Steven Naismith has not played for Everton for three weeks. While a recent star for Scotland, he has been left on the sidelines with his club. He has been dropped. He hasn’t played since the end of October, when he came on as substitute for ten minutes against Aston Villa.
The week before that, he was also given only ten minutes at the end of the victory against Hull City. He is justified in feeling some dejection, particularly having scored a winner against Chelsea in September.
However, he is not complaining – not yet, at least. He has learned to apply some perspective to the situation.
That lesson came in 2011 while he was recovering from a ligament injury to his right knee sustained while playing for Rangers in Aberdeen, which was a reason – certainly as far as most footballers are concerned – to plunge into self-pity.
For Naismith, it was a particularly cruel blow – he had already fought back after serious ligament damage in his left knee three years earlier when at Kilmarnock.
In the midst of his second long spell out of the game a package arrived addressed to him at the Murray Park training ground. It had been sent from Afghanistan. At first unsure about what might be contained within, he opened it and found a letter from Mark Charles Stott, a serving soldier in the Black Watch.
Naismith was incredulous that a man whose life was in danger each day was sympathising with his plight. “You were in great form and you will be a big miss to the team,” Stott wrote. “But I am sure you will be back bigger and stronger than ever. You seem to have that courage in your character – you’ll be fine wee man!”
One of the consequences of this message was Naismith’s presence at a launch in Glasgow yesterday of a special initiative by Helping Heroes, in conjunction with construction firm City Building and Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft industries.
Naismith is more than just a sponsor – he helped devise a project designed to help injured war veterans back into training and employment.
“I was a couple of months into my rehab at Murray Park when a letter came through for me,” he explained yesterday. “It wasn’t in a normal envelope, it looked a bit strange at first.
“I opened it up and read through the letter. It was from a soldier who was out serving at the time. He basically said that he was gutted that I was injured and that he was thinking of me. I didn’t believe it at first. I had to ask a lady in the office that it was real, that it had come from a soldier.”
She confirmed it was.
“I found it incredible that this guy’s away fighting for the country and yet he’s thinking about me going for a knee operation.
“It just hit home that, especially when men like him are away fighting for the country, there’s not enough help for them back home. I decided that I wanted to do my bit to help raise awareness of the situation. If I could even play just a small part then I’d be delighted.”
Naismith met the soldier, who inspired him to play an active part in helping injured war veterans. He had mentioned the letter in an interview and Stott’s father got in touch to say that it was his son. “He came to Murray Park when he was back home,” recalled Naismith.
“He’s just a mad Rangers fan. It was good to talk about football. He was back home from Afghanistan and it was nice to finally meet him after many months from the first letter.
“They are the proper heroes. We [footballers] are bringing in entertainment value to the world and that’s it. But these guys have a real job, doing real stuff that makes a big difference.”
Even at yesterday’s launch, Naismith found that soldiers prefer to concentrate on the same trivialities as everyone else. “They were slaughtering me, firstly for leaving Rangers and then secondly for not getting a game with Everton just now,” smiled Naismith. “It’s funny how they are just as mad about football as anyone else. Yet, they probably don’t realise what they are doing and what it means to everybody else. It’s incredible that he takes inspiration from me. I’ve got the chance to do something I love. It started as a hobby and turned into a career.
“A lot of footballers get a bad rep. But there are a lot of guys out there who do appreciate what a privileged position they are in and do a lot of things that go unnoticed. It’s just a small minority who don’t understand the privileged position they are in.”
All of which brings us back to the matter of Naismith’s current frustrations at Everton. He knows that new manager Roberto Martinez rates him, which helps. After all, he tried to sign him for Swansea and then Wigan Athletic. Martinez knows all about Naismith, and told him that he recognised he was a slow starter at clubs. For now, Naismith is confident he can win back his place in the side. But if not?
“For me what that soldier’s going through puts it all into perspective, what it’s really all about,” he said. “You can have all the fight you want for your club. But at the end of the day you still have to realise what it all means.”
Some obvious succour can be gained from Naismith’s Scotland form at present, although Steven Fletcher’s return now offers a threat to the central striking role he has made his own in recent games. Again, Naismith is circumspect, although one should not mistake this for indifference. He rightly believes he should be playing at Hampden tomorrow night, when the United States arrive at Hampden Park on friendly duty.
“Maybe I have planted a seed that he wants me to stay there,” he said, with reference to manager Gordon Strachan.