Footballers' Lives with Ross Glendinning: 'It's hard to accept I lost my mum to cancer. Myself and Reece want to make her proud'
Ballymena United goalkeeper Ross Glendinning explains how, despite the support of the football family, he continues to struggle without the guidance of mum Mandy.
Q. As your dad Mark is an Irish League legend who played for Bangor, Glenavon and Glentoran, is it hardly surprising you and your bother Reece, who plays for Ards, are following in his footsteps?
A. I don't think I ever missed a match my dad played in whether at Glentoran or Glenavon. I was even at training with my dad. As long as I can remember we have been in football together. I've always loved football and I know I used to go to Bangor when I was three and I practically grew up at Mourneview Park. In that sense, I can remember the Irish League since I was very young. I played for Greenisland when I was eight or nine and I'm still in touch with the guys who played there. Reece is two years younger than me and I always thought he was better than me, and I had to do something to get into the team so I went into goals. I was actually at Glentoran for a week but they didn't want me to go to the Milk Cup. I wanted to go and that was the end of that! My dad didn't have the time to follow me everywhere as he was playing himself. Later in his career, when he struggled with a knee injury, he watched me more. I appreciate his honesty. He was one of the best full-backs to play in the Irish League and he knows the game.
Q. When you were growing up, were you conscious he was a talented footballer?
A. Even now when we go to The Oval or Mourneview Park, you see how people treat him and, a few years ago when I had been nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year, my dad was picked in the best XI for the 125th anniversary of the Irish League. You realise he was one of the best. It's recognition I can only dream of. My dad was very dedicated to his football and I take that from him.
Q. Are you and Reece similar characters?
A No, definitely not - we are chalk and cheese! Reece comes across as shy but he can give as good as he gets on the pitch. He's more laid-back than me and I'd say he has more natural ability. I think he could still be at Linfield but his confidence must have been affected by being in and out of the team.
Q. You lost your mum Mandy to cancer when she was just 51. How have you and the family coped with that devastating loss?
A. My mum passed away on April 23, 2014. It was breast cancer that spread to her liver and she was probably suffering for a year and a half from the diagnosis. She was very young, and I can remember her being in the Northern Ireland Hospice at Whiteabbey Hospital, which was close to my house. I looked around and saw elderly people and it was hard being there with my mum who was much younger. The doctors found it had spread and from that point it was serious. My mum stayed positive but, looking back, I think she could have hidden how bad it was. She didn't want myself or Reece worrying. I knew she had a serious illness but I always hoped she would get better until a week before her death when it hit home. The doctor told me, 'Your mum's not going to live much longer' and that was a week before she passed away. Even though I knew she was going to die, when she took that last breath you're still in shock.
Q. How were your emotions then and how have they changed over time?
A. I looked up to my mum massively, no matter how poorly I played she was there to pick me up. Like my dad, she was very honest and I could talk to her about anything. I remember talking to her when she was in the Hospice about things, and dealing with her death has got harder as time has gone on. At the time, our house was full of people offering support, and you appreciate that, but when that dies away you have to deal with it. I've got to be mentally strong. I've had friends who have turned to God, like Ards player Nathan Hanley who lost his father to cancer, and their faith has given them peace of mind. That's not for me, but I would never disrespect anyone who feels that way. I will deal with things myself and I probably get that from my mum. One thing I struggled with is people shouting at me during games and I'm thinking, 'He doesn't know what I'm going through'.
Q. People say it gets easier to deal with the loss of a loved one over time, but are you saying you feel differently?
A. I've found it harder as time has gone on and you come to points in your life when you can't ask your mum for advice. My mum never got to meet my fiancée Sophie or her son Oliver, and that will always hurt me. Myself and Reece are always trying to make her proud. It's not so much a bereavement thing now, it's knowing she is happy for us. My mum was just so young and I was 20 when it happened. You just can't work out how it can happen.
Q. How is your dad coping?
A. He found it difficult to talk about. They were best friends and did everything together. When my dad stopped playing they were inseparable, whether shopping together or at the football or walking the dog. There's no one that can replace mum, and he is lonely, but you have to carry on. My mum never drove so it was difficult to watch me when I was younger, but they never missed a game when myself and Reece played for Linfield. Even when my mum was sick from the chemotherapy, she found the strength to go to Ballinamallard to watch me and Reece play in the Linfield team together for the first time. My dad plays for Glentoran Legends, it's great he's still involved in football.
Q. How brave was your mum?
A. I work at the City Hospital for BT looking after the computers and printers, and that's where my mum came in a few times after the chemotherapy. That was hard, her hair fell out but she never complained. I'd watch her in the kitchen struggling to lift a spoon and it was hard to watch. You see people of all ages fighting cancer and it's hard to stand back and watch it, but I can remember mum telling me the story of when she was diagnosed she was in a small room with the nurses and doctor, they said, 'You've got breast cancer', my dad was in the chair crying and the nurses gave him a hug. My mum was laughing saying, 'I'm actually the one that's ill here!' That was how she dealt with it.
Q. You had the support of many friends in football, did that lift you?
A. That was massive, even when we were raising money for the Hospice they were brilliant. Everyone is very close and supportive in the league despite the rivalries. When something serious happens, they do come together. I'm very thankful to them and the Hospice. My dad has met Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, an ambassador for the NI Hospice, a few times and they invited the three of us to his Waterfront Hall show. It's incredible the work the Hospice are doing. I can't thank them enough. After my mum passed away, Warren Feeney came in as Linfield manager and he was very good with myself and Reece. He gave me a new contract and I felt like he rated me highly. It was a massive help to us at that time and I could never repay him. I never wanted to make people feel awkward and in my football life I didn't want anyone to treat me differently.
Q. What are your memories of the funeral?
A. It was massive, at Whiteabbey Church. I found it hard and I had told my mum that. I really found it hard to go there and speak to people. I had said my goodbyes to my mum and it was just a hard day. I appreciated everyone who turned up but part of me didn't want to be there. I can remember carrying my mum's coffin and seeing the crowds. I'm thankful for that support but it was the hardest day for me during that time.
Q. Many people don't get the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. Is it any comfort knowing you were with her in the Hospice?
A. My dad's father, Davy, died suddenly from a heart attack and they were very close. My dad reacted very differently to both deaths as, for a year and a half with my mum, he could try to prepare for it. The person is alive but the grief has started and you can plan things like the funeral and financial arrangements. It still felt like a sudden death to me because I hoped for a very long time that she would get better.
Q. Tell us about Sophie and your new home.
A. In the last six months, myself and my fiancée have moved into a new house in Newtownabbey, just five minutes from my dad. We had a leak downstairs so the carpets had to come up! Sophie has a son called Oliver from a previous relationship. He's seven now and a great kid who wants to be a goalkeeper, he supports Ballymena United too. He reminds me of me when I was growing up as he loves football and goalkeeping. Sophie does promotional work for Q Radio and Coca-Cola. She takes a big interest in football and we met through friends. Sophie would be a bit more outgoing than me but she has made a big difference to my life. I found it hard living with my dad and Reece but since I've moved out my relationship with my dad has probably got better. We got engaged in October and I was nervous asking her father Mark, who used to do a bit of officiating in the Irish League. Reece has a girlfriend and still lives at home.
Q. What has been the best moment of your career?
A. Winning the League Cup with Ballymena United last February. It was a great night with the crowd packed in at Seaview and the game on television. We were favourites and confident going into the game, the victory was brilliant and the clean sheet was nice too.
Q. How gutted were you to be left out of the Linfield team in the 2016 Irish Cup final, the 2-0 defeat to Glenavon?
A. By a mile that was my biggest disappointment. For as long as I'm playing, I want to get that taste out of my mouth. To this day I thought it was completely wrong. I had played 45 games that season and kept 20-plus clean sheets, the only other goalkeeper to keep more was Sean O'Neill, who won the league with the Crues. To be left out of the final after playing every round was hard to take. I don't think my presence would have changed the outcome of the game but I'm always honest with myself and if I feel I don't deserve to play I will say that. That one baffled me. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Q. Was your exit from Linfield difficult?
A. Linfield signed Roy Carroll and last season speaks for itself. I can't say I'm as good as Roy Carroll. I knew he was coming in and I just couldn't sit there, train and play the odd Cup game. I needed to get out and thought I did okay at Ballymena on loan. David Healy was honest with me, he didn't fill my head full of rubbish and I respect him for that. I had offers from a few clubs and United were the best option.
Q. How is your relationship with David Jeffrey?
A. He gave me my debut and first contract at Linfield. I worked with him and Bryan McLoughlin and Davy is old school, he's ruthless and I respect him for that, he wants to win. I can remember at Linfield he let Glenn Ferguson go, and you think then he can leave anyone out. I respect that.
Q. Who has been your toughest opponent and best player played with?
A. Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley at Cliftonville, when they attacked you always feared they could score. Joe's come back to haunt us again. Best team-mates would be strong defenders like Jimmy Callacher and Mark Stafford. Jimmy probably talks too much but they were great to play behind.
Q. Are there any goalkeepers you admire?
A. Glentoran's Elliott Morris was a hero to me. He's come through tough times in his career but he's been top drawer. In the last 15 years of the Irish League there has been no one close to him over that period of time.
Q. How long do you want to stay in the game for?
A. I'm only 24 and have gained a lot of experience from Big Two derbies to Cup finals. I look after myself and am still hungry for more. I want to be the best goalkeeper in the Irish League. Everyone talks about the presence of Roy Carroll and that comes from his experience at the highest level of the game. Roy was the reason Linfield won the league, but leaving the Blues was one of the best moves for me. I love Ballymena United, the fans are amazing, the club is run professionally and the facilities are amazing. They gave me a chance when Linfield didn't want me. Hopefully I can continue to repay them.
Date of birth: May 18, 1993
Place of birth: Belfast
Previous clubs: Linfield
Ballymena Utd record: 47 appearances