UTD Unscripted: Just keep going
Retirement from football isn’t an easy transition for a lot of players, but I’m not gonna lie: I was fine with it.
“You need to find something to do with your time. I’ve got my routine, you need to find one.”
That’s what I did.
I wasn’t fussing with a lot of things, I was enjoying my kids. That’s what you want to try to do. I was watching my son play football, helping my daughter. I was just getting on with things to the best of my ability. Nothing is perfect in life, but you just get on with it.
I was always in the gym. Four days a week. I always said to myself when I retired that I didn’t want to put on weight, I didn’t want to be one of those fat former footballers. I always told my kids that. I wanted to stay fit when I retired and that was that.
So I was spending a lot of time in the gym, I started playing golf and really enjoyed that, then Manchester United asked me back to do some work on the ambassadorial side of things.
I’m not of the ilk to look backwards, I always move forwards, and I didn’t want people thinking I was just clinging on to what I’d done when I was playing. But the club just said: Coley, come in, do it a couple of times and see what you think. Say you’ve tried it.
I loved it, so I started doing more and more with the club.
Then one trip took me to Vietnam, I got home and didn’t feel particularly well.
When I felt ill after the Vietnam trip, it was typical me again. I’ll take a couple of paracetamol.
A couple of paracetamol.
A couple of paracetamol.
Finally, after a few days I called Mike Stone, who was our doctor at United when I was playing. He came over and checked me. After that, I went to hospital.
They told me my kidney function was down to seven percent.
I’d picked up an airborne virus while I was away and things had gone out of control. They decided it was too far gone and I had to have a kidney transplant.
I was in a bad way.
Suddenly, every time he came to see me, I was in a state. I was constantly sleeping. When I was awake, I was walking like Keyser Soze, dragging my feet. I couldn’t do anything.
Alexander just couldn’t have it.
He said to me:
“I can’t see you like this anymore.”
So he got checked out, he was a match and offered to donate his kidney to me.
He was a boy. 26 years of age. I kept saying to him:
“You can’t do this.”
He’s very headstrong, though. The doctors took his kidney and put it in my body.
Without that, I wouldn’t be here. Simple as that.
But that was just the start of it for me. When you have an organ transplant, your recuperation is just medication. Medication for the rest of your life.
That’s what I really struggled with at the start of my recovery: understanding that this is the way it’s going to go, that every day for the rest of your life you’ve got to take medication, that thought process in itself is exhausting.
S***, do I have to?
What if I miss a day?
S***, I’ve left my tablets at home.
It’s always in the back of your mind. The tablets, how they make you feel, the effects they’re having on you – all those kinds of things. The mental issues it poses are massive.
What I’ve realised is that you never stop questioning yourself. I’ve sat down now with people who’ve been through this disease. I’ve started understanding it, and then the picture starts to become clearer. It’s doesn’t get easy, but it becomes clearer that you’re not the only one who’s actually going through this. There are people who are better and people who are worse, but they’re all going through exactly the same thing.
The last couple of months, I’ve realised that even more. I went to the Transplant Games up in Newcastle and spoke to the football team there. I said to them:
“I thought I was the only one.”
They all said they’d been through the exact same thing. Everything I said to them rang true with them. I was mirrored by 15 guys in the same place, all the same thing. You go and speak to other people, same thing.
I’m not the only one.
I appeared on TalkSport a couple of months ago and ended up saying to myself: I am still somebody. Somebody who’s got a disease that for the rest of my life I have to try to control to the best of my ability. Ultimately, who knows what will happen, but I’ve got to try to work with this every day for the rest of my life.
Support helps, and Manchester United have been brilliant. It’s not just a case of keeping me on in my ambassadorial role. From the day I fell ill to where I’m at now, they’ve kept supporting me. Always asking how I am, how the kids are, if I need anything personally, if I can do anything then to let them know. That’s been brilliant. Really, really good. Everyone knows how much I appreciate Manchester United. I’m not talking about what I’ve done at the football club.
We all play football to achieve things and I was just a small cog in the grand scheme of things. I was a small part. I loved being part of it but I was just a small part of bigger things. Since this happened, the people at the club have been top drawer. If I tell them if I’m too tired to do something they want me to do, that’s not a problem at all. I’m told to just do what I’ve got to do and come back when I’m ready.
Some of the lads have been in contact too. Yorkie’s been brilliant. Skip (Roy Keane) has been amazing; he’s too much. When I was in hospital, he phoned me and said:
“Coley, I want to come and see you. Is that alright?”
“What do you mean? Of course you can come!”
He came to see me for a couple of hours, and every now and then he’ll message me to see how I’m getting on and I respect that. People see Roy in different ways, but he’s a real good guy. People might say he’s this, he’s that, but nah, you’ve got him wrong. Definitely. He’s such a good guy.
It was a shame that Roy couldn’t make it to the Treble Reunion game back in May, when we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Treble. That was an emotional day for me. I was disappointed my daughter wasn’t there, but my son Devante was and a lot of my mates came up, which was cool as well.
For me it was a really special afternoon. Not being able to play more than a few moments was hard, but it was really great to just be involved. There were so many positives, like seeing the gaffer again. Everyone got a bit emotional. There’s a lot you forget about until people start talking about this and that, but what I really love about the boys is that when we get together, we enjoy each other’s company, the banter is like it was back in the old days. That’s what I love. The only thing I miss about football is the camaraderie, the banter, playing together and knowing what you want from each other. You want to win, you want to do well for each other, that’s what I miss.
So that was a good day.
With things as they are, I have to recognise that there will be good days and bad days.
Bad days, man… I’ll be happy if I can get out of bed by midday.
A good day is waking up at a reasonable time, like 7am, then I get on with my day and crack on.
I was saying to the boys at the Transplant Games, when I get to 12am each day then I’m happy that I’ve completed another day. A lot of people might think that’s odd, but when you’ve got something as serious as what I’ve got, getting to 12am is another day completed. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.
If tomorrow brings you a s****y day, you don’t just accept it and get on with it. No. That’s easy. I can’t do easy. Can’t do it.
Some are s****ier than others. You’ve got to accept it, but I don’t. I fight it.
Even before this, everything was a fight for me. I’ve never known any better. I always known I’ve got to fight. That’s how I was in football and this is the exact same thing. Acceptance, I’m not good at that. I’m not saying that it’s not good, that, because if you have to accept something, you have to accept it, but I don’t want to accept failure and that’s just me as an individual. I don’t accept failure in me. We’re all different, but that’s me.
When I was a footballer, success was scoring goals, winning games, lifting trophies. Now, success for me is doing what I can do. Days are different. One day I’ll accept something, the next day I won’t. I’ll accept this today, some day I won’t accept the same thing. That’s me and I get a bit complex with it, but I try to push to the limit. I’ve always got to push. With this illness you can’t push. You’ve got to accept. Accepting is failure. I don’t want to accept failure. So it’s a double-edged sword for me. For me, it’s a real balancing act. You understand the conflict I’ve got?
I can only talk about me, but if I’m going to accept failure now then I might as well have given up on the football pitch. Same thing here. I’m saying now, I’m not going to be beaten by it, but at the same time I have to respect it. It’s a disease that can kill you and I know that.
Football is football. If you lose a game, you lose a game.
If I lose this, I can lose my life.
All I can do is keep giving it a go. I know no better.
This story was first published on 9 November 2019.