For someone who rarely manages to raise a smile, I don’t do a great deal of crying. Withdrawn grumpiness my favourite way to express sadness.
But a letter I received just before Christmas had me drowning in my own tears. Tears created by a mixture of amazement, happiness and a feeling of warmth inside. Positive tears, coming from being overwhelmed.
I say letter, it was a Christmas card. A Christmas card from Chris Powell. Drawn immediately to his recognisable autograph at the bottom of the card, I’d not taken in any of the words before I’d turned into a teary mess.
It arriving only a few days after I’d received a shirt from Johnnie Jackson, offering his support after I’d expressed the nature of my struggles with depression, anxiety and epilepsy, among other more trivial things. Powell, too, with support for me.
I’d like to think I have a reasonable ability to explain any emotion, but I’m not sure I can do justice to what was felt after two of my heroes, two people who I idolise in such a way that they’ve helped just by doing what they’ve done in their profession, had shown they cared. It always hard to believe, inside a mind that draws the worst out of every situation and inflicts suffering upon itself, that people care. Here was two people I adore, going out of their way to show they care.
Within that card from Powell was a separate message on a piece of paper. An invitation to be his guest at a Derby County fixture, where he was assistant to Steve McClaren. A wonderful gesture, and a prospect that gave me excitement from the moment I read it.
I’ve always felt undeserving, both of the Jackson shirt and Powell’s invitation. The sort of things unwell children or people who have achieved great things for charity warrant. Not a 21-year-old struggling to cope with their own emotions.
But that has simply made me feel more grateful. The Jackson shirt framed, waiting to be hung on my wall. Powell’s card and his invitation placed above my desk. A further message of support received, and quite an incredible one in terms of the value and meaning of the words written, sits on my desk from Bradley Pritchard.
It quite incredible that I’ve had this support. I think about it each and every day, and not just because the physical things that display that support are always in sight. Motivators, reminders that people don’t look down on me for the position I’m in but instead care, and tools to battle against the darkest thoughts that appear in my mind in difficult moments.
I’ve mentioned previously, on Twitter and in blog pieces, that that support has also made me feel guilty. Guilty that I’ve not made any real improvement since receiving it. But there no question it has had a very real impact on me, and there no question that I’m incredibly grateful.
And so it almost seems hypocritical, having explained that I feel underserving and also that I’m incredibly grateful for the support already given to me, to bemoan a missed opportunity. Like seeing Charlton win 6-1 and choosing to complain about the defensive error that led to conceding rather than applauding the attacking efforts.
But I cannot hide how devastated, and I don’t think that’s too strong a word, I am. McClaren dismissed by Derby, and Powell joining him. Less than a month until I was to be taking up his invitation, but that now gone.
There has been pressure on McClaren for a number of weeks but, with Powell at the club before his arrival and taking control on an interim basis after Nigel Pearson’s suspension and subsequent sacking earlier on this season, I wasn’t overly concerned. I assumed he would continue to work for the club, regardless of whether there was a managerial change.
Even when the news that McClaren had been sacked appeared on my Twitter feed, I opened the story expecting to read that Powell had been placed in temporary charge once again. My heart sinking when the words “Chris Powell” and “departed” appeared in the second line.
I’m obviously gutted for him, too, and I feel I should make that clear to avoid me appearing any more selfish than I already seem. That he’s lost his position at a club where he has similar affiliation with the supporters as he does in SE7. I looked on jealously at the Derby fans as they celebrated a win with him at Cardiff City while he was caretaker boss.
And that this opportunity has been missed is, in truth, somewhat down to myself. Arrangements were made for February, and then for early March, but changes to Charlton fixtures meant my trip to Pride Park was moved back until February. This something that Powell was perfectly fine with, understanding my willingness to attend Charlton fixtures, and be his guest at a Derby game in addition to supporting the Addicks.
If Roland Duchatelet had bothered to get the undersoil heating installed properly, meaning the Scunthorpe fixture would have taken place on its original date, I would have been at Pride Park last Tuesday. It might be a bit cheeky to blame him, but I’ll give him some of the blame anyway.
But with this date set, April 4th with the Rams playing Fulham, I had been counting down the days in excitement. Excitement. An emotion I have not felt over anything, sport related or otherwise, in a very long time.
So often the things I plan to do are tainted by anxiety, fear or just simply apathy. In fact, I can’t pinpoint an event that wasn’t tainted by one of those emotions in recent times. A long time since I’ve experienced genuine excitement.
Despite my dad being with me and the routine one I’ve known for many years, anxiety joins apathy in making watching Charlton a bit of a chore, it disappears once I get into a rhythm of whistle blowing but there always great anxiety before I referee, and it a bit of a struggle to attend cricket given that I do so on my own. Apart from that, unless it’s some sort of medical appointment, leaving the house is something I tend not to do.
But there was excitement for meeting Powell without any sort of anxiety. My dad was coming too, so no need to concern myself about being on my own, and I couldn’t help be completely overwhelmed by a sense of happiness when thinking about being in his company. Excitement even just to thank him for giving me moments to enjoy in periods where I struggled to get much enjoyment, and to thank him for his support.
And so, I won’t pretend that I don’t feel quite crushed right now. That excitement replaced by horrible sadness. Absolutely gutted to have that excitement taken away from me.
Chris Powell is Chris Powell. He has that ‘nicest man in football’ tag for a reason. Enough people have reassured me that Powell will find another way to keep to his invitation to meet (enough people while I’ve been writing this piece, in fact).
And maybe he will. I don’t demand or expect it, given that I simply value the initial invitation itself regardless of the fact it wasn’t possible. Maybe there will be another opportunity.
But it doesn’t detract from how gutted I am. There was an exact date, something I was counting down to, and something I had so much excitement for. Like believing a three-goal advantage had saved you from relegation, only for the opposition to score four in the game’s final 15 minutes and condemn you to the drop, but probably a bit worse.
Nonetheless, that card and his invitation still sit above my desk, and still mean the world to me. I’m still incredibly grateful.