Footballers Lives' with Jonny Addis: Football is a tough place to be a Christian with gambling culture but I love the craic as well
In the latest of our popular series, Ballymena United star Jonny Addis discusses his faith, his mixed emotions over Glentoran's Irish Cup win and his family's sad loss.
Q. How did your career get up and running?
A. I started off at a wee club called Apex Sky Blues in Newtownabbey before going to Greenisland, then Ballyclare. I was living in Carrick from 2001 and it made sense to play for them. It was a decent Under-18 set-up. My dad Leslie is a Presbyterian minister and we lived in Rathfriland before moving to Buckna, just outside Ballymena. I remember going to Cullybackey Sky Blues as a boy. I've been living in Carrick since 2001 and have just bought a house there.
Q. Did you progress well at Carrick?
A. Stephen Small was the manager and he gave me a chance when I was 17 as a left-sided midfielder. I was also a striker without pace, so that didn't last! But I scored goals in reserve team football. It was a lot tougher in the first team, playing men's football. Stephen left and Michael Hughes came in. I played up front and at centre-half a few times until Glentoran came in for me. Another exciting experience for me was going to the World Student Games when I was 19. The majority of the team were League of Ireland players and the event was in Russia. We played the hosts in front of 12,000 and beat them 2-1. France beat us on penalties in the quarter-finals but it is one of my best memories in football.
Q. How did the move to Glentoran come about?
A. Seamus Lynch, who was working with Eddie Patterson, got in touch. I was out of contract at Carrick and there was talk of interest from Ballymena United. I wanted to play in the Premiership and when the Glens came in it was a no-brainer.
Q. It was a big move for you, how exciting was that opportunity?
A. I didn't think twice about the move, I was ready for it. There were Glentoran fans in my family and while I wasn't a die-hard fan I can remember going to Boxing Day games. I was pinching myself because it was a massive challenge at one of the biggest clubs in the country. Looking back now, I never expected to play as much as I did and I'll always be grateful to Eddie for giving me a chance. In a reserve game Eddie had a look at me at centre-half and that's when I moved back to there. My debut was Elliott Morris' testimonial against Kilmarnock and Eddie needed a centre-half. Andy Smith volunteered but he had no experience there whereas I did. I played well in the game and Eddie knew I could do a job there.
Q. How did you feel about the Irish Cup win in 2013?
A. It was a bit strange, amazing to win it but I came on for about the last two minutes of the final. I played up to the quarter-final but then dropped out of the team. I enjoyed the victory but it's never the same feeling when you actually play in the final, you don't feel like you've really contributed to it. A big motivation for me now is to play in and win the big cup finals like this League Cup one for Ballymena United against Linfield this month.
Q. Overall, how do you reflect on your time at the Glens?
A. Probably more bad times than good. It's a massive club but wasn't producing on or off the pitch. I was there for five years and had one Irish Cup to show for it so that was disappointing. A club that size should win more. There was a big turnover of managers and the pressure and expectation was always there, the fans demand trophies. The club can't say top six is a target when Gary Haveron was sacked for that. The abuse some of the players received was incredible. I loved my time at Glentoran but it was a difficult club to be at.
Q. Ballymena United then came in for you. Was that a tough call to make?
A. Paul McAreavey, the Ballymena United scout, got in touch with my dad and passed on the club's interest. I hadn't had any word from Glentoran and I met David Jeffrey. The Glens didn't offer me a contract and I never sat down with the chairman. I had no intention of leaving but while United were very keen to sign me, Glentoran didn't offer me a contract. I then agreed a pre-contract with United and the whole episode affected my form. Once the deal was done I played very well. There were a lot of rumours of me not turning up for negotiations but that was nonsense. In terms of joining United, I had no fears and it's been the best thing I have done in my career. It's worked out brilliantly, although I never expected us to be challenging at the top of the table and in a cup final.
Q. Do you feel the league title, if not this season, should be a realistic ambition for United certainly within the next few years?
A. That's the direction Davy wants us to go in. That's a big motivation for him but I don't think anyone genuinely thought we could push for a league title this season. The big priority is consistently qualifying for Europe. Perhaps we are ahead of schedule, and it's okay to reconsider targets, but the funny thing is this season we have hardly trained because we have played so many matches. But within the next few years the league title should be our ambition. Of course we want to be the best and make history, I certainly have the desire to win medals.
Q. You've got Linfield now in the League Cup final at Windsor Park on February 16. How tough a test will that be?
A. It's a one-off game. Our games have been about fine margins and although they have home advantage, with it being a cup final that element is taken away a little. I'm sure the management will remind everyone how the club underperformed in last year's final. It will be a tough game but at this stage of the season every game has felt hugely important to us.
Q. Has your dad been a big influence?
A. He's always been very supportive and encouraging. He goes to every game and if there were 100,000 people in the stand I'd still hear him! He loves it and at times he's been too biased and kind to me. I'm 26 but he still texts me on a Friday to make sure I'm not out. He's been the biggest influence on my career. My brother-in-law is Nathan McConnell, who used to play in the Irish League. My fiancée Olivia has just said yes to a wedding proposal which was a great relief. We've been together for seven years and she's from Carrick. She's been to a few matches and likes watching me play but I'm sure she has more important things to do. She was a scud for a while, turning up when we lost. Her father is Kel McDermott who played for Linfield and Carrick and her brother Ashton plays for Carrick. She knows her football and will get used to my mood swings! It's nice when you have that family support but if the fans are giving players abuse then it's not nice for the family to hear that. We are all human beings and criticism can be justified but verbal or physical abuse, in real life or on social media, is wrong. It hurts players and families. What we do is part-time. Football is not my life. I love it and it's a big commitment but it's not my life. My mum Pamela knows all about what's happening in my games from listening on the radio.
Q. Have you set a date for your wedding?
A. Probably the summer of 2020. I didn't want to embarrass her in public so I proposed in the hotel room in Dublin.
Q. How's the teaching going?
A. I'm at Whitehead Primary School. Teaching hasn't been a long-term passion of mine but I enjoyed coaching kids. Now I love every second of it. I have a B licence, part one but I'm not rushing to do the other badges just yet.
Q. Is your Christian faith tested in the football environment?
A. I try and live my life a certain way but that doesn't mean I'm perfect or I get everything right. I say the same things to referees other people say and I let myself down. The changing room is a difficult place to be a Christian. It's a lads' environment and there can be peer pressure. People act differently in a group of men than they might at home. There's a gambling aspect too. It's a total contradiction to what I believe in. In terms of how people act towards me they are no different and I wouldn't expect them to change. There is banter but I play along. I like to have craic. Playing on a Sunday wouldn't bother me, unless it became a regular thing and affected my church life.
Q. You mentioned gambling. Do you feel it's a problem in football?
A. I've seen a bit of it. I wouldn't name names but I've seen guys in changing rooms struggle with it. People put thousands of pounds on anything and when you win a few quid you become addicted. You will lose the money eventually. It's rife in every changing room I've been in. I would say the majority of the players in the league gamble. There is the extreme side of it which can lead to suicidal thoughts and then there are people who bet regularly but keep it at small amounts. It is enjoyment to a lot of people and I can never say don't do it but I've seen it become dangerous and something that can affect your whole life.
Q. Have you been through a tough time as a family?
A. On Good Friday last year my granda Eddie Power passed away. Up until that point we hadn't experienced bereavement and it hurts. You realise how precious life is. My granda had health problems for a long time and was blessed to live long so it wasn't a surprise but his body deteriorated quickly. I'll always be grateful for having the chance to talk to him at the end and he wasn't in pain for long. It's difficult seeing how it affects my mum and granny, we are a close family. My granda supported Ballymena United as a boy and it was nice I was able to join before his passing. Outside my mum and dad, he was the first to know I signed. In his last days he gave his life to Jesus and that was very comforting for us.
Date of birth: September 27, 1992
Place of birth: Newry
Previous clubs: Carrick Rangers, Glentoran
Ballymena United record: three goals in 30 appearances