Our Very Own Sporty Spice – Lisa Swanson
Football is the one thing in my life that’s given me the best days of my life & also the worst days of my life…. it’s also something that has saved my life. From a young age I’ve always had a ball at my feet and I’ve been obsessed with football since I was around 4 years old, as you can see in the picture below, 4 years old & have a ball under my arm.
The blonde headed boy with the Rangers top on is my little brother, Billy, there’s less than a year between us so we’d always tell everyone we were twins due to being the same age for a while. When I was 8 and Billy was 7, we were separated due to my mum and dad being in a toxic relationship and my mum ended up moving to Doncaster with Billy, my big sister, Amanda, chose to stay with my dad and in all honesty the only person I wanted to be with was my Nana which meant I would also stay in Scotland but would stay with my dad & sister. Being in & out of lawyer’s offices as a kid was quite traumatic, having to tell the lawyers I wanted to stay with my dad when I really didn’t want my mum to leave with my brother was something that hit me hard later in life. Through all of this I always turned to football as a distraction. Football was the only thing that I was in control of in terms of just leaving everything behind and forgetting about everything that was going on. It allowed me to just be a kid and be happy for a short time while I battered my football off a wall for hours and hours each day.
We were all Rangers supporters growing up, the older I got the more I was able to understand what the club was about and how successful Rangers Football Club is, Rangers quickly became something that I loved and went on to become a huge part of my life, as a supporter and a player for the club. For my 10th birthday my Nana bought me a week’s training with the Rangers Soccer School’s up at Ibrox which meant I was playing football everyday for a week straight across from the stadium, that’s when I became obsessed with wanting to be the best player I could be so I could play for Rangers, which was literally impossible due to the club not having a female set up at that time, I just had it in my head that I would be a Rangers player one day.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Rangers Girl’s Under 17’s were set up, I played for Kilmarnock at the time and a team in our league were going to take over Rangers which meant every time we played against this team we were being watched closely, one night after attending a Scotland trial (which I failed at as I wasn’t selected for the team) I got a phone call from a guy who seen me play in the Scotland trial & also watched me playing several times in the league, it was the Rangers coach at the time (John Mcmonagle) who was phoning to aske me if I wanted to come along to trial for Rangers, after saying I’d be there I ran in and told my Nana & I’ll never ever forget her reaction, she was the happiest and proudest person in the world that night! The trial went well and I signed on the 10th August 2007, 2 weeks before my 16th birthday. The Rangers Women’s team was then set up the following year in 2008 and I moved into the senior squad which meant I was part of the very first Rangers Girls’ team and the very first Rangers Women’s squad. From that day in 2007, I went on to spend 11 years playing for the club I’ve always loved and supported.
In 2013, myself, my sister & my Nana were reunited with my brother, Billy, for the first time in around 14 years, me and Billy were inseparable & you’d think we’d never been apart from each other, we clicked instantly and it was the best feeling in the world having him home, even more so for my Nana, the 14 years he was away from us she never missed his Birthday or Christmas & always made sure she sent something down for him. Billy got to see me play in an Old Firm game the week that he was home. He went back to Doncaster after a week visiting home & I felt like I had my wee brother taken away from me again, it was hard to take but we did keep in contact.
Football was going well for me, I was literally living the dream playing for Rangers & was managing to keep myself in the team as a starting player in a team full of Scotland internationals. Things also started to change a bit for me, my Nana was diagnosed with vascular dementia and she suffered this illness for as long as she could before it all got too much for her and she passed away on the 3rd July 2014, she was a fighter and the strongest person I’ve ever known in my life, we have quite a big family and my dad is the youngest of my Nana’s 9 kids, there’s so many grandchildren & great grandchildren and my Nana was the one who held the whole family together. My Nana was the most important person in my life who brought me up as one of her own, she was my best friend and had the biggest influence in my life….and now she was gone. I struggled so much when my Nana passed away but there was so much happening around that time I didn’t know how to control how I felt. 7 days after my Nana passed my, my oldest nephew, Freddie, was born on the 10th July, born on the 10th which was also my squad number for Rangers, I went from having the most heart breaking experience of my life to one of the best things in my life in a matter of 7 days. To be honest, I was a mess. Freddie brought so much happiness to everyone and we were so thankful to have him in our lives, me and him are really close now and for a kid at only 4 years old who missed meeting my Nana by 7 days, he always speaks of her which is nice. At this point I threw myself into football and tried to forget everything.
I was never good at showing how I felt, it took me a very long time to even come to terms with losing my Nana & I would break my heart crying almost every night, I would lock myself away and anytime I had to be around people I used to force myself to always be the one who was laughing & carrying on, this was my way of hiding the fact I felt like I dying inside. When I started to come to terms with things, my family was hit with another tragedy. In 2015 me and my sister got a phone call from Doncaster, the phone call was to let us know that my little brother, Billy, who was only 23 years old, had taken his own life after battling with depression, he suffered alone and it wasn’t until Billy’s inquest we found out the reasons behind why he took his own life. In a matter of 14 months, my sister and I both lost our Nana and brother and it felt like the end of the world. When we attended Billy’s funeral, we were also meeting my mum for the first time in 16 years & also meeting my little brother’s son, Zachary, who was born only 5 months after Freddie. It was so much to take in. At this point in my life I was gone. Things at home weren’t good, I struggled with life, I convinced myself that I was no good to anyone and I wasn’t thinking straight at all for months & months, I had no control whatsoever over anything.
In January 2016, I spent 2 weeks in a mental health ward in hospital after attempting and failing to take my own life, only those who have hit rock bottom and been in that place will probably understand why I tried to do that after everything that my family had already suffered but If I went into detail as to why I ended up in that place then I’d be here for hours. This is when football saved my life, my Rangers manager at the time, Kevin Murphy was a massive help for me, he put things in place and got me the help that I needed, he looked out for me and changed my whole mindset, he would check up on me all the time and was there for me. He was the type of manager that looked after his players and was a great support. When I got out of hospital, I was getting help from health professionals, I wanted my sister and my nephews to be proud of me, but at the time I tortured myself & constantly thought “how can I leave Freddie and my sister behind?” but also thought “I’m gonna be no use to this kid and be nothing but a depressed problem to him and anyone else around me, I have nothing at all to offer and I’m nothing but an inconvenience to everyone” I felt so alone and as things weren’t good at home, I felt unwanted.
I got out of hospital and focused purely on football, it was my distraction from my Nana, my brother and from all the trauma I put my sister through. I threw myself into it at 100mph and focused on making sure I was doing everything I can to make my nephews proud of me. Through that I got the chance to play professional football in Finland, one of the reason I went was due to my Nana always telling me to take chances and go and see the world, I turned in down twice before as I didn’t want to leave Rangers but after reaching 10 years at the club I decided to go. I did well and scored the goals which kept the team in the top league, in my eyes my job was done & I wanted back to Rangers, when I was in Finland my youngest nephew, Frankie was born too, the day before my birthday, so I wanted home to meet him and just be around my family.
In 2018, football is what I turned to again. As things at home weren’t any better, I had no choice but to register as homeless, I lived in homeless accommodation for 8 months before then being offered my own place to stay. Throughout all of this I feel I dealt with things in the best way I could but due to what was going on at home, I feel that it was coming across as I wasn’t fully focused on football, which for me I knew I was giving Rangers everything I could but at the same time I was looking after myself, mentally and physically. I then sat on the bench for almost the full fist half of the season which was frustrating for me as I knew I was doing good enough to start in the team, I didn’t feel like I was getting a proper chance. I then asked for advice on what to do and ended up going on loan to Kilmarnock where I played 8 games for the club, I scored 8 goals & got 7 assists which meant I finished the season as joint top goal scorer, I won goal of the season and won Player Of The Month for September and was nominated for Player Of The Month for the 2nd month in a row. I got my love for football back, in my head, every ball I kick and every goal I score, I have my Nana in mind, she’s the reason why if I’m not having the best game I’m always giving my 100%. As a football player I believe in myself more than ever. The day that I registered as homeless was the same day I decided that I’m going to look after myself properly and do what I need to do to make sure I’m in the best state of mind I can be. If I’m in a good place mentally then you’ll get the best out of me as a footballer. I now have a full time job as a mental health support worker and playing football is like having another full time job so you’re on the go constantly almost everyday so sometimes you need to miss a training session to have that time with your family and have that one day to be with people that are important to you and you also need to have a support system who understands that.
It was heart breaking for me to leave Rangers after spending 11 years at the club and to be honest I really didn’t want to leave and I made that clear but after going on loan with Kilmarnock, I knew that by leaving Rangers I was going to be ok. My meeting with Rangers didn’t go as well as I wanted it to go and I feel I still have a lot more to offer Rangers, as a player who lives and breathes Rangers Football Club I don’t think they should have let me go but I now feel I owe a lot to Kilmarnock because they gave me the chance to play football again and I got my love back for football. I’ll always love Rangers more than anything and always support the club but I am 27 now so don’t have many years left in me, I’m hoping I can spend my last few years as a footballer being happy and helping Kilmarnock Football Club in the best way I can. I’m so thankful for everyone who helped me at Rangers and so thankful for Kilmarnock for not giving up on me, I’m now looking forward to throwing myself back into football again and try to get Kilmarnock back in the Women’s Scottish Premiere League.