By Mat Killeen
For many footballers, one of the hardest decisions following retirement is what to do next. However, this does not seem to have been a problem for ex-Portsmouth defender Linvoy Primus who’s faith and love of football made this transition easier.
Primus, who played for Pompey for nine years retired in 2009. Since then, he combined the two main aspects of his life, faith and football when he joined the Faith and Football Foundation, set up by former professional footballer, Micky Mellows in 2002.
Linvoy began his career at Charlton Athletic in 1990 as an apprentice. This at a time when apprentice footballers did not enjoy the lifestyle enjoyed by modern youth players. Recalling his experiences from this time, Primus said: “The apprenticeships going back to when I started, were very much focused not just on your playing ability but also on character.” Primus illustrated this point by describing the kind of jobs that apprentices would do, such as cleaning their pro’s kit and boots, cleaning the facilities and carrying out other elements of ground maintenance. He added: “I would say it was a good grounding because you had to earn the right to be a professional footballer”.
After two years at Charlton, Linvoy was forced to drop down the divisions after leaving the South London outfit as he moved north through the capital to Division Three, Barnet. Despite being a full-time club, it was still a bit of a scene change from Division One Charlton Athletic. Primus spoke about this part of his career, explaining that at times the players just had to ‘turn up somewhere and train’ due to the lack of a permanent training ground. He added: “When you set out as a kid to play football and you become a professional, there are no guidelines as to what being a professional looks like. The former defender also said that this had been the point in his career when he ‘turned from boy to man’.
Following his departure from Barnet after three years, Linvoy returned to Division One with Reading. It was a change from the sometimes uncertain nature of the bottom tier of the football league as the defender, now in his mid 20s, moved to a club building for the future, both metaphorically and, with the new Madejski Stadium, physically. It also provided an opportunity to get the lifestyle more recognised as that of a professional footballer but this was not Primus’ main motivation when he arrived at Reading.
“I still wanted to prove that Charlton made a mistake letting me go. Even though I had all those nice things around me, the thing I needed to do was play against Charlton” Linvoy explained. This was made possible by Reading and his former club taking their places in Division One for the 1997-98 season. The chance came on December 5th as Reading beat Charlton 2-0 at home.
After a three-year stay at the Berkshire club, Linvoy moved to the south coast when he joined Portsmouth, a decision that would change his life.
It was not long after Primus joined the club that, partly thanks to team-mate Darren Moore in 2001, the now 27-year old began to wonder if there was something missing in his life. This was at a somewhat uncertain time off the pitch with Primus’ wife suffering from ill-health.
“The disappointment of being rejected by Charlton and trying to find my identity through football” Linvoy said, explained the lead-up to him becoming a Christian. He added “We’d been invited to church locally and before I went, I thought church was just about the building and Sunday morning. When someone got up and spoke about his life and feeling empty, I thought to myself it sounds like he’s talking about me”.
The then-Pompey defender also spoke about how at the time before finding faith, he had been playing with fear, linked to his desire not to face rejection again in his career, as he had felt after leaving Charlton in 1994. Linvoy said: “It was an amazing moment and I always say that my proper life started in 2001”. Addressing the impact it had on the field, he said “It gave me a freedom to play football the way I wanted to play because I could see that the impact it was having on lives outside of football, was quite special”.
This watershed moment in Primus’ life came a few short months before an incident that would put things into perspective for everyone involved with Portsmouth at the time. This was the tragic death of Blues’ goalkeeper, Aaron Flahavan in August 2001.
During an eight-year career on the south coast, Linvoy was part of the team that won Division One in 2002-03 and gained promotion to the Premier League. However, he did miss out on the club’s 2008 FA Cup triumph due to injury.
Following a final spell on loan back where it all started in south London, Linvoy made the decision which so many professional sports people find so tough to make, when he announced his retirement. How difficult was it to call an end to his playing career? “If you ask any footballer today, the one thing they fear is not playing football anymore” he explained. Then adding “For me I was in a totally different space because, as important as football was in my life, it wasn’t the most important thing”. Linvoy also said that his faith helped him to be at peace with the decision he had made.
Since retirement, the ex-Pompey defender has become more involved with the Faith and Football Foundation, which aims to engage people at their ‘point of need’, at all different stages in their lives, whether this is helping struggling children to read, through to setting up a walking football programme. The two main aspects of Linvoy’s life for so long, are now being combined to help others, the same way they helped him.