FA Cup 2021-22: Teacher who lost two friends to tragedy now looking to inspire non-league Buxton

By Neil JohnstonBBC Sport
Lindon Meikle in action against Liverpool for Mansfield Town in the FA Cup in 2013
Lindon Meikle challenges for the ball during Mansfield Town's FA Cup third-round tie with Liverpool in 2013
FA Cup second round: Buxton v Morecambe
Venue: Tarmac Silverlands Stadium Date: Saturday, 4 December Kick-off: 12:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One with build-up starting at 12:15 GMT. Live on BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app. Text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Whenever Lindon Meikle talks to his pupils about making the most of their lives, his mind races back to the two childhood friends he lost in tragic circumstances.

The secondary school teacher was 20 when promising Nottingham footballer Liam Munn, 19, was killed by a single punch during a night out in the city.

Five months later, also in 2009, former Nottingham Forest academy player Reece Staples, 19, died from a drugs-related incident.

The loss of both teenagers in such a short space of time had a profound effect on Meikle - he knew both well and had played football with them. He promised to make the most of his own life while honouring the memories of Liam and Reece.

"Out of all the footballers I knew coming out of Nottingham at that time, Reece was one of the most talented - and I grew up with David McGoldrick, who went on to play in the Premier League," Meikle says.

"Forest invested a lot in him. He had Manchester United wanting him but he wanted to stay in Nottingham.

"Liam was a good friend to a lot of people. He was full of energy and loved football.

"Losing two friends like that made me reflect on where I was going with my own life. I was determined to embrace football, steer clear of trouble, and try to make the most of every opportunity that came my way."

Twelve years on from Liam and Reece's passing, Meikle, 33, combines teaching at Ellis Guilford - a secondary academy school in the Basford suburb of Nottingham - with playing in midfield for part-time Derbyshire club Buxton.

On Saturday, Meikle hopes to inspire the Bucks to reach the FA Cup third round when they host Morecambe - from four leagues above - in BBC One's live lunchtime game.

"Everything that has happened in my past makes me appreciate moments like this," he adds.

'Football got me off the streets'

On the inside of Meikle's arm is a tattoo. It reads: "RIP Liam Munn".

"All his mates had the same tattoo - we wanted to share his memory," adds Meikle, who is well travelled in non-league circles after spells at Macclesfield, Alfreton, Barrow, Southport, Kettering and Tamworth.

"Liam and I were around one another growing up and used to hang out. It's tragic what happened. He had his whole future in front of him, as did Reece."

Lindon Meikle's tattoo in memory of his friend Liam Munn
Lindon Meikle's tattoo in memory of his friend Liam Munn

Shortly before Munn's death, Meikle scored from 20 yards against Wycombe Wanderers to help Eastwood Town, where his older brother Deon also played, reach the FA Cup third round for the first time in their history.

"My dad saw me hanging around street corners when I was 16 and told me 'I'm going to get you to Eastwood with your brother'," he recalls.

"It got me out of inner-city Nottingham. I joined a college and learned sports coaching alongside playing football. I got to meet new people and make new friends.

"My parents always taught me manners, minimal things like saying thank you to someone who holds the door open for you.

"Football offers a different kind of discipline and guidance you don't get on the streets."

Lindon Meikle
Lindon Meikle is looking to reach the FA Cup third round for the fourth time with a fourth different club having done so previously with Eastwood Town, Mansfield Town and Barrow

Meikle was voted player of the round for scoring against Wycombe and received VIP hospitality to the 2009 FA Cup final at Wembley, where he witnessed Chelsea defeat Everton 2-1.

A few days later he was mourning the loss of another childhood friend.

'A great talent - such a shame'

An inquest returned a verdict of death by misadventure after Reece died having fallen ill in a police cell.

The jury heard he had swallowed 19 packets of cocaine to smuggle them into the UK after returning from a holiday in Costa Rica.

"He'd just been released by Forest," recalls Meikle.

"We lived on the same street. I'd rather go out into the city for a few drinks and to party with my mates.

"I'd ask him to come along but he'd say no because he might see rivals from other areas.

"Reece was a great talent who was sadly led astray."

Meikle credits being involved in football most of his life - as well as his parents Linval and Tina - for helping him steer clear of trouble.

"The discipline side of the game has always given me a sense of direction. It stopped me being sucked into other stuff," he adds.

Meikle scores for non-league Eastwood Town against Wycombe Wanderers in the second round of the FA Cup in 2008
Meikle scores for Eastwood Town against Wycombe Wanderers in the second round of the FA Cup in 2008

From Suarez to Buxton

As well as being a teacher, Meikle is a qualified personal trainer.

His CV also includes spells in the Football League with York City and Mansfield Town.

At Mansfield he played against a Liverpool team that included Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson in the FA Cup third round in 2013.

"I'm not the kind of player who would run over and beg for Suarez's shirt," he says. "I ended up swapping with Andre Wisdom instead."

The Buxton forward who 'came close to joining Juventus'
Buxton's FA Cup run began on 4 September in the first qualifying round. They have scored 23 goals in seven games [including replays] in this season's competition. Buxton forward Jamie Ward, 35, played at Euro 2016 for Northern Ireland against Poland, Ukraine, Germany and Wales. The ex-Derby and Nottingham Forest player joined in August.
The Bucks have changed managers during their FA Cup run. Gary Hayward and assistant Mark Ward left despite a 20-game unbeaten start to the season. Buxton won at York City in the first round in Steve Cunningham's first match in charge.Chesterfield-born Bucks forward Diego de Girolamo, 26, is a former Italy Under-20 international and reportedly came close to joining Juventusexternal-link in 2015 when he was at Sheffield United.

Meikle joined Northern Premier League Premier Division Buxton in the summer and hopes to help the club from the seventh tier of English football reach the third round for the first time since 1952.

Will his pupils be watching on BBC One?

"I'll be asking them all about the game on Monday," he adds. "If they don't get the answers right, I'll be dishing out a few detentions!"

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