejski since April, however took the lead after just seven minutes through Orlando Sa, who steered a header into the bottom corner following a cross from winger Nick Blackman.

Just minutes later, Freddie Sears equalised for the visitors with a tap-in following Ryan Fraser’s curling effort, however Sa restored the home team’s lead after 15 minutes with a drilled effort into the bottom corner from 20-yards out.

Four minutes after the break, Nick Blackman collected the ball from a miscued shot, and drilled the ball into the roof of the net from five yards out to make it 3-1.

The Portuguese man secured his hat-trick just after the hour mark thanks to brilliant work from Blackman, before a long-distance effort from Oliver Norwood made sure of an impressive 5-1 victory for the Royals which moved them into the play-off places.

Ipswich could have moved into top spot in the Championship had they returned from the Madejski victorious, however suffered an early setback as Sa put the home side in front with the first chance of the game.

Bournemouth loanee Ryan Fraser, who already has two goals and three assists for the visitors this season, brilliantly dribbled on the edge of the box before curling an effort towards goal that was superbly saved by Jonathan Bond, but he could only parry to the feet of Sears for an easy equaliser.

Sa scored his second of the game after just 15 minutes as on the counter-attack, he was fed through by deadline day signing Matej Vydra, and then sublimely fired in from outside the area.

Blackman’s finish after 49 minutes seemed the ease the home side’s tensions, before Sa completed his hat-trick with a placed effort from inside the six-yard box.

Reading weren’t done there however, as Norwood emphatically struck the ball into the top left-hand corner from over 25-yards out to succumb Ipswich to their second consecutive loss of the season.

 

Salford City survive late fightback to close gap at top of National League North table

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Salford City 3-2 York City on 21st October 2017

A double from club captain Liam Hogan moves Salford City to within a point of the league leaders after a battling 3-2 victory over York at the newly named Peninsula Stadium.

Two goals in five first half minutes from Hogan and a 25-yard strike from Jack Redshaw gave Salford the perfect start to the top of the table clash on a cold and wet afternoon.

The lead was extended in the 50th minute as Hogan bagged his second of the game, and third of the season, following a Touray corner which found the captain with plenty of space in the box to head home.

York, under the new management of Martin Gray, battled on throughout the second half but struggled to break through Salford’s defences up until the 85th minute, when it looked like Almond’s volley was just a consolation for the visitors.

However, from almost 30 yards out, York midfielder Aidan Connolly drove an unstoppable effort into the top left-hand corner to make it 3-2, but Salford held on for the three points.

The Ammies went into the game just three points behind league leaders Harrogate, however faced pressure from Blyth who were just two points behind before kick-off.

York started the game off as the better side, as winger David Ferguson looped in a cross-cum-shot that left Salford ‘keeper Crocombe stranded, and struck his left-hand post.

Despite this, Salford took an early lead as Michael Nottingham headed down a free-kick to Liam Hogan, who turned his defender and placed a shot under the York ‘keeper Peacock-Farrell.

The lead was quickly doubled five minutes later, as Jack Redshaw curled in a strike from outside the area over the stretching goalkeeper.

York piled on the pressure at the end of the first-half, however Hogan’s second goal just after the break left the visitors with a mountain to climb.

The game looked to be fizzing away until two late goals from York left for a tense final few minutes at the Peninsula Stadium.

Salford held on in grueling, storm-like conditions for the three points, and will hope to take the momentum into next week’s game away to Bradford Park Avenue.

 

Mistakes and Changes

Panos

Copyright: Birmingham Mail

 

Mistake: an action or judgement that is misguided or wrong

Change: the act or instance of making or becoming different

Football: to frequently feel misery or despair 

Quite a lot of the time, it’s difficult to admit when mistakes are made. It’s in our human nature to show pride in decisions we’ve made and be stubborn in sticking by them. In order to counteract a mistake, change must be made. Change is a scary part of life, it will either prove successful or unsuccessful. However, sometimes it’s in the best interest for mistakes to be recognised and change to be thrust upon as a result of that mistake…

Mistakes seem to be the forefront of the last 4 months of Birmingham’s season. The board clearly thought keeping Rowett on as manager would be a mistake, and therefore rectified what they perceived to be a mistake waiting to happen. The appointment of Gianfranco Zola could be seen as a mistake, with just two wins coming under his tenure. Poor performances from the players, despite being a regular occurrence in football, show mistakes. Heck, even the league table is a mistake, as the current squad we have most certainly isn’t lacking to the point where we are fighting relegation from the Championship.

Of course, change in football has a lot more implications than the blind eye would first make out. Every decision made, from the appointment of a manager to the price of a pie in the concourse, affects the running of a club. There’s little doubt that Trillion Trophy Asia (TTA) bought Birmingham City with the intention of selling on for a profit. Paul Suen, one of the main men behind TTA, is synonymous with buying companies with financial issues, restructuring them, and selling them for a nice payday. As noted by Daniel Ivery of Often Partisan, the stock price of BIH has taken a slight downturn.

BIH Stock

As you can see, the stock price was sitting fairly steadily between HK$0.480 and HK$0.500 between January and February. However, in the middle of March, the graph drops quicker than Blues’ position in the league table. So obviously, things aren’t going quite so well on that front. TTA want to sell on at some point from 2018, when they are legally allowed to do so, but you feel something will need to change in order for Mr. Suen to add some revenue into his retirement fund.

Of course, finances and stock prices are completely out of the control of the Blues fans. Our club has been in dire straits since relegation from the Premier League in 2011, but TTA give us that sense of relief with the promise of money and signings, which they duly delivered on in the January transfer window. The focus of all football fans is on the results that happen on the pitch. 2 wins and 7 draws in 22 games under Zola is equal to gaining approximately 27 points across a season, 17 points less than the 2013/14 season where we survived with one of the last kicks of the season. Bottom of the table form, to put it simply.

We never have been, and hopefully never will be, a “sacking club”. Teams such as QPR and Leeds went through managers like there was no tomorrow, which inevitably proved that knee-jerk reactions and chopping and changing simply doesn’t work in the short run. However, sometimes a line needs to be drawn. Our form under Zola would make sense say, we had a Rotherham-esque squad and we were in the relegation zone before he took over. But we don’t and we weren’t. Something needs to change, and I believe this has to be managerial. Many of the reasons behind why I think this, you can find on my previous blog post back in February, in which I talked about Zola and weighed up different arguments to his management.

In reality, the fans who are expecting Zola to go before the end of this season are likely to be disappointed. With 5 games to go, I can’t see him being sacked or resigning at all. The off-season will probably be a busy one. Gianfranco is a man of pride, and will likely weigh up his options and decide if he can actually do the job next season he was put in place to do. If he personally feels he is out of his depth, he may walk away from St. Andrews. The board will have a decision to make, and may even opt to give Zola the start of a fresh new season to prove himself to them, as Panos particularly remains in support of the Italian.

It is a shame to see Zola failing, though. One of the nicest blokes in football, and an absolute legend on the pitch, with the feet of a wizard. You can’t doubt his passion for success and his care for Blues; but unfortunately for him, the fans, and the club, it hasn’t worked out and it’s time to move on and find a successor. The new board need to recognise their mistakes, and change them for the better. Do we really trust the owners to appoint the right manager should Zola depart? The Daily Mail are reporting that Slovan Bratislava manager Ivan Vukomanovic could be the next man at Blues, should they decide to move on from Zola.

Admit the mistakes. Make a change and rectify the mistakes. Don’t repeat the same mistakes, and more importantly, listen to the fans.

Keep Right On.

Zola: the questionable appointment that has divided Birmingham City

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Copyright: Getty Images

 

Birmingham City have never been a club renowned for frequently sacking their manager. The sacking of Lee Clark back in 2014 was the first manager we had sacked since I started following the club in the late 1990’s – all other managers in between this time had left of their own accord or had been snapped up by a more attractive club. The major roots of the loyalty with our managers is down to the fans, as despite the troubled times of recent years, they have always stuck by the team and backroom staff. However; after two months in charge, and just one win to show for it, Gianfranco Zola is beginning to lose even the most loyal of Blues fans. 

We could sit here all day and complain, as many people on Twitter still do, about the sacking of the fan favourite Gary Rowett and the controversy which surrounded it, but we won’t. The matter-of-fact is, the board sacked him due to him failing to show full commitment to the club alongside a few disappointing results, including a dismal 3-0 defeat at home to Barnsley. Trillion Trophy Asia (TTA), who completed the takeover of the club in October, were clearly not going to be pushed over by an uncommitted manager who could’ve jumped ship mid-transfer window, which would have limited the clubs ability to sign players. Zola was then appointed within 24 hours, with the majority of the contemporary focus going towards the upcoming transfer window.

Gianfranco’s previous managerial record wasn’t outstanding to say the least, but there was no doubt in his ability to produce flare,  football of which we have rarely, if ever, seen down St. Andrews. Take a look at Watford’s 2012/13 season which Zola managed – they did the double over us, scoring 6 and conceding 0 in the process, and demolished Leeds 6-1 in their own backyard. Watford were the top scoring club that season, with an impressive 85 goals coming across the 46 games. The main criticism of that season, of course, was the inability to gain promotion with their loss in the play-off final to Crystal Palace. There is something interesting to take from looking at this season from Watford. After 13 games, they were actually struggling in 16th place, just a mere 4 points above the relegation zone. You can make of that what you will. Either way, the proof of some form of success in the Championship, along with being a big name in himself, was enough to lure TTA and Panos Pavlakis into securing the Italian.

So, 14 games into Zola’s reign, and we find ourselves with just 1 win and coming off a 4-1 home thrashing at the hands of fellow strugglers QPR. Questions are being asked in recent games about Zola’s team selections, with formations chopping and changing maybe once too often. It appears Gianfranco is still trying to find the right balance with the team, especially with the new additions in January. The changes makes sense though, and criticism on this front seems uncalled for. In the game against QPR, we started off in a sort of 3-4-3 / 3-5-2 formation, which looked odd on paper, however this formation was the one that was switched to in the 2nd half against Preston, one which we were in control of. Prior to this, Zola adopted the formations used frequently by Rowett and attempted to fit these formations in to his style of play. Again, this is something which would be harsh to criticise, as he attempted to keep the players comfortable in a tried system, with an addition of his own touch.

However, there are some things which have deservedly come under fire from the Blues fans of late. The once-solid centre back pairing of Morrison and Shotton seem to have crumbled since his appointment. It seems neither are used to the “play from the back” style of play Zola loves to push onto his players, and prefer it the old-fashioned way. As much as Gianfranco wants to play his own way, he must let Morrison and Shotton play the way they’re most comfortable with. Another deserved criticism towards Zola would be his team selections. For the QPR game, the formation made sense with Nsue and Keita bombing forward as wing-backs and looking fragile in defence, but an inexperienced Dacres-Cogley playing a sort of centre back role? Strange. He seems to struggle to find the best midfielders and wingers in the team as well. Our defence is poor, without doubt, but our inability to control the play in the middle is definitely  contributing to our downfall. Saying that though, we don’t exactly have midfielders who are blessed with this ability. Gleeson and Tesche are better off in holding roles, but have been below average all season. Davis and Gardner are more “get stuck-in” box-to-box midfielders, and sometimes don’t seem too comfortable on the ball, but can definitely produce game changing moments. Kieftenbeld definitely has the ability to control the play, but as the others, has been performing below standard. Frei and Adams are the two bright sparks in the team recently, however both seem to be stuck in-between the starting XI and the bench.

As much as a lot of people are looking to make Zola their scapegoat, maybe they should turn their attention more to the players and their performances. There is no question about their passion for the club – just look at Jutkiewicz’s winner against Fulham and the celebrations that followed. However, they are letting Zola down just as much as they are letting the fans down. Nsue brought much excitement with the announcement of his signing, but defensively he has looked about as useful as Callum Reilly did playing at RB in the Lee Clark days. Keita has looked extremely promising, and is someone I can see being snapped up by a Premier League club within the next few years. Again, defensively just looks too fragile in an area that is letting us down. Grounds, he tries his hardest in all honesty, especially adapting to the CB role in recent games, but makes the one too many mistakes which often prove costly. Every one of the midfielders are under-performing, some more than others. Jutkiewicz’s goal record possibly means less criticism is coming towards the forwards, however the amount of spurned chances we see per game is concerning.

To put it simply, we haven’t been good enough in any department. This ranges from the players, to the management, to the board and Panos Pavlakis. Defensively we are fragile. In the middle, we’re struggling to control the game. Upfront, we’re missing a handful of chances every game. Zola has a lot to answer for and the next few games could decide his future with the club, if there is one. In his most recent post-match press conference, Zola has stated we’re “working every week on the same problems but not eradicating them”. If we’re working on things in training and they’re not coming into fruition in games, management has to be questioned. Imagine how much things would be different now if we held onto that 1-0 lead against Brighton in his first game in charge? This has been the running theme as well, we certainly have looked decent in some games where we have been unlucky to not come away with the 3 points. 1 win in 14 isn’t a fair reflection in my opinion, but we certainly haven’t been THAT much better than what the form table shows.

Zola out? Not just yet, however it isn’t half close. The 4-1 defeat to QPR was inexcusable, however some of the Blues fans chanting “you’re getting sacked in the morning” and what-not to Zola need to pull their heads out of their backsides and realise that does absolutely no favours to anyone apart from their own self-centred egos. There’s nothing wrong with making your voice heard when you’re disappointed in the results, in fact I encourage being vocal so the team knows how displeased we are, but think again when you want to chant stuff like that towards your own manager. The next few weeks are going to be crucial going forward, with or without Zola, but we should count ourselves lucky we aren’t *yet* in relegation panic mode. We should look ahead to getting this useless season out of the way, and focus on the possibility of promotion next season, as we definitely have the potential to do just that.

Up the Blues, and Keep Right On.

My anxiety: 4 years on

2012: The year I turned 16 and left secondary school.

2012: The year I realised my ambition in life was to become a journalist.

2012: The year the Mayan Calendar ended and everybody thought the world would erupt into a ball of flames and explode. Oh, how we wish that prophecy was true now we’re less than a week away from either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming President.

2012: The year I discovered something that still affects me every day, that I suffer from anxiety.

I have never spoken publicly about anxiety and what it is to me, so I guess the fact that I’m even writing this (I hope) can be seen as a step in the right direction. Only close friends of mine are aware of my anxiety, and even then it took me 2 years to tell someone for the first time. Anxiety itself prevents you from telling anybody you have anxiety. What if they don’t believe me?  What if they start to judge me and see me only as my anxiety, rather than the person I am? Will they start treating me differently? Fortunately for me, the people I have told have been incredibly supportive and without them, I don’t think I’d be writing this blog post right now.

The purpose of me writing this post isn’t to entice sympathy or attention, but to discuss on an open platform what I currently experience, and hope that this could influence someone else in a similar position to mine to find their hidden strengths to fight anxiety. It isn’t easy, at all. The common phrase I hear is “just talk to someone [usually a doctor] about it, it really helps”, which in fairness is true, but if only it was that easy. For myself, this is initially flawed as my GP requires bookings to be made via telephone, and the social aspect of my anxiety means I am absolutely terrified of making phone calls, which isn’t exactly helpful considering I’m studying journalism.

The topic of being a student brings me on to possibly the biggest event of my life which occurred due to anxiety. I started studying Sports Journalism at the University of Bedfordshire in September 2014. It wasn’t exactly my first choice university, but nevertheless I was pleased to be going off to study the course I wanted. When the time came to move and I finished unpacking my room, I sat down and thought to myself “now what?”. I dropped out of university a month later. I couldn’t bring myself to go out during Freshers’ Week. I didn’t know anyone and the thought of having to go up to complete strangers and talk to them was daunting. When the induction started, I enjoyed the sound of the course and what was approaching this semester, however I didn’t exactly talk to anyone during this time. To me, it felt like everyone already knew each other and were getting along so well and I was just an intruder in their circle. There were quite a few reason aside from anxiety why I decided to drop out, however anxiety was the prominent reason behind it. On a positive note, I re-applied to university in 2016 and was accepted into my first choice university. Currently, I’m in my second month here and despite still being affected daily, I’m pushing on and plan to stay on for the three years and finish with a first (optimistic, I know!)

I discovered I suffered from anxiety rather unintentionally back in 2012. At the age of 16, I was rather ignorant to mental health. I never looked it up on the internet to research it. We were never taught about it at school, only the odd poster knocking about saying how pupils could talk to their tutors about “anything”. I think it’s imperative we teach school children about mental health, however that’s another topic that could be dwelled upon.

Anyway, I knew for quite a while beforehand that I wasn’t fond of speaking on the telephone. When the house phone would ring, I’d be the last person to answer, even if I was the nearest. In 2012, I was preparing to move from my school to a sixth form college as my school taught IB and BTEC, but I wanted to study A Levels. To get into the college, I had to phone up and book an interview. There was my problem. I knew there was an interview to get in, and that scared the absolute life out of me, but to even get to that stage I had to face a task which felt like was the equivalent of climbing Everest. This is where I realised something was up, that it wasn’t right for someone to be living in absolute fear of something which many deem as a simple and everyday task. This is where I realised I had anxiety.

Four years on from this realisation, I’m sat here typing up this blog in my student halls, still with anxiety which more than likely has worsened over the years. Sleep is getting shorter and shorter – I’m lucky if I can manage 6 hours, but even then I’d be waking up numerous times throughout the night. Everyday situations fill me with dread – going to a lecture, going to the shop, not going out with friends/leaving them early due to being overwhelmed by anxiety. Heart palpitations appear more frequently. Often, I’d notice for no apparent reason my hands would be shaking or my knees would be trembling. In a scenario that occurred just last night, I found myself unable to control my breathing. Don’t even get me started on having to interview people for my course, bloody heck.

Despite all this, I find myself considerably happier than I was back in 2012. Put into perspective, I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do. I spend every day surrounded by groups of friends. I’m meeting people I hadn’t seen for some time, and also people I’ve spoke to for years via Twitter I’m finally getting to meet. I’m going to gigs I’ve missed out on previously due to anxiety – I was anxious as hell for Jamie T a few weeks ago, but I thought “fuck it”, and it turns out to be one of the highlights of the year. I’m on the road to the career I dream of, slowly but surely. I even had a bloody conversation with Karl Pilkington the other week.

I guess the moral of this is, anxiety can get worse, but you can always become happier. Anxiety can and will always knock you back, but there are times where you will persevere and overcome it, completely smashing it out the park. So if anxiety ever knocks you down, don’t see it as a step backwards, but as a step closer to that one time where you’ll defeat it, on your way to destroying anxiety for good.