FA Cup qualifying: How Chatham Town boss turned to football after losing wife to cancer

By Neil JohnstonBBC Sport
Scott Lindsey
Scott Lindsey spent three seasons as part of Mark Cooper's management team at Forest Green Rovers

Every night Scott Lindsey lights a candle in memory of his wife, Hayley, at the home they shared in Gillingham for 16 years. It's on a cabinet where an urn containing her ashes sits next to a vase of fresh flowers.

Mother to Millie, 18, Maisie, 15, and Mollie, 10, Hayley died on 21 November 2019, her life cruelly cut short by kidney cancer at the age of 44.

Two days after his wife's passing, Lindsey was in the home dressing room at Kent non-league club Chatham Townexternal-link delivering a team talk before a match against Crowborough Athletic in the ninth tier of English football.

"I wanted to take my mind off what had happened. I didn't want to be sat at home in a dark place," Chatham's manager explains.

As his team prepare for an FA Cup second qualifying round tie away to Folkestone Invicta on Saturday, Lindsey, 48, opens up on how football has helped him cope with losing his wife of 16 years.

"It was a living hell watching her deteriorate," he adds.

"Ten months on, I still wake up and can't believe what has happened. Football helps sort me out."

Scott Lindsey with his wife Hayley
Scott and Hayley got married in Florida in 2003

Call that changed everything

During his playing days, Lindsey had a reputation as a tough defender in non-league circles. He played in the fifth tier for Stafford Rangers, not far from his home town of Walsall, and Dover Athletic.

While at Dover in 1995, his brother, Matthew, died in a motorbike accident on his way back to Scunthorpe after travelling to Kent to watch his younger sibling play.

Lindsey spent 14 months in the Football League with Gillingham where his dad, Keith, was once a defender.

After finishing his playing career in non-league, he returned to Gillingham as a technical development coach in 2009 before job offers arrived that would take him away from the family home for long periods.

He was part of Chris Sutton's backroom team at Lincoln City and, after a spell as assistant at his former club Tamworth, landed the role of under-18s manager at Swindon Town in 2014.

Having arrived at Forest Green Rovers in 2016, Lindsey was assistant when the Gloucestershire club won promotion to the English Football League in May 2017.

It was at a pre-season training camp in Devon with Forest Green in July 2019 that he received a phone call that changed everything.

Hayley had collapsed in the shower at their home. Four months later she passed away with her husband at her bedside.

Scott Lindsey with his wife Hayley and daughters Millie, Maisie and Mollie
Hayley and Scott with their three daughters Millie, Maisie and Mollie

'You feel anger'

It was May 1995 when the couple got together after Lindsey had played for Gillingham in the Kent Senior Cup final against Charlton Athletic.

"Hayley was a one-off, a great mum, and really house proud," he says. "Our house was like a show home. She's probably watching over me thinking 'you're not keeping it clean enough'.

"Hayley loved holidays and Christmas. We've been known to have the Christmas tree up in October. She's what I would call a real Medway girl. She lived here all her life."

Initially, all seemed positive after she had her left kidney removed when cancer was diagnosed.

"The surgeon was really happy but Hayley fell ill a few months later. It had come back aggressively," recalls Lindsey.

"We'd go and see consultants and it was always bad news, never good news. The whole thing was horrendous.

"We went to see an oncologist at Maidstone Hospital and that's when we realised there was no way out of this.

"He told Hayley 'I can send you to the Royal Marsden in London and maybe do a trial but nothing is going to cure you, you are going to die'.

"We just sat there and looked at one another."

Hayley took her last steps on her 44th birthday. The cancer had spread to her spine and left her paralysed for the last few weeks of her life.

"She was taken way too soon. I did feel anger," adds Lindsey.

'Always with us'

Having left Forest Green two months before his wife's death, Lindsey says he needed something to "take my mind away from things" and accepted a part-time job locally as Chatham's manager.

"It helped me because I needed a couple of nights to get out and coach," he says.

"Caring for my wife was physically and mentally draining. Watching her dying, my emotions were all over the place.

"After Hayley died, I wanted to get back as quickly as possible and it was important to me I went to the game after she passed away.

Scott Lindsey
Scott Lindsey was appointed Chatham Town manager on 3 October 2019

"I picked the team, did the team talk, and we won 3-0.external-link I know not everybody would do it that way but it was my way of dealing with what had happened.

"The players all knew. They had a whip-round and bought a name-a-star gift for my girls to remind them of their mum."

Millie, Maisie and Mollie are regular visitors to Southern Counties East League Premier Division Chatham, whose manager has thrown himself into the role of being "mum and dad".

"I'd been away from home for years because of my job and all of a sudden I'm doing their hair, the school run, ironing school uniforms and getting PE kits ready," he adds.

"Hayley's always in our thoughts. We have a wall at home filled with her pictures. Close by is the urn containing her ashes. She's always with us in the house."

Asked what advice he would give someone who is grieving, Lindsey adds: "Think of everything that was good about the person you have lost. Carry that around with you in your heart and head for the rest of your life.

"I think of Hayley all the time. Every minute of every day something pops into my head that reminds me of her."

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by any issues raised in this article, support and information is available at BBC Action Line.

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