Queen’s Park striker John Carter has established himself in head coach Gus McPherson’s starting 11 and the 27-year-old has admitted that being with the Spiders is helping him deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder he has experienced after a posting in Afghanistan.
Carter was one of a host of new players brought in by Scotland’s oldest club in the summer from junior football and, after a frustrating start, he has grabbed three goals in the Spiders’ last seven games.
“I joined the army in 2004 when I left school at 16,” said Carter. “I was playing with Port Glasgow Boys Club and I never had enough confidence that I was going to make it as a player.”
Carter’s ability was soon spotted in Cambridgeshire but again he did not feel ready to push himself forward. He said: “I went for trials and got picked to join the army youth team at Bassingbourn. I ended up not going as I took cold feet. I just decided to work on my fitness instead.”
Nerves were soon conquered, with Carter saying: “I eventually joined the infantry team. I have been all over the world as a soldier. I was in places like Africa, Bosnia, Kenya and Belize. Mind you, the six weeks spent in the jungle there ended up with a ten-day rest and recovery period in Cancun ahead of going to Afghanistan.”
The trip to Afghanistan was a deep experience for Carter. He said: “I have been in the middle of nowhere getting shot at every day. We lost someone from our battalion and I knew others who were lost as well.
“I was there for a summer tour and that is probably the worst time, due to the heat. You cannot explain the difference from that to what I am doing now. Unless you have been there you cannot fully understand.
“I have been at home for the last few years after being diagnosed. I have had a lot of nightmares and football has been my release from them. I played with the infantry and then an amateur team in Gibshill followed by Greenock Juniors and now Queen’s Park.”
Carter did not start a game for the Hampden side until 8 November and he admitted that was a struggle for him. “When I was not playing,” he said, “I was getting stressed as, without playing football, life is hard. The doctors told me play as much as I could as that is my way of dealing with the PTSD.
“I had to be patient and that was difficult. I had trained and played every week since being diagnosed.
“I always felt I was ready and I wanted a chance to prove that but, to be fair to the club, they were great with me. I got my start and scoring three goals recently was brilliant.”
The transformation from substitute to starter and the freedom that football brings has been welcomed by McPherson, who now jokingly calls Carter “Rab” as he thinks that he has been replaced by a better equipped footballing brother.
Humour and football go hand in hand but Carter’s move to Queen’s almost failed to come off. He added: “A scout saw me and then Gus came to watch me. It was a surprise to hear that Queen’s Park were interested and, when the manager’s assistant Chris Hillcoat called me, I thought it was a wind-up from a team-mate. I never called him back but he got in touch again.
“I was wanted by a higher league junior side but, once I got shown around the facilities at Queen’s Park, I was signing.”
Whilst football at the amateurs has given Carter some of his life back, he now has to begin again in other areas.
He explained: “I did some work with the army recruiting team in Glasgow but my time in the army ended on 19 December. I am now unemployed and have to make a future for myself.
“I have started some courses on plumbing and there is funding available for more courses but I don’t know what I am going to do.
“I have children, Brooke and Tommy, as well as a girlfriend to think of. I need football and any job I get has to work around being here.”