Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kevin Kilbane pays respect to David Moyes for helping him cope with darkest days

by Henry Winter from the Telegraph:
When Elsie Kilbane was born with Down’s Syndrome in 2004, her father Kevin could not face going back to training at Everton. Kilbane and his then wife Laura had so many decisions to make over Elsie, so many hospital appointments to attend, so many fears to confront and learning to do.
Kilbane remembers clearly those difficult early days. Speaking on the eve of World Down Syndrome Day this Friday, one of the most respected footballers over the past two decades and now a popular BBC pundit, Kilbane is keen for other parents to absorb knowledge and ultimately encouragement from his experience.
“Elsie was born on a Monday night, so I didn’t go back into training, I just couldn’t,’’ recalled the 37-year-old. “Emotionally, I wasn’t in a great place. I spoke to David Moyes on the Tuesday and he said: ‘Look, take us much time as you want.’ It’s one of the reasons I respect David Moyes so much because of how wonderful he was with me at that time, knowing I was going through a difficult stage in my life.
“I went back in training on the Friday, the day before we played at Leicester and I wasn’t considered for the team. From the following week, I was back in normal training. David Moyes said some quiet words to me if he thought he needed to but he didn’t put me under any pressure. He’d known me since I was a lad of 16 (at Preston North End) and knew there was no need to make a fuss around me. He trusted me to look after myself.
“I couldn’t have wished to have been at a better, more caring club than Everton. Incredible. Lee Carsley is my best mate; he has a little lad with Down’s. Lee and I were always close. So when Elsie was born, to have that conversation with him was difficult for me. Lee was brilliant and he helped the other players out. Some were reluctant to talk to me. It is a difficult subject to broach. They knew I was very sad. They were going to Lee for advice on how they approached me. Lee said: ‘Just congratulate him. He’s had a little girl.’
“Some of the lads like Kevin Campbell, Alan Stubbs, David Weir and Duncan Ferguson, big personalities and good people, would ask me questions. Sometimes if I said ‘Elsie’s been in for a heart scan today’ it was a conversation killer. But Kevin, Alan, David and Duncan would ask: ‘What happened? Tell us.’ That shows the class of the people I had around me.
“Everton looked after me. I can’t speak highly enough of people like Darren Griffiths in the press department, Tony Sage and Jimmy Martin, the kit men, Jimmy Comer, the masseurs and physios, the chairman Bill Kenwright.’’
On match-day, Kilbane poured his emotion into his football. “Over that 18-month period after Elsie was born, I probably had the best period in my career.’’ Football was a release. “When I got home, there were so many different things being thrown at me.
“When Elsie was born, we were told by doctors she might not walk, she might not talk. For the first year, it was hospital appointment after hospital appointment as she was checked for thyroid problems, iron deficiencies, hearing deficiency, heart scans. It was in our face all the time. We were picking up information as we went along.
“I read leaflets, went on the Internet and I re-educated myself. Elsie is not a Down’s child. She’s a girl first and foremost who just happens to have Down’s Syndrome. She’s a wonderful little girl who enjoys her schooling. She was 10 last week. The 10 years have flown by. It’s been an amazing 10 years with her.
“I did think of walking away from football. Not that I’d had enough of football but I just needed time out. Looking back it might have been better for me psychologically to have had that time out, to take stock, to review my own life. But I was a professional footballer, in a robotic mode, very mechanical. I train, I eat, I go to bed, I get up and then on the football pitch on a Saturday.
“I was always very dismissive of psychology. You play, you get on with it, you go through life like that. Probably from then on, I started to realise the fragile mentality of a player. You can put on a mask on the pitch but what you see on a pitch is only 5 per cent of someone’s life.’’
Kilbane acknowledged that the situation might have placed an extra strain on marriage. “Probably. It was three years ago that Laura and I split up. We never really had the chance to take stock of things. Our priority was Elsie. The message we were given was ‘just love her, she’s your child’. You have so many different thoughts. It’s like a grieving process for the child you always envisaged you’d have. Where is your child going to be in five, 10, 15 years? It’s very different. Elsie’s going to have all these things but perhaps they may happen at a later stage.
“Elsie’s in a mainstream school and they are wonderful. She and her sister Isla - 19 months between them - are in school together. Isla’s the boss, looks after Elsie. Elsie stayed down a year so they are only one year apart. Now Elsie is going to high school.”
They did not consider private school. “I’ve heard from other parents that the children aren’t accepted (at a private school) or if they are accepted you have to do cartwheels to get them into the school. We looked at a special-needs school but we wanted mainstream for Elsie.’’
That has brought complications as Elsie was kept down a year. “The (prospective new) school says she’s now got to jump a year and be in with girls her age. It’s financially better for the council. It’s absolutely ridiculous. We have it hard enough as it is. There are always obstacles the authorities want to put in your way.
“I can’t tell you how difficult it is. The Government don’t make it easy for you. By law, Elsie is entitled to speech therapy (via her special education needs assessment). Some parents don’t know that. They don’t know they can get help. The Down’s Syndrome Association do an incredible job, providing support.’’
All the royalties from his autobiography last year went to the DSA and Down Syndrome Ireland. Earlier in 2013, Kilbane ran the London Marathon to raise money for the DSA. “Three hours, 14 minutes! I was quite pleased with that! I’ve been reading Michael Owen’s tweets because he’s running the Marathon and talking about doing a 20-miler, building up the miles. It’s a grind but it made it easier for me with the close links I have with the Down’s Syndrome Association and running for a great cause which is very personal to me.
“If there was one bit of advice that I wished I’d known in hospital and I would give to parents who have a child with Down’s Syndrome is that ‘every thing will be all right’. You get too bogged down with the negatives. Elsie is far from perfect. You will have problems along the way but it’s worthwhile. Elsie’s a wonderful child.’’

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