As his young son runs down the corridor outside the dressing rooms at St Andrew’s and he swoops his child into his arms, a broad grin breaks out across his face. It is probably the first time Nigel Quashie has been able to smile in a very long time.
Over the past 16 months, the Scotland international midfielder has had to contend with not only a career-threatening injury and numerous operations, but also the tragic death of his beloved mother from cancer less than a fortnight ago and the thought of callous thieves breaking into her house while she lay on her death bed in hospital. Quashie has been through more than many people can take.
As he stands on the edge of the St Andrew’s pitch, he speaks with a rare openness and honesty about his battle to save his career, his hopes for a fresh start at St Andrew’s and his dying mum’s plea that he continues to play the game he loves. It is almost therapeutic for the 30-year-old, who struggles to restrain his emotions at times.
For the past month, Quashie has been commuting from his London home to Birmingham to train with Blues and prove to manager Alex McLeish that he is over the foot and ankle injury that has left him out of the game since March 4, 2007.
When Quashie kicked the studs of Pascal Chimbonda in the 80th minute of Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-3 victory at the Boleyn Ground, it was a sore injury but he couldn’t have imagined the pain that he was about to experience, both professionally and personally.
Now Quashie is hoping McLeish, who has managed him at international level and has agreed a loan deal with the Hammers, will hand him a chance to resurrect his career and bring to an end the most difficult chapter of his life.
“I have been out for a year and a bit and it has been really frustrating, I even thought I might have to pack it in,” said Quashie, who was born in Southwark, London but qualifies for Scotland through his grandfather.
“I had to go to Holland for treatment which was make or break. I was waiting for the final verdict of whether I would ever play again. It was now or never. Luckily I have been able to play again but I think I am due a bit of luck after everything I have been through.
“I had near enough dismantled the joint. When I kept trying to come back, more bone kept flaking away and there were two holes in the cartilage. I just thought that would be the end of it because I had three operations on it. I am really grateful to be able to play again.
“A lot of things began to get on top of me because I really thought that would be it, coupled with what was happening with my mum.”
As his 46-year-old mother, Caroline, battled with her illness, Quashie’s injury problems paled into insignificance. Quashie is a devoted son. He had no father figure and was raised almost single handedly by his mum. Their closeness was reflected by the fact Caroline used to call him around four times a day and now those calls of support have stopped Quashie is finding it tough.
“I tried to focus on mum as well and with her passing it has made it a difficult time,” said the former West Bromwich Albion star. “She passed away 11 days ago and I have been training here and been up and down the motorway, leaving London at 5am every morning and then getting back to the hospital every day to be with her.
“I have had a tough month, trying to get fit as well and play again, which is what my mum asked me to do the day before I played against Aston Villa (a behind closed doors friendly at Wast Hills). She passed away after that.
“To get back playing has been difficult. I came in and trained the next day after she died and then had to do a few things she asked of me.
“Her house was burgled the day before she died, so I had that to deal with as well. This has been one of the hardest times of my life. Her passing has really hurt me.
“I had her funeral last Thursday and it crossed my mind to take a few weeks to get my head around it all but I have to carry on and enjoy it. I am grateful to be playing again.
“It has been me and my mum all my life. She was my life. I had no father figure until her partner came in. He is a great man and he has helped me through this.
“It feels as if my whole world has been turned upside down.
“I feel lost because I don’t know what to do. At times I look for the phone calls I used to get every day from her, but I don’t have her anymore.”
Quashie has been helped by the staff at Birmingham City and the midfielder is hoping to repay them by helping the club return to the Premier League.
“The staff have been first class and I can’t ask any more,” he said.
“I have two years left on my contract at West Ham United. Alex has given me the chance to come here and train and if I get the chance to come her properly it would be a big relief.
“I would love to be part of a club that is going for promotion, whether it is for one, two or three months.
“The players have been really good and it has just been a case of getting games under my belt, and I have had three now. If things work out then I will look forward to coming here.
“She asked me to carry on playing football and to look up at her and smile. It has been a long and lonely road but I intend to do that.”