‘I didn’t want to go, but I was put in a difficult situation’ – Luke Chambers on the day he nearly left Town and why a cloud has been lifted
PUBLISHED: 09:51 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:55 31 July 2019
Ipswich Town skipper Luke Chambers has given a typically open interview as the club prepares for life in League One. In part one of this chat with STUART WATSON, he talks family and that infamous deadline day drama of 2017.
It's day nine of Ipswich Town's training camp in Germany. Luke Chambers has enjoyed the close-knit camaraderie with his new team-mates, but he's also missing his three kids. This is the longest he's ever been away from them.
It's all too easy to forget that footballers are more than just a name and number, a commodity to be sold or discarded, but, like the rest of us, trying to navigate life's bumps in the road.
"My mum had breast cancer," he says. "She had the operation and in the last few weeks has been given the all clear.
"Sub-consciously, without me recognising it, that was obviously a massive drain on me, because the day I found out she'd been given the all clear, when I got the phone call, it was like a whole cloud had been lifted.
"In that six month period, the football was shite, my mum was poorly and I had a few other things off the field. It just felt like it was one thing after another."
Many will empathise. Worries at home, pressure at work - it can all become a bit too much without you even realising it. It probably doesn't help that Luke is an intense character. He tries to carry the load for everyone else. Indeed, best friend and team-mate Cole Skuse implored him to stop trying to take on too much.
"To be fair I've listened to him a little bit," he says. "It's obviously not been great the last couple of years has it? It's no secret that people haven't been very happy.
"The boys have said I'm always there if I need them. That's the same in my home life as well. I am no different at home as to what I'm like at work.
"I think I probably tried to fill every single hole I could see at the football club when that's not my job.
"I've taken a lot of the advice on. I've taken a step back and thought 'Do you know what? Just try and do my job a bit better'.
"Obviously everyone will have their opinions of last season. No-one had a good season. And I'm not sitting here saying that improved my football.
"But I do think the whole situation around the football and around the home life has made me take a step back and think 'do you know what actually, you're in a good place, yes things aren't going the way you want, but you have set-backs to make comebacks'.
"If people are going to meet me off the field they need to recognise that I'm a normal person. I've always tried to bridge that gap with supporters.
"Maybe that gives you a little bit more leeway if you don't have the best game. People understand you are just a normal person doing your best for yourself and the team and your family."
The conversation turns back to parenthood. Luke prides himself on being a hands-on dad with his three children, aged seven, five and three.
"Having kids is a big life change and it brings a change of mindset," he says. "It's not about you anymore, it's about doing it for them.
"When you get home from work you don't really get chance to rest. You're doing the school run and everything. It's non-stop until you sit down with your wife that night and let a sigh out.
"My missus has been tremendous, my rock, though she sometimes tries to find me answers when sometimes she doesn't need to.
"All our wives and girlfriends sacrifice a hell of a lot. They have to leave their homes and leave their loved ones behind at the drop of a hat for us. They do everything out of love for their partner and sacrifice their own dreams and aspirations.
"My wife was a school teacher, she's got two degrees and she's decided - we've decided - that she wants to stay at home and give the best she can to our kids and bring them up the best she can.
"That's only a short period of time. She knows she's got a career in front of her for the next 30 years, where as mine has a shelf life. A lot of people would say it's over already, though I still feel as though I've got a lot left in me yet."
More on that in part two of this interview tomorrow...
Jason and Andre Dozzell, Richard and Harry Wright... Could the next father and son success story at Portman Road come from the Chambers house?
"He's only seven, he's got a long way to go if he ever wants to be a footballer," says Luke with a smile.
"He is now getting to an age where he's going to school and his friends will know what's going on in the football world. There will be no escape from that for him now. At the minute it's all nice, 'oh, your dad's a footballer', but as they get older...
"He's probably already up against it. He played in his first football tournament recently. People were probably already saying 'that's Luke Chambers' boy' and using him as a yardstick. How he deals with that is going to be interesting.
"Football is something I'll never force on him because I've seen all the highs and the lows.
"It's not an easy industry and it's completely changed from when I first started. If it was the same industry as when I first started I'd say 'yeah, go for it', but now I'm not going to force him to do anything.
"He loves football. He knows all the kits and the players. For some reason he's started supporting Man City at the moment.
"He's found his own way into football. He's only just joined a team. I don't want him to get to 12 having played for six, seven, eight years and think 'I've had enough of this now', because that can happen.
"Some of the best players I've played with didn't start until they were 12 or 13."
Luke Chambers feels owner Marcus Evans has to start being more forward thinking with contract renewals having almost been forced out the door two-and-a-half years ago.
Who can forget the sight of the Blues skipper leaving the field with his head in his hands following a 3-0 home loss to Derby County on Tuesday, January 31, 2017?
He'd spent deadline day mulling over a possible return to former club Nottingham Forest before boss Mick McCarthy pulled the plug on the deal.
"I was put in a difficult situation," he explains. "I was being told that they weren't sure if they were going to offer me a contract. Then all of a sudden Forest came in and I was like 'I've got a family to look after'.
"I went in to see the manager and said 'what's happening boss?' This was the day of the game. I've never not prepared properly for a game, but that day I didn't even have a pre-match meal.
"I think, personally speaking, that has been an issue with the club. There are massive examples in the past where the club has let contracts run down, good players have gone for nothing and gone on to do well when maybe a little bit of forward planning would have worked better."
Reflecting further on that impasse, Luke says: "I would never step out of line and say to a manager 'I'm not going to play' or 'I want to leave' because that's not in me. I've worked so hard for the reputation I think I've got in the game, why should I be the one, through no fault of my own, to have something thrown back on me? I didn't want it to be 'he did this at this time in his career'.
"I just didn't think it warranted me to go into the last three months of my contract having barely missed a game in five years.
"I'd been the captain, we'd made the play-offs, we'd turned a team around from 16th, or wherever we were, to sixth - and I think I'd had a major part to play in that.
"For me it was difficult because the other lads were thinking 'hold on a minute, if he's going through that, where do we all stand?'
"I never went up there to talk to them (Forest). I never tried to force anything through. I didn't want to go, but I was put in a difficult situation."
He added: "I want what's best for the football club, to the detriment of my own situation probably. I don't think there are many people in football who can say that.
"There's no agenda with me. I want to play for this football club. I've tried to do everything I can for this football club.
"I've had chats with Marcus (Evans) over the last few months and I think he realises that."