Most people like to think the worst of Footballers' Wives. I agree the media stereotype is not good: spoilt brats balancing on sky-high Louboutins, caked in Dior and spending hours getting fake hair, nails, tans and more.
From 10 years' experience of meeting and getting to know some of these ladies, I can honestly say the reality is so much more than lipgloss and handbags. It takes a strong woman to support her partner and family through the huge highs and lows of a very short career. One of the worst times of the year is Transfer Deadline Day.
It's the part of football that people rarely consider: how upsetting and stressful it can be for the families; being bought and sold like a commodity, with your life hanging in the balance, waiting for others to decide on your future. Friends outside of football say to me: 'Why doesn't he go and play for such-and-such a team?' If it was only that simple. It just doesn't work like that. You need to be wanted and invited and even then it doesn't always work out. People see the man gurning in his football kit, but few see the families behind him. It's not just about players moving for money, but the upheaval for family.
I am very lucky. Since we met, my husband has been very successful at one club, Bolton Wanderers. So, although I have my stories, including a move from London, leaving job, house, family and friends and then moving home alone with a 17-month-old baby while eight months pregnant from Sheffield to Bolton, I have limited experience in this matter.
Kevin hasn't had to spend long periods of time away from us, or had to travel miles a day to train. He has been able to spend quality time with his children, watching them play football and do gymnastics after school. This is most definitely one of the plus sides of the job.
For many of my friends this is not the case. They have been left alone while, in a single day, their whole lives have been sent into a spin. Husband has gone off in his new club tracksuit to prove himself at a new club. The ladies are left holding the baby whilst looking for accommodation, school and new friends.
My friend and hero is Emma Healy, wife of David, who I met when we both lived in Manchester in 2005. Since then she has moved to Fulham, Sunderland and then in a Deadline Day drama: Glasgow. The original move was for a loan period of six months.
Emma was left in Newcastle with two children and no family around to help. She felt it unfair to move the children again as they had already moved twice in a three-year period. During the previous year David had also been on loan to Ipswich for three months and Doncaster for two, so they had already spent most of that year apart. Her son was so upset and unsettled at school that he cried every day, worried his mum would leave him too. Emma felt she could not move them to Scotland for a six-month loan so she drove up every weekend to let David spend time with his children. Emma is not alone with this kind of story.
Fiona McCarthy (Mick's wife) says the minute they sign, they are gone. She has done every house move alone (as we all have). She once drove from Barnsley to Glasgow with two babies in the back of the car and a goldfish bowl on the front seat. She had forgotten to pack a nightie for their four-year-old daughter. Mick popped out to get her one. Anna wore the nightie until she was 14, it was so big.
Obviously, age makes a huge difference and also having children of school age. Being settled and the happiness of your family far outweigh the money. Can you put a price on being able to do day-to-day things with your kids, watching them grow up on a daily basis, first steps, first day at school, homework? Precious moments you can't get back.
On Deadline Day, there is always a decision to make. It's one I had dreaded for years: do you up sticks and move lock, stock and barrel or do you pack your man off and make him travel? This can put a huge strain on a marriage. I have seen many not survive the imposed separation. Some players move because they have to – maybe a new manager doesn't like their style. Some want to feel loved again after being dropped by their current team. Who knows how long the new favour will last? You can never take anything for granted in football.
Sometimes the speculation is worse than the eventual outcome. Stories are banded about by agents, the press and even clubs that are not 100% true. Social networks and constant updates online play a big part in whipping the news into a frenzy. Last Deadline Day we were amused to read that Kevin was at Arsenal having a medical.
Being there as a wife through good times and bad, through injuries, scoring droughts, the threat of new talent coming in, the abyss of the bench and the politics of any team-coach-manager-players combination. That's a lot of emotions to stomach and support – and idle talk can be damaging.
For us, this Deadline Day 2012 on Tuesday was traumatic. I have lived abroad and travelled extensively, so have always said I would encourage my kids to live abroad too. The experience enriches you and changes your outlook. The US MLS (Major League Soccer) option was there for us earlier in the month, but after discussion we felt the time was not right for us and our very young family.
Then, reading in the local Bolton paper last Thursday that it was – supposedly – the end for Kevin after nine years at the club really upset me and our children. They came home from school having been questioned by staff and pupils alike about the fate of their dad – and ultimately themselves. Many whispered conversations from the training ground toilets then meant this was serious. Would Kevin move to Sunderland or stay?*
For me it was always about Kevin and his desire to play. I knew I would support him totally in what he wanted to do, so he would continue to feel vibrant, rewarded and fulfilled, professionally, physically and personally. You rarely hear the word "testimonial" these days, as there are very few players that stick around for long enough at one club to enjoy this honour and tradition. I wouldn't say loyalty is a high priority amongst today's players.
For me personally, I can honestly say I have everything I could possible want: a healthy family and lovely friends in Bolton, our adopted home. We have also attached ourselves to the Bolton community with the KiDs of Bolton charity we launched in October 2010 and now run ourselves.
As an older "player's wife" I have much life experience and have met many people from different walks of life to realise that it really doesn't matter how much money you have. Lots of very rich people are very unhappy people. Being settled and being able to spend time with the people that you love is paramount. With regard to us staying or leaving Bolton, the burning question was always: who would look after our donkeys?
(*Davies stayed at Bolton. Emma Healy contributed to this article.)Reuse content