Footballer Thomas Stewart pens song after family tragedy in bid to help others
Former Irish League footballer Thomas Stewart has turned his story of personal grief into a public celebration of hope with the ambition of helping others.
The universal themes born out of a deeply private moment - as the 34-year-old turned to music last year following the loss of his mother Louise to a short and devastating illness - ultimately offered comfort and inspiration.
Those months of channelling into song his feelings around a family tragedy within the larger issues of life during the coronavirus pandemic have now led to the recording and release of ‘I’m A Better Man’,
Over a week on from the song’s release across digital platforms such as iTunes, Spotify and Amazon Music - and with proceeds in aid of The Stephen Clements Foundation - Stewart is adjusting to attention of a different kind following 17 years in the sporting spotlight across a career covering spells in six countries.
Having devoted so many years towards a singular focus on the football pitch of clear rewards driven by results, Stewart is now learning about the vulnerability of putting something with so much emotional weight out into the world for judgement.
However, Stewart’s motivation around the song is far removed from the usual scrutiny connected to professional sport as he admits how others view his musical ability is irrelevant compared to any help the song may provide to someone struggling.
“I’m not claiming to be the greatest singer in the world and this is the first time I’ve ever really written a song...and absolutely the first time it has been recorded in a studio and released,” said Portadown-born Stewart who won silverware with Linfield, Derry City, Shamrock Rovers, Sacramento Republic, Dundalk and Larne “As a footballer you get used to people having opinions on how you played or how good you may or may not be, that’s part of the game.
“Just because you play football or are in the public eye for something it doesn’t mean you become immune to criticism or don’t have the same struggles away from being a success on the pitch.
“But with the songwriting it’s completely different, I would use the word ‘tender’ I guess as there’s certainly a vulnerability involved unlike anything I’ve faced before as a footballer.
“It’s amazing to think people can go on to YouTube or places like iTunes and Spotify and download or listen to something I’ve created.
“The feedback I’ve heard directly has been really positive so far but, really, it’s never about personal validation or praise for anything I’ve done.
“Ultimately, the aim is to put the music out there and if someone listens to the song and it can offer some comfort or support that would be wonderful.
“The respect given back from people has been nice but what really counts, to be honest, is the idea someone might benefit in some way.
“Writing helped me process everything going on after my Mum’s passing and living during lockdown...it was a form of release different to something physical I would have traditionally done such as running.
“I kept going back to one song in particular and started to reflect on how things had developed.
“Thankfully, I was feeling in a good place with everything and happy to see my family doing better...so that became the inspiration for the theme of the song.
“But although the song came out of coping with specific feelings, I think the themes can mean different things to different people.
“It’s tender putting a song out there, especially given what it came from - but, really, my only ambition for it is to maybe help others deal with their own difficult times, if possible.
“I would never want to be seen imposing anything on anyone or trying to tell people how to feel - but everyone has tough times and the song is one of hope and about realising there’s always a light burning.
“It would be a magnificent feeling to realise the song ended up helping one person cope with a tough period.”
As his sense of the song’s potential strength beyond his own situation increased, Stewart turned to some old friends from time as a Larne player to develop the project.
“Music is so powerful and it triggers so many emotions,” said Stewart. “Music has always been part of my life, I’ve a background growing up in theatre or singing in the choir and it runs through the family.
“I’ve always written some poems and stories then took up the guitar around two or three years back.
“I wrestled with the idea of doing something more with the song but eventually got in touch with Tommy Hamilton of The Music Yard in Larne.
“Within a week or so we were in the studio recording the song and I was delighted with how it turned out.
“The concern is always something different to what you imagine in your head but we were all absolutely on the same page and it was the same with the video - the idea was to keep things simple and just present the song in a way that wouldn’t take away from the message.
“I also spoke with Gavin Clements, who, again, I know well from my time playing for Larne and we developed the idea of using the song to raise some funds for The Stephen Clements Foundation, which helps various mental health charities and initiatives.
“I’ve not had much time to sit back and reflect on everything but writing is certainly something I will continue to pursue.
“I don’t know where it’s going but I’m proud of the work put in and the help from everyone so far.
“Now the song is out there for the public to find and, hopefully, it can help someone plus raise some welcome funds for such a worthy cause.”
Donations can be made via the JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tommy-stewart-charity-song.