“The First Half”- Francesc West
Living with my girlfriend and playing football in Denmark was a feeling too good to be true. Perhaps a feeling I took for granted at times. My contract was due to run out in the summer of 2009 and there were no talks of renewing. For Silkeborg to extend my contract, they had to pay me a minimum wage of 15,000 Danish crowns. Which is the equivalent of about 3000 dollars. That was the minimum I had to make in order to regain my work permit in Denmark. It’s not much, but the club was millions in debt and that was widespread in the media. Talks of star players not getting their salaries and wanting to leave. The club was surrounded with these allegations despite having a great season. I figured they weren’t gonna spend their wage budget to overpay a young 3rd string keeper. No matter the potential.
In the summer of 2009 I was released by Silkeborg. My work permit had been immediately terminated and I had to move back to New York. Leaving behind the apartment, my car, friends, and the single most important thing, my girlfriend. Until the final day of my visa, we kept contacting clubs with no luck. It was time to go. I packed my bags, hopped on my uncles car and we drove down to Hamburg to catch the flight to JFK. My girlfriend was with me holding my hand the entire ride. On the way over to Hamburg, my uncle got a phone call. It was a call from Vejle BK, a first division club that needed a goalkeeper immediately and was asking if I was still available. Mother of luck. We had just passed that town a 100 km back and my visa was due to expire at 12am that night. Writing about this now is bringing back all of those emotions. To know how close it all was. But just never meant to be.
I felt the need to break up with her when I left even though I loved her to death. I knew a long distance relationship was never going to work. She ended up moving out our things of the apartment that we had just recently moved in to. I hated putting her through that, but there was absolutely nothing in my hands. Thats when I started drinking.
I started drinking very heavily. I would buy a small bottle of Jameson everyday and before I knew it, I was drinking it straight without the rocks. It came to the point where I just needed to be numb. So the pain would go away just for a little bit. I remember waking up in the mornings and the first thing I would do is reach for the bottle. I was on my way to becoming an alcoholic had it not been for building the courage for one last chance at redemption. The only way to go was up. This was my rock bottom.
Still very much in love and determined to return to Denmark to play football, I kept in shape even though I was depressed and drank almost everyday. Wine is fine, but whiskey is quicker. I needed something new in my life, just to fill the void. Thats when I went to the New York Film Academy to study acting. I had been in drama classes and theater clubs throughout high school. I’m the type of person who is comfortable in front of a crowd. I think part of that is because I genuinely don’t give a shit about what people think of me. I must say it a great experience in which I learned a lot about myself. Not to mention it got me out of the house. After several months in New York apart from my girlfriend, I decided I wanted another chance. One more shot to succeed in Denmark and be with the “love of my life”.
While apart, she had been out 3 months traveling the world with her friend. While I was in New York, depressed, thinking about ways of being with her. It should have hit me right then and there, but love is blind. I went back to Denmark in the hopes of reigniting the fire with her and earn a contract. Turns out nobody wants to sign a 20-year-old goalkeeper for 15,000 a month with no real experience. The ones that did were in the second division and couldn’t afford to pay me. There were clubs outside of Denmark that were interested, but for me, it was more than playing football. It was all about her. I asked her to move with me to wherever I got a contract. But her plan was to study in Denmark, and I respected that. I had to find another way to obtain my work permit.
At that time a friend of mine followed me to Denmark in the same hopes of realizing his dream. We played together throughout our youth years and built a strong bond of brotherhood. I can say that Farzan is the brother I never had. We shared the same passion and love for football. To some extent, the same destiny. We stayed with my aunt in Herning, and we both were training with a Danish second division side. A club called Tjorring IF. They were a feeder club to FC Midtjylland. Although they wanted to sign the both of us, they couldn’t afford to pay us. Nor would we have gotten the work permits we needed to stay in Denmark. Farzan eventually gave up on his dream and settled for college soccer in which he probably regret everyday of those 4 years. Whenever we spoke, it was always about football and the regrets that followed. Today after a bachelors degree in economics, Farzan is a car salesman for Mercedes-Benz. I guess at the end of the day he had to make a grown up, logical decision and decided to settle. Whether he is happy or not is irrelevant. Because deep down he will never be completely fulfilled, for his dreams were never fulfilled. Life after football is sort of a tragic comedy. You never find out who you really are, because all you ever were is taken away from you. Farzan and I are still very close today. Even though we live halfway around the world from each other. We often speak on the phone, and it’s always the same conversations about football. If I was to describe his playing style to you, I would say that he was the definition of bravery. Never seen anyone run constantly for 90 minutes. The best right back I know. I’m just happy that we were brought together by football, and I had the chance to play along side him.
I started searching for schools. The only school that was remotely possible was in Herning majoring in fashion design. Yeah! But I didn’t care, so I said i would do it. Can you imagine me studying fashion design? That’s the distance I was willing to go for this broad. But my high school diploma wasn’t valid in the Danish education system. So I started looking for a job. Any job that would give me a work permit. I had no qualifications so that was really hard. I was even looking for a girl to get married with. Just so I can get the work permit needed to stay in Denmark, just to be with my girlfriend. There is nothing I didn’t try or do to make it work.
No luck with football, school, work or marriage. There was three weeks left for my visiting visa to expire. I remember the night vividly. We were cooking dinner at her parents house. I told her I was having no luck with any of these things. That I had to leave the country in a couple of weeks. I asked her, if worse comes to worst, will you marry me?
She said, no. I asked her why and she replied “because marriage should be out of love”. Well HELLO!!! Why am I doing all this? I thought to myself, im trying to do all of this for this girl and she is not even willing to marry me. And mind you, we spoke about marriage and kids and our futures together and bla bla bla. Anyway so I said, im doing all of this for you and you can’t even do this for me? For us? Heartbroken, i said; I’m sorry but i don’t see a point in continuing this.
I left Denmark to never return again. Me and my girlfriend never spoke again. She was still in my mind and in my heart. I loved her still more than anything in the world. After that I quit football. I didn’t want it if it wasnt going to be where I wanted it to be. Just like that, I had lost the only girl i’ve ever loved and the only thing I’ve ever known.
For a very long time I couldn’t look at her pictures or see her name. Anything related to Denmark would remind me of those days. I couldn’t even go back to visit my family and friends there. That went on for a couple of years. I eventually did go back to Denmark to visit the people I love. Even though I wasn’t exactly ready. But I had to face it in order to move on. It was something I had to do. I didn’t initiate contact with her while I was there. When I left again, I felt all the same feelings of the past. I knew right then and there that it was all up to me to move on. The quicker I did it the better it would be for me. Denmark was never the same. My aunt and uncle had gotten a divorce. My friends were living in other cities. The players I played with had left Tjorring and Silkeborg. Nothing was ever the same. Not to mention, I realized what a shitty place it was with all the cold, and not having much to do. The only reason I was ever there was because of her and the football. Looking back, that was the only thing that made me survive during my time there. Had I not had her or the football, I would have been bored to death with no reason of being there. The only thing left to do was erase the feelings of those memories from my heart. Easier said than done.
Looking back now im glad she said no. And im glad things didn’t work out with football. If you were to ask why, id probably say because I would never be the man I am today had I not lived through these things. At a very young age I experienced love and the loss of it. It made me more mature for my age. I no longer felt 20. When I quit football I lost my identity. Up until then all i had ever known was football. Nothing else. That was my life.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had she said yes, or had I gotten the contracts I wanted. Then I draw to the same conclusion. Me and my girlfriend would probably not be together now. She was maybe the right girl at the wrong time. I was too young. I would have fucked it up anyway. Not only that, I would have been stuck in shitty ass, cold ass Denmark for all these years. When it comes to football, I think deep down I didn’t really want it anymore. I got to play professional and experience the life of a pro footballer. I achieved a version of my dream. Who knows, maybe I would have made it far, maybe not. Maybe I would have broken a leg or kept chasing small contracts to survive all my life. How long could have I gone doing it? Until 35 years old maybe. Then what? I’m a 35-year-old guy who’s done nothing but play football all his life. No way! I’m happy with how everything played out. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And you will know why by the end of this book.
I look back on my football career with fondness and the belief that I achieved what I set out to be. I made it. Imagine how many people want to become football players and they never do. I was getting paid, made it to a super league team, had an experience at Manchester United, the national team. I feel as if even though I could have gone further, I am completely satisfied with what I have done in my short career. A career hindered by love.