Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives with Howard Beverland: 'Dad didn't prioritise us as he should have but as a Christian it's important I don't live with bitterness'

By Graham Luney

In the latest of our popular series, Crusaders defender Howard Beverland, who celebrates his 28th birthday today, discusses how his experiences have mirrored his job as a social worker, why faith is so important to him, and leaving Coleraine.

Q. How did your football career start?

A. I can remember playing at Garryduff Primary School just outside Ballymoney. My older brother Chris played for the team too, and for me it was a joy to play with him, represent the school and play competitively. I was into rugby too but football came to the fore even though I went to Andrew Trimble's school, Coleraine Inst. I felt I could do better at football and went to Riada Soccer School with James McLaughlin, Ian Parkhill and Brad Lyons. I was dedicated and committed and progressed to playing for Coleraine in the Foyle Cup. At the Milk Cup I just missed out on making the County Antrim side but a team called San Francisco Seals were missing a few players and I ended up playing for them, including a game against County Antrim. Later on I was part of the Northern Ireland Elite Milk Cup team which made history, winning it back-to-back. At club level I got the breakthrough under Marty Quinn, playing right-back against Portadown.

Q. Your work outside football can be emotionally challenging, tell us about that.

A. I'm a social worker based in Ballymena. I work with young people and children in families. It's full-time and demanding of you in terms of time and the mental side of things. It can be quite frantic at times fitting training in around the odd crisis but I organise it as best I can. It's physically demanding as you are rushing about to different houses and meetings, but you are dealing with sad, difficult and risky situations so you need to be on your game. It's child protection work and making sure kids who are vulnerable are given the right care and protection that every child deserves. You could be dealing with domestic violence cases, drug or alcohol misuse, kids who are neglected or emotionally, sexually or physically harmed. I've spent time in court too dealing with situations where unfortunately you have to remove children from their home because the risk has been so great. You have empathy for the children. At the same time you can't become too attached to the point where you can't switch off. I've a new post now with Community Adolescents Mental Health services, young people's mental health.

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With kids on mission in Spain

Q. Tell us about your family life and how some of your experiences mirror the work you are doing as part of your job.

A. I'm not married and I'm living at home just outside Ballymoney with my two brothers Chris and Simon, mum Amanda and grandmother Isabella. We're a close family and all Christians. They are big supporters of me and enjoy the games, home and away. My mum and dad separated when I was young, and I don't have real memories of that time, but my father left and, as you grow older, you have to deal with those issues. I wouldn't say I was ashamed, it happens a lot, but mum was our primary carer, she did everything for us without much support or help. It was always her and us. When you're older you realise what your mum has done and what your father hasn't. Now there is no regular contact with my father Chris. It's not a normal family set-up but I won't be the only person to experience that. It will never be an excuse for me or my brothers to make bad decisions or go off the rails. I work with children who have had similar experiences. You wish things could have worked out differently but it's through experiences like that which means you can relate to others. I can identify with kids and, in that sense, something good has come out of it. I look back and see there was clear evidence my father didn't prioritise us the way he should have but, as a Christian, it's very important I don't live my life with ill feeling and bitterness towards someone. I'm not happy with decisions that were made but you can end up suffering if you don't forgive, even if you're the innocent party. Me and my brothers have taken the decision that there shouldn't be regular contact with my father. If I can help other people with similar experiences then something good can come from it.

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With mum Amanda and grandmother Isabella

Q. When did you become a Christian?

A. That's who I am as a person, that's my life, and there's always been a strong focus on going to church, the Youth Fellowship and Boys' Brigade. I made a commitment and choice and that happened for me when I was 16 and attending a church in Ballymoney. A youth worker called Gordon McIlroy from Ballymena, who is now a pastor in a church in America, was a big influence on me. It affects every aspect of my life from football and relationships to my job, and it's a great thing that there is forgiveness and grace available. It's about disciplines in your life and still wanting to be a follower. I think if you are committed to something people will respect you for it.

Q. Your team-mate Matthew Snoddy became a Christian after a gambling addiction nearly resulted in him taking his own life. How pleased are you for him?

A. Our paths first crossed at Coleraine when he was on loan. I'm always aware of how I carry myself around the club because you know people are watching you. I'm conscious that I'm setting a good example and representing what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It was a brilliant story around Matthew because I want others to believe and, to hear he has been saved, it will change his life now and for eternity. I wasn't fully aware of what he was experiencing but since that time we have something in common and it has developed a strong friendship. There can be bumps on the road and difficult times but he's in a better place and hopefully will continue to be.

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Howard Beverland with Maurice Omollo, a Christian from Nairobi, who requested boots or shirts for the people in Kenya.

Q. What did you make of the BBC documentary on Crusaders and did it have an impact on the club's title challenge?

A. I wouldn't read into the impact of the cameras. The bigger picture for Stephen Baxter is Crusaders as a club and its role in the community. I believe the decision Stephen made was the right one and the club is better off for it. I've lost finals and missed an Irish Cup final against Linfield when I was injured in 2008, but for me last season was the most disappointing, dark moment in my career. It was difficult to accept and for weeks afterwards it flashed up in my head. That was my first experience of being in a title run-in over a gruelling campaign. To be in front only to lose it at the last moment was very difficult to take. The reality is those tough moments make you stronger and we have responded this season.

Q. Have you been through any tough days in your life?

A. I lost a cousin, who was more like a brother to me, about 10 years ago when I was going to play for Northern Ireland in the Milk Cup. The funeral took place and I delayed meeting up with the team. Looking back, I was about 17 and Rodney was a big part of our family and it was a difficult time. He had a brain tumour and had two operations. He was 29 when he passed away and was very young. I'm 27 now and it makes you think. These moments can shake you emotionally. Rodney was a Christian himself and that faith is about the life to come, so that provides reassurance, but no-one is guaranteed to live a long, healthy life.

Q. You were captain at Coleraine and would have earned a testimonial had you not moved to Crusaders. Did you ever believe you would stay throughout your career?

A. I would never close down a potential avenue, I was open-minded but still content at Coleraine. I had offers to move on, once when then-Linfield manager David Jeffrey had made a bid for myself and Stephen Lowry, but I had faith in Oran Kearney and was playing well. Other offers came but I felt they weren't right until Crusaders made their move. I met Stephen Baxter with an open mind. It was a pivotal point in my career and I felt it was a good offer from a good club that had just won the league again. It was about grasping that opportunity for me, but it was difficult because Coleraine had been my footballing life from the age of 16.

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Alongside brothers Simon and Chris

Q. Coleraine are now challenging for the Premiership title with Crusaders and the sides meet at Seaview on Tuesday night. Are you surprised at how well they have performed?

A. I knew there was the potential for it to happen but I'm surprised it has happened this quickly. From my time working with Oran I could see what he was working towards. I will always be respectful to the fans but, even though I was there for nine years, you know when you're gone, you're gone and time moves on quickly. When you move clubs it's also the one game you want to win the most... beat your old team and score, which I have done. I played with great players and met great people there. There was some negativity with Oran under pressure. The club is very different and huge credit to them. I'm asked if I regret leaving but you make decisions at the time you feel are right and at Crusaders I have played in Europe and in the IRN-BRU Cup. The County Antrim Shield win was special as it was my first trophy. I'm embracing new experiences but I was 26 and I felt it was now or never.

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Howard Beverland with County Antrim Shield

Q. Who is the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?

A. The best is Stephen Carson at Coleraine. Stephen was one of those who got people on the edge of their seats and could produce a moment of magic. Eunan O'Kane was a good player too and Paul Heatley is a special talent. Toughest opponents were Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce but at Coleraine we played well against them. Jordan Owens was a handful and earlier in my career Gary Hamilton at Glentoran.

Q. Do you have any regrets in your career?

A. The only question is could I have done more when I went on trial as a 17-year-old at West Brom. Tony Mowbray was the manager, they had reached the FA Cup final and got promotion. I got a taste of the full-time environment but physically and mentally I wasn't ready for it. I was asking questions about education and university, and looking back I sometimes think should I have prioritised things differently. I wouldn't necessarily call it a regret but I may have invested more time and effort into my football career. But I took another path and hopefully I can enjoy many more good times with Crusaders.

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 8000.

Snapshot

Date of birth: March 30, 1990

Place of birth: Ballymoney

Previous clubs: Coleraine

Career record: 83 appearances, 4 goals

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