In my last blog, I touched on my first couple months at Benfica as well as my experience with bullying. After posting I received quite a lot of questions regarding how I was bullied and how exactly I was able to deal with it or if I was able to, for that matter. In this shorter piece I wish to direct a little more towards bullying in football and in addition to that, a way to deal with it and overcome it.
Football change rooms in my opinion play a large role in making or breaking a player, I would describe it best as a “wolf pack”. A team sport means relying on fellow teammates to assure individual success. Even Messi at Barcelona still required the team around him for him to reach the level and status he posses’ today. Therefore, it’s no secret that much like a coach can make or break a player so can fellow teammates. During my experience as a player, I have always found being part of the “pack” within a team extremely pivotal to success.
When playing as a young kid in Australia, I was comfortable, I knew my teammates from young, I had their confidence, and I was part of the “pack”. Walking into the change room at Benfica, I didn’t have this same advantage, I didn’t know anyone, I was alone. Just like a wolf without a pack, you get picked off. Fellow teammates lower down the pecking order would see my status as an advantage to boost their own self-esteem. Players would force me to pay for their train tickets, they would make jokes about me being Australian, or in one scenario I got kicked off the bus and had to get a boat home. I also experienced players making fun of me being nervous before games or ‘trying’ hard in training. It was rather primal and all a reflection of individuals who needed to put someone else down in-order to feel good about themselves. Not only did the players conform to this but coaches would see this happen and say nothing. They would turn a blind eye and sometimes swear at me thinking I couldn’t understand what they said but I could. Once again, to have the lack of self-worth to put down a 13-year-old boy, was only a reflection of themselves. Of course, this made my football suffer greatly, when you are a player in a team who doesn’t want you to succeed, it becomes definitely very hard to do so. If I could talk to me then and pass on advice to “little” me on how to deal with all that turmoil I was going through, I would say the last thing anyone would expect. Compassion, everyone cries, everyone hurts, and everyone suffers, so have compassion towards those players who feel the need to bully, because who knows what they are fighting. Secondly, forgive and accept, it’s all just phases and moments in our life that form who we are, we must move forward and be strong, fighting it won’t change it but overcoming it will do nothing but inspire those around you. Lastly, do not lose yourself and who you are, it was so difficult to not second guess and doubt myself completely during this period, I lost hope time and time again. I was a young boy whose dream was being stepped on, my spirit was lost. No one ever deserves to feel stupid for having a dream, you should never allow others to poison your vision. Chase your dream blindly and relentlessly. I would say the same to any young or even old player who was experiencing something similar. At the time I didn’t have the know-how, I also didn’t have the strength to be open about it because I was ashamed.
Not too long ago I came across a player who was crying after a session, the first thing he did was try cover it up so no one could see, the most typical reaction a footballer could have. I walked over to him, I told him that being upset or hurt doesn’t make you weak, hiding it in fear of what others think does, don’t let anyone stop you from being you, own it.