Thomas Stewart to turn family tragedy into positive future

Home values have always been at the heart of a career which has taken Thomas Stewart thousands of miles away from Portadown.

Thomas Stewart (left) celebrating trophy success with Linfield back in 2008. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Now 33 years old and after 17 years scoring goals in six countries, Stewart’s decision to sign for hometown club Annagh United was one very much shaped by those values.

Values now profoundly impacted by tragic circumstance.

The devastating passing of his mother, Louise, in February following a short illness left Stewart and the closeknit family forever changed.

Part of the grieving process for Stewart has been drawing a measure of comfort from the memories of his mother, not least the advice and encouragement across his career.

From the pain has come inspiration.

Emboldened by those family foundations, Stewart’s drive in pursuit of professional progress has been rewarded with a comprehensive collection of silverware in the colours of Linfield, Derry City, Shamrock Rovers, Sacramento Republic, Dundalk and Larne.

Alongside the glory, Stewart can look back on the memories from games and goals with Wolves, Partick Thistle and Ottawa Fury.

Now, above the professional concerns of the past, his ambition is guided by personal motivation across the closing months of this year’s deep personal pain and the global impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

”After my Mum’s passing it felt important to spend as much time with my family as possible so we could help each other cope,” said Stewart. “I always had such superb support from my family across my career and was always encouraged to test myself and pursue whatever chances I could, even if it meant living so far away from home.

“The guidance and support given to me growing up was such a key part of helping me cope with any difficult times.

“And over this past year I have had a lot to reflect on and lots of time to evaluate everything.

“The values instilled in me have always helped with my choices as a person and in my career.

“Now I want to continue to honour my Mum’s memory and those family values across the next stage of that career.

“Sport can help build bridges and teach so many positive life lessons, it is certainly an approach I want to really explore and adopt in greater ways moving forward.

“I owe so many people so much for helping me achieve everything, of course my family most of all, so it seems appropriate if I can carry forward those same values to help others.”  

Annagh’s return to the second tier of the Irish League will, pending a clearance of coronavirus restrictions, feature a revamped 22-game programme.

Stewart will aim to spend his final months giving back to his home town before embarking on another international adventure across the Atlantic ocean.

”I signed a short-term deal with Annagh United as it made sense for a number of reasons,” said Stewart. “The aim is to get over to the United States early next year but, this way, I can be close to home until then and around my family.

”I look back and have had a great career, with those decisions leading to trophies and some amazing memories all across the world.
“I’ve worked with some brilliant managers and played alongside or up against some superb players.

“I’ve won basically everything possible in the Irish League or League of Ireland but reflect on my career and it’s always about so much more than medals.

“Now, given everything across the past year or so, I really have a drive to give as much back as possible and there’s no better place to start than in my own community.

“I still have that hunger out on the pitch and love playing and scoring goals.

“But now I’ve also a real desire to go beyond that and look at how I can help outside of just my job as a player.

“Annagh will go into the Championship season as a newly-promoted club with a lot of young players on the books, so the plan is to try and help play my part for as long as I’m here.

“I’ve had some wonderful advice from senior people in the game across my career and can draw on those experiences of being in different situations.

“I’ve played a lot of football away from home but will never forget how I was brought up in Portadown and played so much football here growing up before moving to England and on to everywhere else.

“I just want to do my bit and bring whatever I can to help others at this point.”

His arrival at America’s Sacramento Republic in 2014 offered Stewart an experience at the newly-formed club enriched far beyond his time on the pitch, planting seeds set to bear fruit beyond his future on the pitch.

”I’ve always been open to the next challenge and always looking to move forward, with sport very much a lifelong commitment,” said Stewart. “Initially I had planned to go back to America late last year then my Mum was diagnosed with cancer, followed by the Coronavirus situation.

“Across my playing career I always had one eye on the next step and ambitions to stay in football for as long as possible.

“I had opportunities in the past to gain some experience of coaching and always enjoyed it.

“Being part of Sacramento Republic was an amazing time as you could see a club grow and develop into such a rich and central part of a community.

“The connection between the club and people really struck a chord with me at the time and how it goes far beyond just about playing games or training.

“I ended with a role as technical director in California at an Academy which dealt with maybe up to 15,000 children each year across the door.

“I would also coach in schools during the off-season in Hawaii and really wanted to embrace every chance I could.

“It really hit home the power of sport...what it means to people and what it can do for people.”

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