BBC News

Crawley's FA Cup hero Nick Tsaroulla's 'dark and difficult time'

By Betty Glover and Tracy Ollerenshaw
Newsbeat reporters

Published
media captionFA Cup 2021: Nick Tsaroulla stunner puts Crawley Town ahead against Leeds United

"The darkest days of pain came out as it went in."

Footballer Nick Tsaroulla explains how he felt as he scored his first ever senior professional goal to help League Two side Crawley Town stun the Premier League's Leeds in the FA Cup third round.

A dream come true for any player - but especially for Nick, 21, after a car crash in 2017 left him badly injured with doctors saying he may never play again.

This was just his seventh match in professional football.

Following the FA Cup win he celebrated with his family: "Everyone was just crying, they'd all shared my pain. It was a special moment for us," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

The winger shocked Marcelo Bielsa's side by opening the scoring after 50 minutes, spinning past Jamie Shackleton, bursting into the box and hitting a powerful shot low into the far corner.

He says his life and all the pain he'd suffered flashed before him in that goalscoring moment.

image copyrightGetty Images

In July 2017 he'd been due to play his first pre-season friendly after being signed by Tottenham Hotspur, but a car crash left him in excruciating pain.

For months doctors tried to work out what it was: "It was like neuropathic pain in my abdominal area. And it was very difficult to figure out."

"And then after that, it just sort of affected the whole nervous system."

He was then let go by Spurs whose academy he'd been with since he was a boy.

image copyrightNick Tsaroulla
image captionNick joined Tottenham as a kid

"I went in for a meeting - I've never felt something like that.

"[It was] such a horrible day. I remember lying down crying my eyes out and thinking, 'One day I want to prove everyone wrong.'"

What followed were sleepless nights because of the pain. Running for even just a few minutes left Nick in agony.

He remembers it as a "dark and difficult time."

"I felt like I had a superpower that had got taken away from me."

image copyrightInstagram/Physio.Ash
image captionIt was a long journey back on to the pitch for Nick

Doctors didn't know if the pain would ever go away and 10 months after the crash he spent a year with a sports injury rehabilitation clinic.

Nick tells us it was about finding that "inner strength".

"I thought, 'These are the cards I've been dealt with, how am I going to react to it? Am I just going to give up? Let the car crash define me and be the boy that could've made it?'"

That's what motivated him: "I want to walk away from the game when I say so, not when something like this happens.

"I'd been playing football from being six years old - it was all I ever wanted to do - so having it taken away from me was very, very hard to deal with.

"That's why I just feel very blessed to be able to be on the football pitch and doing what I love doing."

In his post-match BBC Sport interview, Nick was almost in tears.

That moment got a huge reaction online.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

"I thought I was going to get bantered for it," he admits.

"It's nice I can show emotion in football and people can react to it positively and if it inspires one person I'm more than happy with that."

He says he can now look back and gain strength from what happened.

"If there's just one kid out there who's going through something similar - please don't give up.

"You don't know what's in store keep going, keep plugging away, keep trying."

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here.

Related Topics

  • Crawley
  • Inspiring stories

More on this story

  • Crawley Town 3-0 Leeds United: Marcelo Bielsa's side suffer huge FA Cup upset

  • FA Cup: Crawley Town 3-0 Leeds United highlights