A Brief Introduction
Like many, I once had dreams of making it as a professional footballer. A keen full-back, yes, I was a full-back... and Jamie Carragher is adamant that nobody grew up wanting to be a Gary Neville? Well, I didn't want to be Gary Neville, very few did, but I aspired to play in a similar role to him. I digress...
I would turn out for my local Sunday League side to simply play the game I loved. Football was more than a game to me. It seems to be the new trend to say as such, but I did breath football. If I wasn't playing it, I was supporting my club and racking up the miles on the supporters coach, every Saturday; without fail. Football simply became my life as a kid and I feel that is still synonymous with me today - even as a grown adult. My love for football has never faltered.
I lived in the North-East, in the city of Newcastle - a city that is known for its love for the beautiful game. I grew up a Geordie and I'm proud to be. Everyone was passionate for football. Most dreamed of pulling on the jersey of Newcastle or Sunderland, with most kids idolising Alan Shearer and announcing how they were going to be on that pitch one day and making a name for themselves like he did.
My passion for the game allowed me to have a deep understanding at a young age of what football truly was. I tried to perfect my position with every game that I played. I studied the movement of players during games and would spend hours improving my craft. Nobody was stopping me from achieving those dreams, not even my mum who screamed at me to "come and eat my tea" for the sixth time on a daily basis.
Years passed and I only grew as a player. At the age of 11, I was handed trials by Newcastle and given the opportunity that so many wanted, but so many failed to get. I counted myself lucky - that was one thing I never lost touch with. I was a humble kid, as I brought up well by my parents who taught me to be thankful for the opportunities I received and take them with both hands.
Coaches admitted I had a bright future, but as a shy kid, I never quite believed in my abilities. My confidence was lacking, but I never let it show on the pitch. I was honest and hard-working. The sort of player that coaches loved and therefore I think that's why I soon became a well-liked teenager within the setup. I had all the tools to make it as a professional footballer.
You may be wondering why I sit and write this now, why you are not familiar with the name Liam Manning... let me explain further.
The whole day repeats itself over and over in my mind, often. We were travelling to face our rivals, Sunderland. Like the derby in the men's game, it was as fierce at this level - even as young fifteen year old's. We led 2-0 at half-time and were very much in control. Tackles had been flying in from both sets of players for the entirety of the game and it certainly wasn't a friendly game.
Approximately, with half an hour to go and we still remained two-up. I received the ball on the left-hand flank and looked to push up with the ball. I wasn't exactly a conservative defender and would often look to push-up the pitch, however understood when and when not to do so. This had been carefully distilled in me by the coaches throughout the years I spent with the Toon.
I looked to come inside with the ball, as there were no real options ahead of me, as I did so; I saw a Sunderland shirt come flying towards me. Quickly looking to adjust to avoid the challenge, I was unable to do so as my studs became caught in the surface. The opposing player proceeded to clatter into my right leg, which had been planted firmly into the turf and consequently shattered it.
I remember the pain that seeped through my body. I had never experienced anything like it before and a crowd of boys came rushing over, with several scraping on the pitch; in true derby-day like scenes. Soon enough, the physio arrived and a stretcher followed in pursuit - it was clear that the injury I had sustained was horrific, but nobody knew the consequence it would have.
The game would finish 3-1 at the full-time whistle, I would later be told. However, the result came secondary to everyone in the end. I was taken to hospital where X-rays were carried out. I would later be told that I had sustained a broken leg and the injury was so serious, that my chances of playing professional football were highly unlikely. As a young child who's dream was to become a footballer, my whole world was, as you could imagine, shattered (like my leg, coincidentally)
However, I was a determined child and that meant I wouldn't take "no" for an answer. The chances were minimal, they told me, so not unlikely... that was my fuel to push on and look to get back on the pitch and resume my dreams.
A year past and my injuries had healed, I had slowly began to regain my fitness and sought to make a return to the pitch. The coaches at the club were fully supportive during my injury absence and understood the extent of the injury. But, welcomed me back as I announced my desire to want to return. My mother wasn't exactly supportive of the decision, but didn't want to stand in my way on something she understood had deep importance to me.
Therefore, I was handed the opportunity to make a return as a substitute in a fixture against Carlisle United. I was brought on in the closing ten minutes of the game and began to show the pace and desire I had previously shown prior to my injury. Yet, my whole career would soon be ruined in an instant.
The Carlisle attacker began to limit the amount of space and time I had on the ball, with limited time left as he set to look for a winning goal for his team. In a completely fair challenge to win possession, he took my balance out from underneath him and my leg once again suffered. It was in that moment, I knew my whole career was over.
I received no serious injury from the tackle, instead only a minor knock - however, reoccurring injuries as a result of the injury sustained in the Sunderland game meant that I was unable to achieve the career I aspired to have. So, my whole life changed as a result.
Instead, I turned my attention to management. If I couldn't play football, I wanted to be involved in some capacity. So, upon leaving school, I took the necessary steps into taking coaching badges and gaining experience with some of the true professionals of the game; such as Sir Bobby Robson, a true hero in these parts.
He would become a true inspiration in my quest into management and would give me some key advice and information. I will never forget the words he said to me - he truly believed I had the ability to make a name for yourself. "One day, everyone will know the name Liam Manning," he told me. Those words have deep meaning and importance even today.
And that, is how it all began...