Quashie tries to put the pain behind him

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Footballers take each game as it comes. Nigel Quashie simply takes each day as it comes. In 1999, while at Nottingham Forest, his son, Tyler, died, just five and a half hours after he was born, two weeks premature. The cause of death as a hairline membrane. Quashie did not play football for three months. His career appeared over. To move on, he needed to move on.

"People didn't know about that, that my son had died and what happened to me," Quashie explains as he sits in Portsmouth's training ground before tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round replay against Liverpool. Instead it was assumed he had simply fallen out with David Platt, who was the manager at Forest at the time. "But he [Platt] came in and he helped me. If he didn't let me go to Portsmouth I don't think I would be in the game now. I was at a stage where it was make-or-break for me. I'd not played for a while, and I was just trying to get my family back together again."

He could not stay in Nottingham. "I didn't want to go back to a home where there was everything ready for my son to move into," he says. "I thought after that it was right for me to come back down to be near London, where I'm from, to be with my family and my friends." Nottingham had been tough prior to the tragedy. His £2.5m move from Queen's Park Rangers, aged just 20, was followed by Pierre van Hooijdonk's bizarre strike, Dave Bassett's departure, and return, and Ron Atkinson's brief reign.

Portsmouth - even with three managers in quick succession before Harry Redknapp's "amazing" stewardship - has been good. Very good. Quashie's gratitude is tangible.

"Tony Pulis [the then manager] knew my situation and he got me someone to talk to, a counsellor," he recalls. "When he signed me I was just thinking: 'How am I going to get back playing football?' My head wasn't right. I didn't show it a lot but there was a lot going on. The counselling I received was spot on and I'd recommend it to anyone. There's certain things you can talk to your family about and there's things you can't that need to be left behind."

The talented midfielder adds: "I had a tough year trying to get my life back together and I've managed to do that and I'm playing football and I'm happy. I can come into work and it's a release but I still have days when I'm not the best. Birthdays and Christmases are a nightmare."

He has grown up "a lot". "I try to be the best person I can," Quashie says. "Football's just a game. If I could give up football and get my son back then I'd do it. But I can't. It's there and I've learnt that certain things in life don't matter compared to what people go through."

Football is just a game, but Quashie, who has represented England at every level below the senior team, also knows how much it matters, especially to Portsmouth's passionate fans. "This is a great football club and a hard-working city. I see people going out and working hard and then come and watch a football match and they have a right to get their money's worth because they've earned it."

He has a similar attitude to QPR, saying it would be "a dream come true" to return when his career is over to coach or manage the club he first played for aged 16 - simply because they gave him a chance. "Chris Keeler, who was at QPR, died of cancer. He was the one who brought me through," Quashie says. "And I'd like to give something back."

That is some way off yet. Quashie is just 25 - although he admits to feeling much older - and would "love" to finish his career at Portsmouth. "I appreciate so much what this club has done for me."

Maybe it is his son's death that shaped his fierce sense of duty. Maybe it is the knowledge that without football, life would have been hard enough. "I came from an area of London where there was a lot of crime and violence," he says. "I don't know what I would have done."

It is easy to see why Redknapp has restored the captaincy - in Teddy Sheringham's absence - which Quashie himself relinquished when Paul Merson, now struggling with his demons again at Walsall, joined the club two seasons ago. "I thought it was right that Paul should have it - I would rather learn from players like him," he says. "Playing with him was the best season of my career." The two remain friends.

The turnaround at Portsmouth has been amazing. "I don't think any club has seen anything like it," Quashie says of the past two seasons. "It's an adrenalin rush just to train alongside the players who have arrived." Staying in the Premiership would be even more so. "No-one has had to tell us that," says Quashie. "We're paid to represent the club and the supporters and if we let them down then we're also hurting their feelings." That sense of duty again.

Injury - earlier in the season - weighed heavily on him. His medial and cruciate ligaments were damaged and surgery loomed. Four months out was the prognosis, maybe a season. But Quashie was back after just two months. "I'd rather have been involved and be a part of it," he says of Portsmouth's poor run at that time. "If the ship's going to go down then everybody is going down." However, he believes the relegation battle can be won. "These remaining games will be the longest games of our lives. As long as we give everything we've got, people will accept that," he says.

Life is good off the field. "I've now got a little girl, Ella and she's two-and-a-half," Quashie says. "I can see my son exactly in her. It's weird. Ella has taken a lot of that away but it will always be there and it's right that when she's older she understands that she had a brother."

He and his wife, Joanna, love life on the south-coast. "It's worked out really well for me. As long as my family are okay and I can provide for them then I'm more than happy," he says. "My life is back to normal. But we are just taking each day as it comes."