Former Cobbler Tom Youngs goes into print with tales of football - and fighting illness
In the summer of 2004, I was lucky enough to go to Seville to cover the Cobblers' pre-season '˜tour', based in Â the beautiful Spanish city.
It was a great trip, getting to spend time ‘on the inside’ with Colin Calderwood and his squad, who were preparing for the new season.
There was plenty of football, socialising, sight-seeing (the odd drink or two!) and a little bit of work thrown in as well, but the biggest advantage was getting to know the players’ personalities a little better, getting to know what made them tick away from the pitch.
I have many great memories from my time in Seville, and one that still sticks in my head was listening to Tom Youngs play the piano in the foyer of the brilliant Barcelo hotel.
With the squad waiting around to head for training, Youngs just sat down and played - and he was brilliant.
I already knew Youngs was a bit of a rarity in football, having stayed on at school to complete his A levels, and his performance on the piano was further proof the former Cambridge United man was not your stereotypical footballer.
And now, with his football career over, and facing the challenge of living with a serious illness, he has proved he has another string to his bow by writing a book - and a very good one it is too - called What Dreams Are (not quite) Made Of - No fame, no fortune, just football... and living with Multiple Sclerosis.
For those unaware, Youngs - who spent 22 months at Sixfields - was diagnosed with MS two years ago.
At the age of 35, and with a professional football career spanning 10 years behind him, Youngs was facing the biggest challenge of his life.
So how could he best deal with such life-changing news?
Writing had always been one of Youngs’ great loves - he spent time as a sports journalist following his retirement from the professional game - and writing a book seemed to be the natural thing to do.
“I did a degree in sports journalism, and around that time I was thinking about writing a book, because of the amount of time people ask you what it is like to be a footballer,” said Youngs, who now works in the finance department at Greene King.
“I thought there might be enough interest there and it might be good, so I had it in the back of my mind, but then to be honest I didn’t reach any great heights in the game and put it on the backburner.
“Then, after my diagnosis, I was reading more about MS and how there is not enough exposure for it, and the fact a lot of people who get diagnosed struggle to open up about it and talk about it.
“I kind of then thought I might in some small way be able to help with that, and to combine both the factors of general interest in football, and the interest in MS.
“I spoke to a few people, they put me touch with a publisher and they really liked it.”
MS is a condition which causes a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
It’s a lifelong condition, and it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 people diagnosed with MS in the UK.
But it is still an illness not many people know too much about, and Youngs, with his book, wants to change that.
“More than anything what I was hoping was that I could raise more awareness of the illness,” he said. “A lot of the people that I read about, I was probably quite similar in that I didn’t really want to talk about it, because nobody else knows much about it.
"You are always just going to scare people, and it is one of those things that you just keep it to yourself.
“So I thought if I could just get a bit more exposure for the illness, then that could be a positive thing, and help myself and other people.”
I have no doubt that will be the case for anybody reading the book, as this is no sob story or any sort of plea for pity.
Youngs takes us through his life and football career, with plenty of funny tales from the various dressing rooms he frequented, as well as lifting the lid on a few secrets.
The couple of chapters that focus on his injury-ravaged (and, frustratingly for Youngs, goalless) time at the Cobblers are fascinating, and it is fair to say Calderwood comes out of things a little better than his predecessor Martin Wilkinson, the man who signed the player for the Cobblers.
I got to watch all of Youngs’ games for the club, and it is fair to say with a change in fortune here, and a slice of luck there, his time at Sixfields could have been so different.
But he has no regrets.
“I can’t complain at all,” said Youngs, who is married to Michelle, with the pair having two daughters Orla and Hannah.
“I loved my job when I was playing football, and most people would give their right arm to do what I did.
“Once you are in there you always wish you could have gone a little bit further and there are frustrations that come with that, but I still recognise how lucky I was.
“I loved every minute of it, I really did.”
Youngs’ book is available now, both online and in book stores, and is priced £14.99