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Footballers' Lives: Colin Nixon on how Glentoran snub broke his heart and why he later turned down the Oval job

Refreshed outlook: Colin Nixon is relishing his next challenge after his break from the game
Refreshed outlook: Colin Nixon is relishing his next challenge after his break from the game
Shouting odds: Colin Nixon during his time as Ards manager
Special day: Colin Nixon with son Max during his testimonial against Coventry in 2007
Silver lining: Colin Nixon lifts the Irish Cup in 2013
Terrific trio: Colin Nixon, Paul Leeman and Michael Halliday proudly show off the Irish Cup after Glentoran’s 2009 triumph

By Graham Luney

In the latest edition of our popular series, Irish League great Colin Nixon discusses his Glentoran snub, why he later turned the Oval job down, regrets over not pushing hard enough to get across the water and his hopes for the future.

Q. You made your Glentoran first team debut in October 1995. Where were you before then?

A. I was at Ards Rangers and then St Andrews, but the entire team went to Linfield while I joined the Glens. I was always Glentoran orientated and wanted to play for them.

Q. If I had said to that 15-year-old kid that you would go on and become Glentoran's record appearance holder on 792 games over 18 seasons, would you have laughed at me?

A. I would have thought you were mad. My ambitions were actually to go across the water and Glentoran offered me a platform to do that. The Glens had a great tradition and I felt I belonged there.

I had signed for Rangers but was back at the Glens on loan, there was some disagreement about money and Rangers pulled out of the deal.

I was also at Leeds, and Livingston were going to sign me too on a full-time contract, but I had a job and was comfortable at the Glens so I stayed put.

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Q. Was the Rangers deal falling through a big disappointment for you?

A. Looking back, I think it was. I felt I had the capabilities to give full-time football a go. I wasn't the quickest in the world but luck wasn't on my side. But I had a remarkable career at Glentoran and I'm very grateful for that.

You are left wondering how I would have found it across the water but it didn't happen. At critical times luck wasn't on my side. Sometimes ability just isn't enough.

Q. Do you think it's easier for young players today to make it across the water?

A. Yes, because the league's profile is higher. Michael O'Neill, who I was lucky enough to play with, promotes the Irish League well, but I'm not saying it's easy, it's hard to make it in professional football.

Q. What were your early days like at Glentoran?

A. The first trophy I won was the Youth Cup. I was six months in the reserves before being promoted to the first team and luckily we won the Irish Cup that season.

I went on to win four league titles and six Irish Cups, in all about 35 trophies.

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Terrific trio: Colin Nixon, Paul Leeman and Michael Halliday proudly show off the Irish Cup after Glentoran’s 2009 triumph

Q. You must be very proud of that record?

A. I know the Glens fell away a bit over the years but they have always been one of the biggest clubs in Ireland in my eyes.

They were my boyhood club and I was thrilled to taste success with them. Maybe I took that success for granted at the team as many great players didn't have a career like that at a big club.

Q. Were you fortunate with injuries?

A. No, in fact I've had a few bad ones. I was out a whole season with groin injuries, had a few knee operations and broke my back. I think I played a lot when I was carrying injuries.

My motto was I'll play on if it's not as bad as the worst thing I played with, and that was a broken back, so it was difficult not to play for that reason!

Even if I knew I wasn't right, I kept going for the team. People in the stand might not have realised I was running with one leg but I don't regret any of it.

Q. Can you pick out any highlights?

A. I lifted the Irish Cup as a teenager and that was a special feeling. It was a fantastic trophy to me and I lifted it on my final day with the Glens in 2013, which was a poignant moment.

The supporters were brilliant to me and I'll never forget it.

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Silver lining: Colin Nixon lifts the Irish Cup in 2013

Q. Was that an emotional day for you, the 2013 Cup final win over Cliftonville?

A. It was more emotional than I realised. My family was there, the fans were fantastic and those moments live with you forever.

With the luck I had in the Irish Cup, it was a nice way to bow out even though I didn't want to leave the club. When we won the 2000 final against Portadown, I became the club's youngest ever player to enjoy three Irish Cup successes.

The first league title was special and we won it with a swagger, it was an exciting team to be a part of and scoring the winner away in Europe for the first time was special when we beat Allianssi of Finland in 2004. I treasure so many moments.

Q. Football is about lows as well as highs. What about your low moments?

A. The period when Roy Coyle left the club was tough. The fans were rightly frustrated as performances and results weren't good.

Looking back, I cannot believe what happened to the Glens. We hit the skids for a few years and the club went into a transitional period.

Not getting across the water hurt me as well but there was no time to dwell on it when you were still playing.

Q. You got a Northern Ireland Under-21 cap. Was missing out on a senior appearance a disappointment?

A. I knew I could do it, so in that sense it was frustrating. If you look at it logically, a centre-forward would have a better chance of playing as they are there to score goals. I'm jealous of anyone who got a cap but good luck to them.

I think I could have done it, but the chances of being selected as an Irish League player were slim, particularly if you're a right-back.

Q. Can you pick a best player you have played with and toughest opponent faced?

A. I could name so many and wouldn't want to upset anyone by leaving them out. I was lucky to go through a cycle at the club when we had teams that were good enough to win trophies.

It would be very unfair to pick out one player. For toughest opponent, I'd have to say I relished the ding-dong battles with Glenn Ferguson. You always had to constantly watch him or he'd score.

Q. Looking back at your whole career, is there anything you would have done differently?

A. I think I would have pushed harder to get across the water. At the time I just accepted it. I got comfortable here with a job and didn't make the possibility of a move my main focus.

I must say from the moment I walked into The Oval to the time I left I don't have any regrets. I gave it my all and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the club, top to bottom, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Q. Were you ever close to leaving?

A. Glentoran usually left their contract negotiations until late and that did open the door for other teams if you were playing well. I'd like to think I was a sought-after player, and I did talk to other teams but I usually ended up signing for the Glens for less money.

Q. How disappointed were you to leave the club in 2013?

A. The Glens were in a bit of turmoil financially, and myself twisting the knife wouldn't have helped the club, so I put them before my own heartache.

The supporters gave me such a send off so I wasn't going to let them down or bad mouth the club. It would have been bad form for me to do that but it's true that I never felt I should be going.

In my contract was a clause to become a coach but myself and Eddie Patterson didn't see eye-to-eye and that was it. Eddie saw things differently and that's fine.

Football is cut throat and ruthless, with little sentiment. Obviously Gary (Smyth) and Paul (Leeman) had a bad experience recently and I feel for them, but hopefully the Glens can right a few wrongs, and I like the way they have kept on Elliott Morris as a player-coach.

I think it's right they should look after the players who have been loyal to them and Elliott has been a great servant. Glentoran can only work and get back to where it belongs when people who really care about the club are there, I've always believed that.

Q. What happened after the Glens?

A. I went to Bangor at the age of 34, which raised a few eyebrows, and they had big plans to get promoted. It was a new challenge for me and we got to the play-off against Warrenpoint but they beat us on penalties.

That would have been a great achievement for the team. After that, I went to Larne for a short period before deciding I didn't have it anymore.

I perhaps should have kept playing in my late 30s, but training, which I used to love, wasn't as much fun and then you become frustrated.

Q. Do you have a big family?

A. I've five brothers - Bryan, Simon, Alan, Darren and Jonathan, who were all involved in football at some level. Darren was at Ards and is now doing well for Abbey Villa.

My dad Hugh was a referee after playing at a lower level. He was great, taking me everywhere, and I'm very thankful for his support and encouragement, without which I never would have made it.

I can remember going everywhere with my dad when I was younger, including to a BB match in Comber. He always warned me about bringing boots but he didn't come to matches when I was manager.

Football in this country is unique in terms of shouts from the stand and the Northern Irish humour. My mum Alice was also supportive but didn't go to the games, she couldn't cope and stuck to listening to the radio.

Q. Was coaching/management a long-term goal of yours?

A. Thankfully the Glens had paid for my coaching badges as the plan was to coach when I finished playing. When I stopped playing for Larne, the first opportunity that came up was H&W Welders Under-20s.

I took that and then the Glens job was available, but they possibly thought I was a bit wet behind the ears. I didn't get it and an opportunity arose at Ards where I had worked with the Academy.

I knew I could do it and managed to keep the team in the league. We became a Premiership club with a professional ethos and we did progress.

I felt I did a good job at Ards and kept them in the league for two years in difficult circumstances with limited resources. In our third season we lost a centre-forward when Sean Noble suffered a cruciate injury, and when Jonny Fraser left we lacked a cutting edge.

The problem was identified but I couldn't do anything about it. The club hit a big red panic button and now it's water under the bridge.

I don't hold grudges, I'll get on with my life. But I think it's remarkable what we did achieve under pressure. I think management in our league is one of the toughest jobs in the country. You can end up being cross with your kids for no reason.

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Shouting odds: Colin Nixon during his time as Ards manager

Q. What children do you have?

A. Three kids, Max (14), Rocco (11) and Francesca (2). Max is at Ards and gets great coaching there. I enjoy watching him play.

Rocco is a guitarist with no interest in football and Francesca could end up being a gymnast.

My time is now spent with those three and they keep me busy.

Q. Why didn't you take the Glens job?

A. My stock was high as I was doing well at Ards, but I felt when the Glens came calling they did so after approaching others. That annoyed me, and I was thinking, 'Why didn't they just come for me?'

Different people turned them down and then they turned to me. I was happy to talk to the club, and every single part of me wanted to go, but Ards worked hard to keep me.

I had a brother, Darren, and good friend on the coaching staff who I couldn't bring with me and I'm a remarkably loyal person. They would have been out of a job and that didn't sit well with me.

I won't go into the package that Glentoran offered but it just wasn't for me and, to be honest, I could have suffered the same fate as Paul and Gary. But I will say that it broke my heart because I had yearned to return to the club. I put loyalty over everything as I had done in my career with the Glens. I could never have guessed Ards would struggle.

Q. Is that door closed or could you coach at the Glens in the future?

A. I'd be open and willing to listen to anyone who wants to talk to me at any level. I hope the door isn't closed at Glentoran but no one knows what the future holds.

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Special day: Colin Nixon with son Max during his testimonial against Coventry in 2007

Q. Are you willing to give management another go?

A. I've had a break and now I'm refreshed and ready to return to the game. I'm still hungry to win things. I've been doing some media work and it has reminded me how much I miss the game.

What happened with Ards took a heavy toll on me, and the break from the stressful environment has done me good. I've learned a lot and I'll emerge from it all a better manager.

In the end, I didn't get Ards relegated, in fact, I kept them up twice. I threw my heart and soul into the job and that's what you'll get from me.

From my playing days I've believed in professionalism, total dedication and commitment. I will be self-critical and perhaps I put the players under too much pressure to perform, but pressure was being put on me.

Now I'm looking forward to the next challenge after learning from all the experiences I've had. I feel I'm ready to go again.

Snapshot

Date of birth: September 8, 1978

Place of birth: Newtownards

Previous clubs: Glentoran, Bangor, Larne.

Glentoran record: 792 appearances, 87 goals

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