“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. The club was in a fight for promotion and were in a serious financial crisis. 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 get out of the country. 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 7:15 to JFK. My girlfriend was with me. We were holding hands the entire time. On the way over to Hamburg, something miraculous happened. My uncle got a phone call and it was a call from Vejle BK, a first division club that needed a goalkeeper immediately and was asking if I was still available to come for a trial. Mother of luck. We had just passed that town a 100 km back and my visa was due to expire at midnight that day. Writing about this now is bringing back all of those emotions back. Knowing how close it all was, but just never meant to be. It’s amazing how sometimes the miracles we pray for come true. Even more amazing when they come when it’s all too late.
I felt the need to break up with Sanne when I left even though I loved her to pieces. 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 months ago moved into. I hated putting her through that, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. Thats when I started drinking.
I started drinking everyday, heavily. I would buy a small bottle of Jameson everyday and before I knew it I was drinking it straight, single rock. It came to the point where I just wanted 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. This was my rock bottom and the only way to go was up.
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 decided to get back into Acting. I had been in plays and part of the La Guardia theater 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. 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 away from my girlfriend, I decided I wanted another chance. One more shot to have a life in Denmark and be with the girl I loved.
While we were 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. I went back to Denmark in the hopes of reigniting our relationship and find a club. Turns out nobody wants to sign a 20-year-old goalkeeper for 15,000 a month with no league 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 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 close 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. I can say that Farzan was like 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 Tjorring IF. They were a feeder club to FC Midtjylland. What a world. 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 since the league wasn’t high enough. Farzan eventually gave up on his dream and settled for college soccer in which he probably would 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 successful salesman for Porsche. I guess at the end of the day we all had to make a grown up, logical decision. 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 on talking terms to this day. Even though we’ve had our ups and downs and live halfway around the world, I know deep down we are the same guy. When we speak, it’s always the same conversations. All about football. He’s a shitty Chelsea fan. So whenever United play Chelsea, it’s all bragging rights. God forbid if Chelsea won, he wouldn’t shut up for years. If I was to describe his playing style to you, I would say that he was the definition of tenacious bravery. Never seen anyone run like that for 90 minutes. The best right back I ever played with. I’m just happy that we were brought together by football, and had the chance to play alongside each other.
After I finished my Acting course, I started searching for schools in Denmark again. The only school that was remotely possible was in Herning majoring in fashion design. Yeah! Fuck me! But I didn’t care, so I said “alright”. Can you imagine me studying fashion design? That’s the distance I was willing to go for “love”. But my high school diploma from the USA wasn’t valid in the Danish education system. So I started looking for a job. Any 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 tourist 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. So I asked her… “Will you marry me?”
She said, “No.” Then I thought to myself, im trying to do all of this shit to be with this girl and she is not even willing to marry me? And mind you, we had spoken before about marriage one day and kids and futures together and bla bla bla.
Heartbroken, I said “I’m sorry but i don’t see a point in continuing this anymore.”
I left Denmark to never return again. My girlfriend and I never spoke again. She was still in my mind and in my heart. I still loved her more than anything in the world. After that I stopped playing football. And just like that I lost my love, and my football.
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 I had there. That went on for a couple of years. I eventually did go back to Denmark to visit the people I knew. Even though I wasn’t exactly ready. 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 had moved to other cities. The players I played with had left Tjorring and Silkeborg. Nothing was ever the same. Not to mention, I realized what a boring place it was with all the cold and not having much to do. The 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. That and my little cousins Nicolai & Nina. 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. Im glad things didn’t work out with football. If you were to ask why, i’d probably say because I would never be the man I am today, had I not lived through these times. At a very young age I experienced love and the loss of it. It made me more mature. 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. 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. Considering the small percentage of players who ever get professional contracts. 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 exactly 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, almost signed for Manchester United, played in the National team. I feel as if even though I could have gone further, I am happy with what I have done in my short career. Who knows what could have happened if I had kept playing! But I know for sure that i’d be the Turkish National team goalkeeper right now. Cause they all fuckin’ suck!