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Inspirational Brownrigg determined to help others

Former Rotherham defender Andy Brownrigg is definitely a quiz question in the making.

After all, the Sheffield-born centre-half would admit himself that he hardly made the biggest of impacts at the club.

Indeed, despite joining from Norwich as a highly-rated youngster in the early part of the 1997/98 season, he only featured as an unused substitute once before a terrible incident ruined his time at the Millers and probably, in truth, his whole career.

It could have been so different, though.

Brownrigg, who went to the Canaries for a fee of £100,000 in 1995, failed to make a first-team appearance at Carrow Road and came to Millmoor on trial – returning to the club where he was on the books as a schoolboy.

The Millers were in a period of transition following the appointment of Ronnie Moore and, although no one knew it at the time, something special was on the horizon.

Brownrigg – born in Chapeltown and the son of a Rotherham fan – had the opportunity to be a part of that.

After impressing on trial he signed and was on the bench for the Millers’ clash at Cambridge the following day, which they lost 2-1.

Perturbed at losing the first three games of his managerial reign, Moore told Brownrigg that if he could get through a midweek reserve fixture he would be in the team the next week.

On hearing that news Brownrigg – only 22 at the time – made a decision that affected his entire life.

“I went to Norwich and it was quite a big-money move, I was a young lad and sort of catapulted,” he said. “But my career was just littered with bad luck and injuries and every time I was breaking into the team something happened.

“Mike Walker came in and let me know Rotherham were interested in me and being a Sheffield lad and being at Rotherham as a schoolboy, I was really excited about coming home.

“Initially it was just a bit of a trial, Ronnie Moore had a look at me and then signed me.

“I signed on the Friday and I was on the bench on the Saturday at Cambridge. We lost and I remember Ronnie saying to me ‘I am going to play you in the reserves, if you get through 45 minutes you'll be starting next week’.

“I thought brilliant, but me being me I went out and celebrated it and ended up in the middle of Rotherham and got in an altercation with somebody.

“I ended up getting hit in the face with a hammer and was out of the game for four months. 

Andy Brownrigg was robbed of the chance to play at Millmoor after a town centre attack
“The lad got four years in prison but I put myself in that position. I should have been at home putting my feet up, but if I had known what I know now I wouldn’t have been drinking.

“But it wasn’t to be, I was out, I put myself at risk. I didn't deserve what happened, but I put myself in that position.

“I got back and lost quite a bit of weight and it took me a while to get back into it.

“At the end of the season I was hoping that Ronnie was going to give me another year, but unfortunately he told me there wasn't a contract there for me."

Unfortunately Brownrigg’s career did not get much better after that. 

He went into non-league for a number of years, and although he returned to the Football League with Kidderminster, he couldn't ever live up to the potential which led to Norwich paying a six-figure fee for him.

That was perhaps because throughout it all he was battling serious demons off the pitch, which bottomed out in 2008 when he was admitted into the Sporting Chance Clinic with gambling, alcohol and drug addictions.

Although he attributes his personality as the cause of his problems, he admits that the football culture didn’t help.

“It was so hard to make that first call. I rang Sporting Chance and my life got better from there,” he explained.
“I went in there as a broken man and, after four weeks, I came out with a lot of optimism and hope.
"I have now turned my life around. I can do the simple things in life and I appreciate them.
“It would be naive for me to say my problems were just because that I was a footballer.

“I can say that aspects of the culture probably didn’t help, but I would argue that I was already that way inclined.

“My coping strategy to get away from the pressures was to escape and avoid them. 

"People have problems in all walks of life, however, what I would say is that it was more difficult with me being a sportsman because the way we are perceived to be by the public.

“We are seen as able to cope and deal with things and while that is an important aspect of our skill set on the field, I realise looking back that I was very unskilled in areas of my life.

“It was difficult because I couldn’t come through my difficulties when I was playing.”

The main positive to come out of Brownrigg’s struggle is his determination to stop other players going down the same route as himself.

After dragging himself up from rock-bottom, the 38-year-old put himself through university, getting a degree in Sports Science, centring on footballers’ transition post-playing.

He is currently studying for a PhD and is putting his experience to great use, going around club’s academies educating youngsters on the dangers of being a professional footballer.

“I have been doing a bit of teaching at university and I am also working for Sporting Chance, the clinic I ended up going into and we go around the academy players and talk to them about the pressure and stresses of being a professional footballer.

“We talk about the difficulties that they may fall into. It's more about educating them really rather than telling them what they can and can't do.

“It’s been an interesting part of my life, but it's also been an enlightening experience.

“I wanted to stay in the game initially. As footballers we want to stay in the game because it’s something that we have always loved but also it’s what we are used to and it’s our comfort zone.

“I was interested in why I was so skilled and fit, yet when I was on the field of play my performance faltered.

“I knew that was down to the mental side of it. So that intrigued me, I knew a lot about physiology and diet through my career but the mind really interested me.

Then it was events after my career that put me onto this area. When I went into it I realised there hadn't been a lot of work done on career transition and because of what had happened to me I just felt right and it happened.

Sporting Chance Clinic - set up by Tony Adams - helped Brownrigg recover

“My advice to people in the game is to make the most of it, but to prepare for life after. It's important because it is such a short career, the majority of footballers who leave the game have to work afterwards, so there is a high percentage of Andy Brownriggs.

“That’s not to say they'll go down the road I went down, but people have to find something else to do.

“So enjoy the moment, it’s a great job, but have one eye on what you’re going to do when you're finished. That’s really important.

“Not everybody is like me, but certainly the amounts of money that the players get now, the question that has to be asked is are the young lads ready for it all. 

“Whilst you can be young an foolish, that's okay, there comes a time where certain people have to go in and educate people.”

So, although Brownrigg has turned his negative experiences in life into a positive by helping to guide others, he has obvious regrets and things not working out at Millmoor is one of them.

“I enjoyed my time at Rotherham, I had an affiliation with the club as a young lad, my dad was a fan.

“I knew people there, so I felt really at home. It was just a shame that the offence happened. It could have been so different. When you look back and you can say that was meant to be, but I know there was a reason for it.

“Sometimes we have to go down these paths and get a bit of pain to realise our role in life.

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