Former Blade arrives ready to show he’s still cutting edge

TO REACH the top, most professional footballers have dedicated themselves to the game for as long as they can remember. It’s a closeted, intense, focused and protected life. Footballers, especially those playing at elite levels in Europe, live in a bubble.

So when something unforeseen, unexpected and unwanted happens away from the game, it not only gives them pause for thought; it can bring about a fundamental change in the way they view not just the sport but their whole approach to life.

Nick Montgomery, the Central Coast Mariners midfielder born and raised in Leeds knows exactly how priorities can change in an instant.

The 31-year-old spent 12 years with Sheffield United – a decade in the Championship, an ill-starred season in the Premier League and a chaotic campaign in League One. It was during the last of his dozen years with the South Yorkshire side, the one they spent in the third tier of the English game, that his priorities changed completely and ultimately led to him taking up both the opportunity and the challenge of a spell in the A-League with the Mariners.

As Montgomery explains, he had lived, breathed and thought about little else than football – until his wife Josie gave birth to twin girls Chloe and Leah, who were born two months prematurely.

It was their fight for life and the subsequent struggles his daughters had surviving viral meningitis and other problems associated with premature birth that altered his perspective and led him to seek a fresh challenge on the other side of the world. Having quickly cemented a role for himself in the Mariners side and thrown himself into life in Gosford, it’s not a move Montgomery regrets.

He has played in many big matches – including play-off finals at Wembley in front of massive crowds – but is looking forward to Saturday night’s debut at Etihad Stadium in front of what should be a healthy gate as the in-form Mariners face the resurgent Victory in what will be a good guide for both clubs as to where they stand a quarter of the way into the season.

”I am really enjoying things here. We have made a great start to the season and I have no regrets about moving to Australia. So far it’s been great for us as a family and in my football,” Montgomery says.

”Things didn’t go well for me in that last year in England. I had spent all that summer [the preceding pre-season] in hospital with the kids in intensive care. For five or six months I was backwards and forwards to the hospital with the kids, and for all of that time football became irrelevant to me, for the first time in my life. They are now perfectly fine but it was a tough start to parenting. At the time I was captain of the club but football became unimportant. I knew it was time for me to get a fresh start and when the option of Australia came up I grabbed it with both hands. I could have stayed in the Championship, I had inquiries, but decided to leave.

”Australia appealed to me for a long time. My dad had lived here for a couple of years when he was young, so he was encouraging. I was the right age and it was the right time of my career, and having small children, none of them in school, they didn’t have to leave friends behind so the adjustment would be easier.

”After playing for so many years in the Championship and that one season in the Premier League, I just wanted a new experience. A lot of players in England, when they get to around 30, they look at maybe wanting to go abroad to America or Australia. I have even got friends who have been to Indonesia. A lot of people say it but, when it comes down to it, a lot of people find it a problem to move from family in the UK or move kids from school. For me it wasn’t such a big issue.”

It’s only been six weeks, but Montgomery is impressed by what he has seen in his new league.

”It’s a good standard. Its improving every year by all accounts and the likes of [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Emile] Heskey, players like that coming here, it shows how much it’s grown. ”It’s a bit different to the UK regarding the style of football – it’s not as fast or physical – but the lads technically are very good. There’s a mix of young lads coming through, exciting talents who have a real future.

”The heat out here obviously means there’s no way you could play with the intensity that you do in England.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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