Grieving Bangor FC boss Garth Scates on keeping his wife's memory alive, the debt he owes local sport, and a return to dugout
Irish League football manager Garth Scates has spoken about the heartbreaking loss of his "wonderful wife" Lesley, who died following a car accident in October.
In a thoughtful and emotional interview Garth opened up about his pain, how he and his two young children are coping, and thanked the sporting community in Northern Ireland for rallying around in his hour of need.
Garth also revealed that after taking a break from football following his wife's death he returned to manage Bangor because that is what Lesley would have wanted him to do.
Today the Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 side are involved in their biggest game for years against Championship 2 outfit Queen's in an Irish Cup quarter-final.
The former Northern Ireland under-21 international is hoping to inspire his team into an unlikely semi-final spot.
Garth and Lesley, both from Comber, shared a common love of sport.
While Garth shone as an Irish League star, winning a host of honours with Linfield, Lesley was a fine hockey player for the North Down and Harlequins ladies teams.
She was also heavily involved in the local community with her church's Girls' Brigade and was a much-loved PE teacher at Nendrum College.
More than 1,000 mourners attended Lesley's funeral in Comber.
The 35-year-old died in October last year at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital a week after she was critically injured in a single-vehicle crash on the Killinchy Road, Comber.
Lesley was survived by her husband of seven years, their children Gabriella, six in August, and two-and-a-half-year-old Elliott, parents Jim and Joan Ditchfield, and brother Neil.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his late wife, Garth said: "Lesley was a wonderful wife and a great mum.
"She was well-known in sport and well-known in the community for the work that she did and very well-liked. She was a good person."
Referring to the accident, he said: "No one ever expects something like that to happen. It was awful dealing with it and still is, and such a massive, massive loss."
Asked about how he was coping now, Garth replied: "I'm coping all right at the moment because my kids are okay."
Pausing, he added: "My kids have been great.
"My wee fella is too young to know or understand what's happened and my wee girl, who will be six in August, she knows... she's questioned me, but she's been really good."
Garth, who paid tribute to his "fantastic family" for their help with his children, said that he found it comforting to talk about Lesley.
"It does help. Everybody you meet is very nice, but they don't know what to say to me and I think people find it awkward, but it does help talking about her," he said.
The whole of sport in Northern Ireland was shocked and saddened by the tragedy and lent their support, which Garth said he will forever be grateful for. "Bangor Football Club and people throughout the Irish League were great. Some of my old Linfield team-mates came to the house just after the accident and we sat, talked and laughed about end-of-season trips, the fun we had and the team we had, and I needed that," he said.
"It wasn't just football, though. There's been support from every sport you could mention in the country.
"I've had letters and phone calls, which have really helped. I thank everyone for that."
After Lesley's death her husband took a break from being boss of Bangor, while his assistant Jeff Montgomery and coach Paul Kee took over the running of the team.
"She would have wanted me to go back to the football.
"She was sporty herself and we did sporty things together, so I was always going to go back," added Garth.
"I knew I was going to be away for a while. It was a question of when I would return. Jeff (Montgomery) took over and Paul (Kee) helped out and those two were brilliant, as were the players.
"The Bangor chairman Trevor Best and the rest of the board were also perfect with me. They wanted me to come back but only when I was ready.
"I'm glad I'm managing again. It lets me switch off. The club know, though, that if the kids don't want me leaving the house I don't go, because I have to protect them before I think of anything else."
Garth Scates on Bangor Football Club