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  • Writer's pictureRichard Fleming

My weekends were a little different but obstacles overcome

When the final whistles echoed around the country on October 21, signaling the end of the 2023 MLS regular season, there were cheers and tears as playoff dates were sealed or postseason plans dashed.

At that moment, I was at a very different event where the mood was most definitely celebratory. I was at a B’nai Mitzvah - my son’s best friend and his twin sister - taking photos, being my usual anti-social self, and dressed accordingly for the 90s theme. Quiet and yet, somehow, loud at the same time!

Don’t get me wrong, I checked the latest scores on my phone periodically. After all, covering Major League Soccer had consumed my life for the past decade. And when I say consumed, I was all in. I threw everything at it, all while starting up a new and fantastic life in the wonderful state of Colorado, albeit dragging my loving and understanding family with me.

But here I was at a joyous occasion, surrounded by family and friends, while a world I once occupied and knew so well was going on elsewhere. For the first time in 10 years I had not been involved – save from the occasional podcast request or text chat with a former MLS colleague.

And it had been tough; far, far tougher than I had expected.

It was especially tough because of how much I loved doing what I did. I was passionate about helping the local club broadcasts be the best they could, while elevating the standing of this growing, ambitious league.

It was tough because this was the dawn of a new era for the league and, like every broadcaster who had been involved for any length of time, you relish the opportunity to work in such moments. It was tough because deep down I felt I still had lots to offer. It was tough because I didn’t depart on my terms or at my time of choosing.

I now have plenty of sympathy with athletes forced to quit through injury. Having the power to make that career decision taken from you, to not be able to determine your own direction, takes a period of adjustment. It was also an incredibly humbling experience.

Here a decision was made for me. The healing process - because the pain was real - took time and took a toll. Previously I looked forward to weekends because that meant game day. For the first six months of the season, these moments were a reminder of no longer being wanted. Emotions were raw.

And, for me, this job was not just about what I did but also about who I was. I lost count of the times I was introduced by my job title before my name, as though that identified me.

I was starting again, reinventing myself.

Thankfully, my experience stretched well beyond being a voice and has allowed me to grow even further with a fantastic new role, which means me still being involved in high level sport, telling stories, helping growth, and being surrounded by incredibly wonderful and warm human beings.

Part of me felt, perhaps my luck had run out (after almost 35 years). Who would have thought that an eight-year-old with a speech impediment living in a small village in the south of England would ever earn a living talking?

And, so, to have commentated on World Cup matches, as well as English Premier League, Africa Cup of Nations, Wimbledon tennis, and spent 10 glorious seasons calling MLS games, I suppose I surpassed that eight-year-old’s expectations.

The reason for writing this piece is multi-fold. It’s not a woe-is-me, because I have been – and continue to be – very lucky in the career I am in. It is me putting into words what many will have felt or experienced, that feeling of a moment in time where you have the rug pulled from under you, and when it dawns on you that you are replaceable 😊. That feeling of being utterly powerless over your direction, and then the reassurance in having loyal loved ones around you, placing it all into perspective (even when you refuse to see it) and showing you what is truly important.

I put everything into the role I had, and to suggest it left me with nothing would be overlooking the incredible memories. For those I will always be grateful.

Obstacles are all a part of life’s test. When confronted with one you can either stop and turn back, settling for what you have, or figure out a way to get around and continue with your journey.

This year was an obstacle, but the path ahead is now a lot clearer.

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