At the age of 18, I had high hopes of eventually breaking into the Middlesbrough first-team. I joined the club when I was just 12 and I always had that goal stored away in the back of my head. However, I had yet to make that jump and instead was handed out opportunities in non-league with the likes of Blyth Spartans and Gateshead, in order to get the experience I needed to improve.
Before I ventured out on loan from those respective clubs, I was told by the first-team manager at the time, Tony Mowbray, that he would be following my progress closely and was looking forward to seeing me flourish. Words of encouragement from the gaffer gave me that extra level of desire to want to succeed, alongside my own personal desire, and ensure that I would come back a stronger, better player.
So, I did just that. Scoring four times in six appearances for Spartans and seven times in 17 appearances for Gateshead - an impressive tally, so I was told. The coaching staff at the club were thrilled with my progression and Tony was eager to give me a chance in the first-team squad, in the near future.
In the build-up to my final game at Gateshead, Tony had let it be known that he was willing to hand me a chance in the senior setup when my loan spell ended. So, I wanted to cap off my time with the Heed in fashion. However, upon the half an hour mark, I felt a pull in my leg and was subsequently taken off. I later discovered it would be a ruptured ACL and I would be on the sidelines for a minimum of six months.
As you can imagine, it was extremely devastating, but Tony promised that there would be a place waiting for me when I returned. That promise pushed me to want to make a speedy return and after seven months out, I was ready.
My return game would be for the U21 side against Fulham and Tony was in close contact with management. He ordered for me to be given a full ninety minutes, in order to get my match sharpness up, so I could be ready as soon as possible. Whilst it took a toll on my body, I managed to finish the match with a goal to my name and a strong performance to match.
I was named in the team once again for the following game against Southampton. My body felt a lot more mobile and fresh. Whereas I was feeling much more jaded at an early stage in the previous game, I didn't experience it this time. I was back, I thought. As I began to make a run through the defence, I felt that very same pull I did back at Gateshead. I collapsed to the floor and immediately knew what it was. "Fuck!" I screamed. It was like I knew what was coming next.
The ACL rupture from my time at Gateshead had left permanent damage, meaning that it was simply too dangerous for me to continue playing football, as the injury would simply just reoccur. As such, my career was ended at the age of 19. Heartbreaking.
What followed next was a story of pain, suffering and misery. Having my dreams ripped away so cruelly left me in a state of depression. Whilst I was supported by a strong cast, in which included my parents, nothing took away that feeling that was distilled within me. I contemplated the point of carrying on many times, truth be told.
Those feelings lasted for well over a year until I managed to shake off that cloud of judgement and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I had to refocus and find the next path. I couldn't continue to let my early retirement from football dominate my entire life.
I had a lot of contacts from my time at Boro, with Tony being one of them. I had grown close to Tony following my injury and he strongly believed that if it hadn't been for my injury, I could easily have become a key player in his side. His wisdom was key to me finding that path I was looking for. Despite his struggles, he had always felt that management was so rewarding and as such, talked me into it.
So what followed was a year of excitement, but also a lot of stress. Gaining the qualifications in order to get where I wanted to be was an extremely difficult task, but I eventually got there. Thanks to my former manager, I had an opportunity once again. So, the next task was finding a club to take on a manager with no experience, but a lot of know-how, as Tony once put to me.
After numerous unsuccessful applications and job interviews, I finally got some good news. There was one club desperate for my services and that club happened to be a club that meant so much to me...