Gerard Kinsella: 'When you are not thinking straight you make rash decisions, don't you?'
Banned for taking a steroid, the player tells Sam Wallace of the desperation that led to his fateful error
He is the footballer who was banned last month for testing positive for anabolic steroids, but Gerard Kinsella adds a caveat to that. He says that until he plays a handful of league games – if he ever plays a handful of league games – he will never consider himself a footballer. "I just class myself as a lad who had tried to play football," he says, "but bad luck has got in the way."
Kinsella, 21, of Fleetwood Town in League Two, was banned for two years by a Football Association independent commission after testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone in February. It was a verdict reached with reluctance by the commission, reflected in the fact that it backdated the start of his ban to February and did not even impose on him the costs, two small but revealing indications of the nature of the case.
The three-man commission, which included the former Tottenham captain Gary Mabbutt, looked on Kinsella's nascent career and wondered how much misfortune could befall a footballer. A serious, engaging young man and once a very promising academy boy at Everton, Kinsella accepts, as he explains his story at a hotel in his native Liverpool, "that rules are rules". "We are meant to obey those rules and I've breached them."
Kinsella admitted having been administered two injections on 27 and 28 December of what was, unbeknown to him, nandrolone. They were given to him by his cousin Neil Kinsella, 35, whom he describes as a father-figure in the absence of much regular contact with his real father. But Neil's attempt to help turned into a nightmare for his young cousin.
"It was stupid what I did and it was stupid what Neil did," says Gerard, right. "It was stupidity in desperation. I shouldn't have taken it. He has tried to help and it has backfired big time. Two little injections. The worst thing about it is, when I found out the name [of the drug] and Googled it, it was useless anyway.
"It's done nothing for my body," he adds. "I would've needed a six-week cycle for it to have any effect. So anyone out there who thinks I have had it for performance enhancement ... that shows how much I know about it. And I have got a two-year ban. It was heavy stuff."
To understand why Gerard pushed for Neil to give him those injections, without doing even the simplest research into what was in the syringe, you have to know his injury record. Between the ages of 16, when he was told he was to get a professional deal at Everton; and 19, when the then manager David Moyes told him he was to be released, Gerard estimates he missed more than two years in total to injury.
He broke a collarbone just before he was awarded the professional deal. Next he chipped an ankle bone and then tore ligaments in the same ankle in 2007. He had shin splints in September 2008 and suffered a stress fracture to a metatarsal in March 2010. He had three shoulder dislocations between 2009-11. For good measure he was hospitalised with meningitis two years ago.
He had been at Everton from the age of seven but could understand, given the injuries, why he was released in the summer of 2011. Much worse, he says, was missing out on a contract at Plymouth Argyle weeks later. A combative central midfielder, he impressed the club and was preparing to play in a friendly when he ruptured knee ligaments in a light training session on the morning of the game. He would not play for the entire 2011-12 season.
During that period he developed depression, "big time". "From seven I had been playing football and it just stopped," he says. "It was all I had done my whole life. I never learnt anything in school. I was coming out of school to play football. I had no Plan B. It just hit me all at once. I was sitting on the couch watching daytime TV with my mum... you're the forgotten man, a bit of a ghost. They were bad times."
He played at Prescot Cables in the Northern Premier League and was kicked by opposition players for any flash of ability. Then an Everton scout recommended him to Fleetwood last summer and he impressed them enough to be given a two-year contract, although he is yet to make his first-team debut. He dislocated his shoulder twice in October and December last year and it was then that he had those fateful injections.
Neil had a prescription for a back problem and mentioned to his cousin that it had given him some relief when he visited him on Boxing Day. "I was pushing for sugar injections after the second dislocation, which is meant to be good for shoulders," Gerard says. "The physio [refused and] said it would rule me out for a couple more days. I was in the house on the couch. I was depressed.
"The embarrassing thing is our Neil is overweight and on the taxis. He has it for his back. I was eager, pushing him for it. He gave me just two little injections. I was more pushy than him. I was in bits."
At the FA hearing he was told that a Google search would have shown that the substance, Deca, contravened doping regulations. He says that all he wanted was for the pain to go away and never considered his cousin's medication was a banned substance. He was told by Fleetwood's manager, Graham Alexander, that he had failed a test, carried out in February while he was on loan at Telford United.
Gerard's brother Michael, a former youth team goalkeeper at Tranmere, has his own story too. He went off the rails and has been in prison but has since set up a successful programme, OnSide, helping young people through sport, especially football. Michael despairs that Gerard is unable even to accept the coaching role offered him by Fleetwood, who he says have been very supportive.
Gerard hopes to play again, but next time he will not pin all his hopes on football as he once did. In the meantime he is training as an asbestos removal expert.
"When you are not thinking straight you make rash decisions, don't you?" he says. "It was desperation and just stupidity. But I never took it as a performance enhancer, so no one can call me a cheat."
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