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'Better I lost my job at Derby than someone else'

Published on: 18 October 2021

Shane Nicholson was appointed by former manager Phillip Cocu and stayed on under Wayne Rooney

Shane Nicholson has known plenty of dark days during his football career.

Being told he was losing his job as fitness coach at Derby County as part of the cost-cutting measures put in place since the club went into administration was, though, not one of them.

Nicholson was once banned from the game as he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.

But the religious faith which enabled him to overcome those problems and resume his playing career is also helping him see the current situation in a wider perspective.

"I'd rather lose my job than some of the other people at the football club, the likes of the canteen ladies, who have been at the club for 20 odd years - I'd much rather lose my job, 100% I would," he told BBC East Midlands Sport.

Called in while preparing for training

It was Tuesday 28 September, six days after the club entered administration, that the 51-year-old, who was once sacked by West Brom because of his addictions, was told he was being let go.

"We were training at Pride Park. I was called by someone down the tunnel and asked to go for a meeting with someone upstairs. I ran in with my boots on, holding the cones. A lady asked me if I would take my boots off and put my trainers on," he said.

"The gentlemen in there explained the predicament the football club was in and that I'd be losing my job. I got up and walked out not knowing what to do really, (feeling) quite numb, a bit shocked. But I've been in football long enough not to be surprised by anything.

"I went downstairs and after setting the cones up on the pitch, I said I don't know if I'm supposed to be able to take the warm-up or what. I'm not really in the frame of mind to keep the lads upbeat, so I'll just go home and wait and see what happens. So I went home and I'm still here."

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Nicholson began his career with Lincoln City in the mid 1980s, but in 1992 he moved to Derby then in Division Two - now the Championship - and made 74 league appearances in a spell which lasted just two months short of four years.

But his off-field issues meant he missed some big matches. In a 2008 interview, he said: "I could have been playing at Wembley for Derby - [in the 1993-94 First Division Play-Off final] against Leicester City and instead I was sat in a prison cell in Leicester and that's the exact reality of the addiction that I had.

"I was taking ecstasy, speed, cocaine, LSD. I was snorting cocaine off toilet lids."

Despite that, he was signed by West Bromwich Albion in February 1996, but he eventually ended up in a clinic in Southampton to try and clean himself up after seeking help from the Professional Footballers' Association.

"The decisions I made in the first part of my life took me on a different route to where I am now. I made very poor decisions," he added.

"It wasn't until I reached my rock bottom, I hit the floor, wanting to kill myself on a Monday morning when I knew I was going in to work to be drug tested, (that I realised) you're playing Russian roulette with your life," he said.

"It became tough, it became tiring - I was 27 when I got banned indefinitely and that's when my life changed."

'Really liked by the players'Shane Nicholson scored 31 league goals during his 15-year playing career

Chesterfield gave him the chance to resume his playing career and spells with Stockport County, Sheffield United, Tranmere and a second with Spireites followed before he played his final Football League game, at the age of 36, for Boston United against Bristol Rovers in March 2007.

Nicholson was brought to Pride Park as fitness coachexternal-link by Rooney's predecessor Phillip Cocu in September 2020.

And a couple of days after he lost his job, Derby first-team coach Liam Rosenior paid tribute to his work for the club.

"He's really liked by the players, someone who was really good at his job, You can imagine the mood in the group when someone you care about loses their job," he said.

Nicholson is grateful for the support he has received from within the club which he believes is in "a worse state than a lot of fans think".

He believes manager Wayne Rooney is doing an "incredible job" with the team, despite a 12-point deduction for going into administration - which the club is appealing against - which left them bottom of the table.

"The short time he's been there, and with everything going on off the pitch, on the pitch you can see that he's building something. I hear and listen to the fans talk and they are loving it," he said.

"It's a difficult situation - Wayne can't go out and buy players so his hands are tied in that respect but he's creating an environment the players love and you can see they respect him.

"The fans have been behind him from day one, the fans have been fantastic, and long may that continue."

'My story is quite unique'

Nicholson is disappointed to no longer be part of Rooney's backroom team, but said: "I have kind of a get out of jail free card with my faith, because I know I'm going to be ok. That's the truth, I know I'll be ok."

He is now looking for opportunities to share the story of his experiences among the wider football community and with people in other walks of life, as well as working with clients as a one to one trainer.

"Obviously, my story is quite unique in football. I'm the only footballer to have been banned indefinitely from the game. I've overcome alcohol addiction, drug addiction, I'm 23 years clean and I'd go into workplaces, I'd go anywhere to share my testimony to try and help people," he explained.

"I want my testimony to be a big part of my life now. I want to get out there and share it with people, with players, with former players, I want to be able to mentor young footballers, that's been a dream of mine for a very long time. I was hoping to be able to do that more at Derby, but it didn't materialise.

"When people go through adversity, they're the things that mould us."


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