Wednesday 13 December 2017

'I feared my thoughts would stay that way for the rest of my life' - Harry Arter

Harry Arter of Ireland
Harry Arter of Ireland
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

After living through a few months that had seen him suffer the unbearable heartache of the death of his stillborn daughter Renee and a series of setbacks in his football career, Arter now had to deal with the death of his beloved grandfather as he was pushed to an emotional precipice.

A few short hours later, the Bournemouth midfielder would be asked walk out at the Aviva Stadium to make on his second start in the Ireland senior team, yet his mind was a million miles away from football.

Trapped by grief, riddled with self-loathing and no longer in love with the sport that had given him so much in his life, Arter didn't know where to turn.

"I will never forget the way I felt on the pitch in that Oman game," begins Arter, in an emotionally charged exclusive interview with the Sunday World.

"I did not sleep one wink the night before. I was just sat in my room, my head was racing. I didn't know how to deal with everything that was coming at me.

"The concern for me at the time was that I might feel like I did in those few weeks for the rest of my life and that was frightening.

"What pushed me to that point was probably my Grandad passing away just before the Oman game and his funeral was coming up when I got back from Ireland.

"It was my Dad's father and we were all so close to him. It had a massive impact on how I was feeling at that moment.

"No one knew about my Grandad going into the Oman game. I didn't want anyone to know about it, but it added to the cumulative effect.

"What happened with Renee and trying to come to terms with that, missing out on Euro 2016 with an injury, I had been sent off in the Premier League the week before, Bournemouth hadn't won a game, my Grandad dying….

"My life had seemed perfect up to this point. I didn't have anyone in my family who had passed away and I was living the dream as a Premier League footballer. Suddenly, everything was closing in on me.

"What I didn't know if was whether the way I was feeling was normal and I didn't want to pull out of the squad in case this is how I would feel forever more.

This was a chance for me to get an international game under my belt and I had not had too many chances with Ireland up to that point. I had to try and play, but I was not right at all."

Arter played 45 minutes of the game that was akin to a testimonial to Robbie Keane as he played his final Ireland match, with the private tears he shed after the game almost a watershed moment on his road to recovery.

"I remember going up to the players lounge after the Oman game and my Dad was there and I just broke down in front of him," he continues.

"We were grieving as a family, which just added to everything that was going on for me at the time and it was all too much.

"I was weighed down by so many aspects of my life and couldn't cope with it.

"Firstly, the grief over Renee was so intense and I didn't know how to deal with it.

"Secondly, I didn't have any passion for football and that was totally alien to me. I knew I needed to get this out of my mind, but didn't have the motivation to do it.

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"I was in a real bad place, purely because I was worried by so much stuff in my life and was not coping with any of it.

"A week or so earlier, I had been sent off playing for Bournemouth against West Ham and I remember walking off the pitch and I didn't care one bit.

"I was sitting in the changing room thinking that if the manager comes in a hammers me here, it would be like he is speaking to a brick wall. I wouldn't have cared what he said. It was not going to enter my mind.

"Maybe I should have pulled out of that Ireland game, but I wanted to get through it. That felt easier than pulling out.

"This was a chance for me to get a game under my belt and I had not had too many chances with Ireland up to that point. I had to try and play, but I was not right at all."

Arter needed help and he admits a heart-to-heart with his brother-in-law Scott Parker - the former England and Tottenham midfielder -played a part in his sporting and personal revival.

"Scott advised me how to process what I was going through, how to try and put it one side when I got on a football field and from that moment, I have got over the hill," he adds.

I had to come out of that or I don't know where I would have ended up and thankfully, I sit here now and I'm in a very different place mentally and as a footballer.

"What I now feel is that I have become a better player on the back of everything that has happened. I have improved mentally so much.

"Now, before a game, I have no nerves. I appreciate how lucky I am to play football for a living, to earn very good money and to be part of the biggest league in the world.

"A year ago, maybe I didn't appreciate the good things in my life for a number of reasons, but I am right there now.

"The only way I am going to play at my best is if I am in the right mindset."

As Arter looks forward with excitement to the start of the new Premier League season next weekend, he is in a very different place compared to where he was a year ago, with his story continuing to inspire and comfort so many who have suffered similar heartache.

This interview first appeared in last week's Sunday World

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