Sheffield Wednesday star Chris Lines has revealed the secret heartache behind his football career - the sudden death of his father, when the midfielder was just 18 years of age.
Lines, who is hoping to force his way back into the Owls squad for Saturday’s game against Leicester City after three months on the sidelines with a groin injury, was a member of the Bristol Academy of Sport backed by his first club, Bristol Rovers, when his family was rocked by the tragedy.
Lines’ dad, Terry, died suddenly at the age of 47 whilst on holiday in Majorca.
“When my dad died, I could have very easily knocked football on the head,” Lines, who has a tattoo on his right arm to honour his late father, told this newspaper.
“I could have given up. But that is just not the type of person that I am, and that isn’t what my dad would have wanted me to do.
“He was a massive influence on me before he died.
“Obviously, my mum Julie and my sister Jodie have always been there for me, too.
“But Dad was the one who used to take me to all my games as a youngster, and he’d always watch and encourage me.
“He always wanted me to go as far in the game as I could, and he’s always on my mind.
“Going up last year with Wednesday was the highlight of my career so far, and I hope I’ve done him proud.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: he believed in me.”
The experience of losing his father has clearly given Bristol-born Lines a steely determination that makes him a formidable opponent on the football pitch - and helped him battle back from that groin injury, which saw him carried off the Hillsborough pitch during a pre-season friendly against West Bromwich Albion.
A key member of the squad which sealed automatic promotion to the Championship last season, at the expense of city rivals Sheffield United, Lines was looking forward to his crack at the Championship - a level he has still never played at during his career.
Instead, the 26-year-old was forced to watch powerlessly as his Owls teammates first made a good start to life in English football’s second tier, before going on a run of 10 games without a win.
“It was hard to watch,” Lines conceded.
“The injury came at a time when I was playing well, and I think I was doing better than ever in some friendlies against some very good teams.
“I’m not the best watcher anyway, but when the team isn’t doing so well it makes it a lot harder because you want to go out there and do what you can.
“But you can’t expect to go your whole career without getting an injury, it doesn’t work like that and I suppose everything happens for a reason.
“I’m chomping at the bit to get back involved again, but I also had to balance it with not rushing back too quickly.”
Lines felt he was fit enough to be involved on the bench last weekend at Nottingham Forest, when Wednesday fans hailed Jose Semedo with ‘Semedo Day’.
Lines instead had to watch from the sidelines as Wednesday lost 1-0 - but the midfielder hopes he will soon get the chance to resume a successful partnership with the Portuguese favourite.
“Jose and myself have a good understanding from playing so many games together last season, and football is all about partnerships - your two centre halves, your two central midfielders, your two strikers.
“I think Jose and myself counteracted each other in the majority of games we played last season - whatever he’s not so good at, I am good at and what I’m not so good at, he is excellent at.
“Hopefully we’ll get the chance soon to resume that partnership as soon as possible.”
In Lines’ absence, Wednesday have won just four games from their 17 in the Championship this season and sit just two points above the dreaded drop-zone.
“I thought we were unlucky at Forest; we’re just not getting the rub of the green at the moment,” Lines added.
“Last season there were games that we didn’t deserve to win, which we did, and this season it’s becoming the opposite.
“But you don’t become a bad team overnight - we won promotion last season, and we have some very good players here still.
“The league is just so strong, and when you look at the teams in it, it’s probably the strongest it’s ever been.
“But that’s no bad thing - you have to keep evolving, and keep testing yourself against the best.”
Lines’ return to full fitness is especially welcome after Everton recalled their young starlet Ross Barkley from his loan spell at Hillsborough.
“You can see what a good player Ross is going to be,” Lines, who turns 27 at the end of this month, said.
“It’s easy at times to forget that he’s only 18 years of age. It can be difficult for a young lad to come into a good league and play central midfield, but he did that and he did it well.
“He’s a top player and so I’d like to wish him all the best back at Everton.
“He’s got a massive future ahead of him; it’s just a shame we never got to team up when he was at Wednesday.
“But I’m sure we’ll see him pulling on a full England shirt one day.”
Lines faces competition from Rhys McCabe and Paul Corry to replace Barkley, who scored four goals in his 13 Owls appearances.
“I’m not thinking any differently now Ross has returned to Everton,” Lines says.
“Just like before, I want to play and I’m determined to get in the team. If I’m in the team, I’ll do all I can to stay there and if I’m not, I’ll work my nuts off to be better than whoever has the shirt.
“I’ve been out for so long, I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Wednesday boss Dave Jones is without the suspended Miguel Llera for the clash with fifth-placed Leicester City.
Both former Wednesday loanee Ben Marshall and Owls fan Jamie Vardy, formerly of non-league Stocksbridge Park Steels, played last weekend as City spanked Ipswich Town 6-0.
Jones is expected to recall club captain Martin Taylor to partner Anthony Gardner at centre half.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @dannyhall04.