Football can be a cruel game at times, despite all it’s wonderful moments and fame and occasional glory it brings, for every success story there are always a hundred ‘what ifs?’ Greg Tansey falls into most of those categories, having enjoyed the success of a professional football career he has also had the face the harsh reality of it all coming to a crashing end.
I recently spoke with the former Stockport County, Stevenage and Inverness Caledonian Thistle midfielder. Now 31 and having retired from football due to a repeated injury, we went over some of the key moments from his career, from the highs, lows, and goalkeeping mistakes that got his side knocked out of Europe.
We also spoke about Greg’s childhood, his career-ending injury, rejecting Liverpool, Scottish football, mental health, future plans, and more…
Liverpool is a very much a footballing city. Whether you sit on the red or blue side of the fence, the people are in love with the beautiful game.
This young scouser was no different. He spoke about growing up in a passionate football area ”My first memories are with a ball.” Tansey said.
Whether it was in his Grandad Jim’s back garden (Jimmy Tansey who played over 100 times for Everton), or on the streets with his mates, Greg was always playing football. He recalled his first memory of going to watch football ”My first ever game was going to watch Runcorn with my dad” taking a ball with him – just in case they needed a worldy scoring midfielder.
Coming from the same stable as Joey Barton and Steven Gerrard, Greg spoke about the role models he had as a youngster growing up, ”I always had someone to look up to, whether it was Gerrard at Whiston Juniors or my Grandad, I was lucky to have them as role models,”
”I did the usual academy lad rounds, a couple of years at Everton and City, my parents always supported me and took me to these places”
Whilst playing for Knowsley schoolboys, Greg was scouted and asked to trial for Stockport County, an opportunity his parents persuaded him to take.
”I wasn’t sure, to begin with, I had aspirations of Liverpool or Everton, although I was grateful to my Mum and Dad, I loved football that much I was desperate to sign pro” Greg recalled. After only a couple of weeks of trial, Greg joined the club permanently.
Whilst with Stockport, Liverpool came in for Tansey and the two clubs had a deal agreed, a move that ultimately the player himself rejected, describing his decision as ”It felt like I would be taking a backward step.”
Many lads would’ve jumped at this opportunity, particularly haling from the area, despite blue allegiances, but it seemed Greg was very realistic at his chances of making it at one of the biggest clubs in the country. “I was already playing in the first team at Stockport and I was leaving to play in the reserves. They had Gerrard, Alonso, and would buy another 40 million pound player at the drop of a hat.”
Greg holds fond memories and still has friends at Stockport. “Paul Turnball, Alan Lord, Jim Gannon (the manager) and I still speak to a few there and I think they will have a good go at the league when things get started.”
Transfers & Injuries
After spending five years at Stockport, which included a loan spell at Altrincham, his first stint north of the border came with Inverness, albeit for a season before leaving for Stevenage.
After a good spell with the London club, he headed back to Scotland and spent what Greg described as ”the most enjoyable years of my career” between 2014-2017 with Inverness CT.
During his time at Inverness CT Tansey, played in Europe and won the Scottish Cup in this period; beating Falkirk in the final. The run to Scottish Cup glory included a semi-final victory over Celtic in which Tansey scored from the penalty spot.
After failed attempts to sign him previously, Tansey made the switch from Inverness to Aberdeen in June 2017. Unfortunately, Greg suffered a groin injury in pre-season 2017. ”I felt a hernia on my right side, which needed operating on.”
Despite playing days before the operation, the surgery did not go to plan and left him with an abscess and further complications.
After his treatment, Greg noticed a stark difference in the way he was looked at by the club. ”You see a change in the managers, coaches, and physios, the minute you get injured they don’t want to know.”
Following numerous attempts to get back fit, it seemed as though injury would not allow it. ”Four times it flared up in two years, the last time was when I had to call it a day.”
Greg opened up about his mental health struggles during his time on the sidelines, “I’d never really been injured before, I bottled it up”.
After playing most weeks for Inverness, Greg now couldn’t walk or get in the car. ”It affected me badly, I was living up in Aberdeen on my own, rattling around the house, looking back it was a recipe for disaster.”
He also recalls how friends from former club Inverness CT would call to check in on his welfare, however, calls from his agent ”soon dried up.” At just 30 years old, Greg would never have envisaged having to retire, a decision that was forced upon him due to persistent injury, and now it seemed those who had once seemingly needed him, now had no care for his well-being.
”Lying on a physio bed after an operation and the manager won’t even look at me”
When I asked Greg if more could be done to help players who were in his position, he said, “In terms of player welfare the Scottish PFA were great, but each club needs someone who can talk to the players.”
Greg continued, “it’s obvious which players need help at particular times, the lad who’s just scored a hat-trick is probably okay, the one who’s injured might need a chat.”
In 2019, after working hard to get back to match fitness, Greg left Aberdeen and joined St Mirren and went on to start the first six games of the season. Sadly, it seemed his injury troubles would pop up sooner than he would have liked.
Greg woke up and his groin was in severe pain once again. He visited the club physio and was told he should consider not playing, ”it was the first time I’d heard that, it ripped my heart out, I couldn’t believe what he said”.
The manager at St Mirren at the time was Oran Kearney who too had been forced in to early retirement as a result of recurring injuries. Greg noted, “The gaffer was great, I was in his office in tears and he reassured me we’d get it sorted.”
Now in need of another operation that the club refused to pay for, everything looked pretty grey for Tansey. ”St Mirren said to me that didn’t feel responsible or that it was necessary for them to pay for my operation.”
Eventually, after much deliberation between the PFA and St Mirren, Greg paid for his own operation and subsequently left the club. He said, ”As soon as they said they weren’t willing to pay for my op, my position was untenable, they bought me knowing full well my injury issues and I was trying to get fit to do a job for them.”
After spending much of his professional career plying his trade in Scotland, Greg noted that the Scottish league “are stuck in their ways on a lot of things”, referring to the decision to curtail the league season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
”The bickering with each other about the restructure isn’t a good look for the league, I don’t think it’ll ever change, to be honest,” Greg added.
After leaving St Mirren, Greg trained with Warrington for a period in an attempt to return once more. ”After a couple of weeks it was still hurting, I decided to leave it and it was the hardest time in anyone’s career, it was a bad time” Tansey said.
Now back living in Liverpool, when asked who he follows as a ‘fan’, he said, ”I follow everyone all over the North-west, especially Stockport, I’ve been to watch Prescot Cables a few times.”
Football Now & The Future
Given his experiences in the game has Greg’s view on football changed ”For the first 6 months I couldn’t watch football…Sky Sports news get it off!”
After what happened at both Aberdeen and St Mirren, whereby Tansey was somewhat discarded and ”treated like a piece of meat”, for something that was ultimately out of his control, Greg said, ”what really hit home to me it’s just a business”
Greg mentioned his aspirations about getting into the coaching and scouting side of the game, ”I really want to be around the game, I’m itching to get into it and I want to use the experiences I’ve had good and bad to help.”
”I still love the game but not how I used to when I was a kid”
What do you miss most?
”About 5 o’clock on a Saturday night getting changed after you’ve won, you know you’re going to have a good weekend.”
Where is the Scottish Cup medal?
After a zoom tour of the house, I can confirm it was framed alongside the match shirt, ahead of a battle about which wall was suitable to hang it on.
Any Advice To Youngsters?
”Weigh up the options, always speak to your family, friends, and people you can trust. Once you’ve made a decision don’t dwell on it, you need to make it and move on, it can be tough.”
Finally and perhaps most importantly, advice to anybody suffering from mental health issues?
”Talk to people, be honest. The best thing you can do is get it out there and talk about it. I tried to bottle things up for a while. I knew I was down but I just thought it was due to the situation” On reflection Greg believes his issues may have been worse than he let on at the time. However now he has a positive outlook on it and believes it has changed his perspective ”it’s made me stronger, I don’t take things too seriously, there are bigger things. I spent years worrying about one thing.”
I would like to thank Greg for his time and for giving his views on a range of topics. A really good, honest interview, and I wish him luck with his future career, hopefully within the game.
featured image credit Ian MacNicol/Getty Images Europe