An Interview With Lewis Haldane
To become a professional footballer takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication. To overcome the odds in the first place is rare; but to have been released by your first club, then repeatedly loaned out by the lower league club who picked you up, and still forge a career in the football league is something far harder.
The career of Lewis Haldane however doesn`t quite have the fairy tale ending to match the build up. At just 27, Lewis this month announced that he had to call time on what is a fascinating career.
"To be told less than a month ago that I would not play again was devastating; not just to me but also my family who have supported me throughout the whole ordeal."
On the 30th August last year, whilst playing in a Football League Trophy tie for Port Vale away at Tranmere, Lewis` world was shattered, in more ways than one.
"I jumped up for a header to flick the ball on and landed awkwardly, and snap! There goes my career!"
Lewis suffered an horrific double break in his lower leg. What followed was an agonising road to recovery that unearthed a few truths about himself.
"I always knew it would be a long road back, but nothing prepared me for the mental heartache it would cause being on my own for over a year in the gym, making small steps of progress but then later I`m having yet another operation."
Incredibly, Lewis was well prepared for a long spell of recuperation, thanks to a bizarre incident that nearly cost him his life just a year before.
"I remember having a stretch at the end of a pre-season training session and I was rubbing my ankle, thinking I must have knocked it. I went home that night and didn`t feel right, then I was in agony when it came to bed time. I couldn`t walk up the stairs the throbbing became so intense."
"I went to the hospital and was admitted for tests. I was vomiting like never before and I was in a bad state. I was kept it overnight, but kept getting worse."
Unbelievably a totally random incident had almost cost far more than just his career. Doctors were so worried that Lewis was kept in for two weeks, during which time he lost an incredible three stones in weight.
"The doctors said I had been bitten by a mosquito, carrying some sort of disease and I was just unlucky. You couldn`t make it up really! It took me 6 months to get fit again and put the weight I`d lost back on."
Having worked so hard to get fit again after the insect bite, it was soul-destroying to then suffer another serious injury. Lewis` career though has been a never ending succession of peaks and troughs.
As a youth-teamer he trained with the well regarded Southampton youth academy, under a certain Stuart Naughton. Two years after his release from Saints, while working in a local shop, a familiar face came calling.
"I remember a phone call where a guy said 'Hello Lewis, this is a blast from the past, it`s Stuart`. He offered me the chance to come down to Bristol, where he was the Centre of Excellence manager."
A frustrating few seasons followed, initially making his first team debut at 17, Lewis felt somewhat overawed. "I was always a timid lad, and was so nervous to be with these big grown men. I remember I was so scared to be around these people and I knew I had to overcome this if I was going to make it."
Lewis was unable to establish himself as a first team player in those first few seasons. Refreshingly though, he didn`t get despondent.
"To be involved, to even be on the bench was great. I actually feel going out on loan under Ian Atkins helped me grow thicker skin, and realise the importance of gym work, to be able to compete physically with the big defenders who wanted to kick me non stop."
It wasn`t until the appointment of Paul Trollope as first team coach that he was brought back to the club and made a part of the first team.
"I was very thankful to 'Trolls` and Lennie Lawrence for bringing me back to the club, and I had my most successful spell there under them."
Haldane is quick to acknowledge the help of others in making a name for himself in the football league though. "I owe Ray Graydon, Phil Bater and Stuart a lot for helping me to be able to play football for a living for a few years and I`ll never forget that."
Described by himself as "a bit of an off-the-cuff player", Lewis` major asset was his blistering pace and direct runs. "I always liked to get people on their feet, and hopefully I did that."
It seems appropriate now to mention the other side of that particular coin; the criticism that Lewis drew for trying to 'win` fouls.
"I got a lot of stick for going to ground easily but I believed if I went past a defender and they clipped me, or pulled me, I had the right to go down and get a free kick."
"Maybe I could stay up, but I believe they still commited a foul, and if I want I have the right to take it. if you have a good set piece taker it`s a good chance to score a goal."
Lewis drew the criticism of supporters in another area too, criticism that didn`t go unnoticed.
"I knew fans said that my end product was poor. It does affect your confidence, but a lot of quick wingers in every division have the same problem I feel. They all get stick."
Undoubtedly Lewis most successful season was the 2006/07 season at Rovers, when as part of a promotion winning side he played more than fifty games, often from the wing.
"My memories of that season will live with me forever. In one season I played at the home of my boyhood heroes, Leeds United, and to top it off Wembley, which was the best feeling ever."
"Things like that no one can ever take away from you, so I feel absolutely privileged to have been part of it all."
Those memories created a special bond with Bristol Rovers for Lewis. "I still look out for Bristol Rovers scores, they will always have a special place in my heart. I hope Bristol Rovers one day overtake City to become the top club in Bristol."
"I had a great relationship with Gasheads, they are great passionate fans and made my time at Rovers an absolute privilege. I also had a great relationship with the directors at the club, for example Geoff Dunford and Kevin Spencer, and I could not speak more highly of them."
So what now? "I would love to coach young children, and pass on my knowledge to them."
Although a very early age to have to retire, Lewis admits that it wasn`t a total surprise.
"It wasn`t a complete shock, as I had the fear of never playing again the minute I broke my leg looking at the state of it. In fact my first question to the physio as I lay on the pitch was whether I`d ever play again."
Lewis is quick to acknowledge the part that having a supportive family played in his recovery, both mentally and physically.
"They have supported me through the whole ordeal. Without them I honestly think I would have gone insane, but to be able to come home after a mentally tiring day and to be able to ring my family, talk to my girlfriend, and most of all to see my (18-month-old) little girl got me through it."
"I really wanted her to be able to see her daddy play football, and for her to be proud of me, so that`s one of the most upsetting things for me now, knowing she will never see me play."
Far from being bitter at how it all ended though, Lewis is far more philosophical when looking back over his time in the game.
"I haven`t played properly for two years, so I only had a six year career, compared to a normal career of maybe 14 years, so I regret all the injuries. At the same time I will also be thankful for the experiences I have had, and will never forget them."
Showing a side that few people realise of Lewis, he reveals one more surprising fact.
"I`m fascinated by gang culture, for example the Jamaican and American gangs. I watch documentaries on them for hours on end."
Lewis is certainly not your stereotypical footballer. Preferring family life to falling out of nightclubs in the early hours helped him achieve what he has done, and you can`t help but feel sorry at the way it ended.
Maybe your opinion of Lewis as a player wasn`t the best, a fact he himself acknowledges, but you will struggle to see another player who gave more of himself to the club.
A fact that will never be forgotten, it`s the reason why myself and a few other Gasheads are in the process of arranging a testimonial for Lewis later in the season.
Stay tuned to the clubs` fans forums, and the official website for news. It would be great to show our appreciation for a man who became 'one of us`.
And to give Lewis and his family that one more game.