Stephen Ireland has detailed the struggles he faced early on in his Manchester City career earning just £85 a week while trying to raise two kids alone.
The Irish midfielder broke on to the Manchester City first team in 2005 and would go on to become a fan favourite at the club before a series of unfortunate events resulted in Ireland being without a club in 2018 at just 33-years-old.
While we may hear stories of Premier League stars earning millions of pounds per year, for Ireland in those early days it was the polar opposite as he struggled to make ends meet as a single, teenage father of two young children.
“My life was absolutely turned upside down by having two kids on my own at the age of about 18 because I split with the mother,” Ireland told The Athletic.
“So I was here with them on my own from 17,18, 19 and it was tough. Really, really tough.
“At the time there was no real player support. Man City at the time didn’t have anything like that in place. There was no help. I was on £85 a week playing in the Premier League with two kids at 19.
“My daughter was eight months old and my son was 22 months old, roughly, and it was so tough. I didn’t drive. I had no family support. My mum and dad split up – my mum was over here, didn’t speak to me – and my dad was in Ireland. I don’t hold against my dad at all. I just took all the pressure on myself and I was left in the lurch on my own.
“I was turning up to games in a taxi, getting out with a baby in my arms, a little toddler and a wash bag walking into the stadium for the game at City, and the fans must have thought: ‘Who’s this maniac?’
“I had to go in and play against (Manchester) United and teams like that live on TV and my two kids are being babysat by Trevor Sinclair’s cousin in the players’ lounge.
“I was seeing guys at the time like Micah Richards and Joe Hart who were going home and they were off celebrating. They would say: ‘Stephen, are you coming out tonight?’ But I was at home changing nappies and eating a takeaway, watching TV on a Saturday night. You never felt like you’d even achieved because you’re sat in a house with two little kids under the age of two on your own, lonely and sad.”
Ireland highlighted some key figures within the club who were a major help to him during what was an extremely difficult time, including former Ireland teammate Richard Dunne.
“Richard Dunne was really good. Ben Thatcher was actually really, really good. Ben Thatcher’s wife helped me from time to time with babysitting. I couldn’t afford car seats and stuff like that, so he gave me a lot of hand-me-down things that I couldn’t afford.
“Micah Richards was a great help. We used to live close by in Warrington and he would help me out with all sorts. I still text him now and say thank you, and he’ll be like: ‘Jesus man relax, you don’t have to keep saying thanks!’
“I really appreciate what he did for me. At the end of the month, I’d be short of money for nappies or whatever, he’d help me out.
“It was quite difficult to ask in terms of pride because he was younger than me as well, but if I’d need some help he’d lend me a couple of hundred quid, and he never wanted it back.”