David Preece: Football has given me purpose in life but some dreams will end over shocking financial mismanagement
Football has given me my purpose in life; from experiencing ecstasies like no other, to delivering me to the depths of despair, it has given me my life.
At the worst times, I’ve tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter. That it is just a game. When it was taken away from me I acted like a jilted lover. That it didn’t matter because I didn’t really love it anyway. It didn’t work though. You can fool the mind but not the heart.
If football didn’t really matter then why, in every facet of my life, did I place it above everything else? If that wasn’t the case, why am I sat here now, in an apartment, on my own, in the middle of Sweden, 1000 miles away from my daughter and my loved ones?
It was my birthday on Monday. I was 43 and began the day by still wallowing in the injustice of a 3-1 defeat to AIK. Yeah, football made me feel awful and it had ruined another birthday. A trend that started with a heavy defeat to Newcastle United on my 16th birthday playing for Sunderland’s youth team and led to me cancel attending a party to celebrate it. I would have only spoiled it for everyone else.
The rest of the day didn’t pick up either and was mostly spent wandering lakeside of Storsjön. Wandering and wondering exactly what I was doing here.
Friends, family, girlfriends all know what it’s like to come second best. It’s wrong, I know. Stupid even, but that is exactly why I’m here. Even when I’d tried desperately to extricate myself away from it and become my own person, I haven’t felt this same sense of belonging since I stopped playing. And that belonging all started here with Sunderland AFC over 35 years ago when I realised I wanted to be a footballer.
Now, there are plenty of people who will and do mock my career, spent at the likes of Darlington and Lincoln City, but in many ways just the mention of those clubs fills me with as much pride as Sunderland, Aberdeen and the others. Darlington was the two-year crash course in becoming a man, guided by someone who become a kind of mentor in David Hodgson. At Lincoln City, I was given the opportunity to begin a coaching career, afforded the freedom to develop my style, lay the foundations for what I am doing now and I will always be grateful to them.
In my days at Feethams, the club was threatened with bankruptcy. We were paid late on occasions but always eventually. That threat became a reality in later years but because of the fans, still they fight on in the sixth tier of English football despite the destruction of their town’s club. Depending on how you look at it, they have been both unfortunate that events broke them and lucky they are still here, albeit in an alternate form.
Now, you may feel like you’ve heard this story before, because you have. But if there was never a Sunderland, a Darlington or a Lincoln City, then there simply wouldn’t be a David Preece. You could actually add Bury to that short list, a club where I was sent to by Peter Reid for a month’s training when I was 20-years-old in an attempt to impress his close friend and then Bury boss, Stan Ternent. I didn’t.
So when I heard of Bury’s plight, I couldn’t help think that there be a David Preece there. There’s probably more than one. Players who have been given a second bite of the cherry, an opportunity to go on and fulfil their dream of running out in front a crowds of 50,000 people, never feeling more alive.
Today, the dreams of those young players lie in tatters and mortgages of the more experienced potentially left unpaid. It’s those players and staff of Bury Football Club who are in my thoughts now. I know I’ve told the story of when I was almost sold to Ayr United for £75,000 to pay everyone’s wages, only to be saved by the man who would be the main source of Darlington’s eventual demise but it’s at times like this that it hits home how lucky I really was.
Tragically, the chance of not only a career in football but also a life because it, has just been taken away from another David Preece, not because he isn’t good enough, but because of gross mismanagement by others, and that to me is a crime.