MARVIN BARTLEY has swapped crunching tackles for probing questions.
The Livingston midfielder has used the Scottish football shut-down to launch a star-studded interview series on Instagram.
Champions League winner Benni McCarthy, former Celtic favourite Anthony Stokes and ex-English Premier League marksman Charlie Austin are among those who have already opened up about their journey in the game.
Thousands of fans have tuned into the broadcasts live and, while often light-hearted, guests have discussed their challenges, knock-backs and controversies, with Bartley admitting that football can ‘be a lonely place’.
And Bartley hopes supporters appreciate seeing the human side to their heroes.
Bartley said: “I thought ‘why not try to get professionals to open up and talk about their career and experiences, whether good or bad?’
“I’ve played with, or against, the majority of people I have spoken to so far, which probably makes them comfortable enough to talk about situations that they might not with other people.
“It shows fans another side. Supporters think players are robots; one dimensional. But they are humans and have the same feelings that anyone else does.”
Although wildly different characters, perhaps the best examples of that were Austin and Bartley’s ex-Hibs teammate Jason Cummings.
Austin spoke openly about the mental challenges of being released by Reading as a youngster and his circuitous route to the professional ranks, ultimately making the grade aged 22 after working as a bricklayer.
Cummings, meanwhile, broke his silence about his ‘stupid’ actions while on loan at Peterborough United in 2018, when he smashed up his own flat following a drunken night out with a pal.
Bartley continued: “Jase [Cummings] likes to be the class clown at times but in there somewhere is a maturing young man.
“He has been through difficulties, leaving Hibs for Nottingham Forest and things not working out there. We all know what happened at Peterborough and he spoke really openly about that.
“It can be a mental struggle for any player that goes through hard times – football is a really lonely place – and allowing fans to see that is still rare.
“I’ve had a lot of messages from people, particularly parents, talking about how important they found the mental aspects of the interviews to show their kids. If players can show the same weaknesses that we all have, then they can say ‘look, he got through that’.
“Likewise, there are a lot of academy players getting to a stage where they don’t know if they are being kept on so to see stories like Charlie’s, who came through the non-league route, is inspirational.
“It can be heartbreak being released, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.”
Former Celtic, Rangers and Scotland star Kenny Miller will join Bartley on Monday, while a chat with Motherwell midfielder David Turnbull is in the pipeline.
However, they may struggle to top ex-Porto striker McCarthy, with Bartley admitting he was starstruck as South Africa’s all-time record goalscorer reeled off anecdotes about lifting European football’s biggest prize in 2004 and working under Jose Mourinho.
He laughed: “I sat at my computer listening to Benni McCarthy telling me stories and, I swear, there were a couple of times when I forgot I was supposed to be asking him questions.
“I was just in awe of the man.
“He was just casually talking about winning a Champions League final and working under Jose Mourinho, as casually as you like and I’m thinking ‘what is happening in my life?’
“The response I’ve had to that has been electric because Benni lived everyone’s dream growing up. “To come from where he did, to even become a professional footballer was incredible, but to the win the Champions League is amazing.
“He was so down to earth and a force of personality, you would never guess he achieved what he did and set the records he did.”
And Bartley confesses that it his been humbling to learn that his interviews have provided some comfort and entertainment while the country is gripped by the coronavirus outbreak.
He added: “A lot of the feedback was people saying that it was giving them something to focus on during lockdown and taking their minds off things.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, these interviews would not be getting anything like the amount of vies they have if we were living normal lives and were out and about.
“But we are locked in and if people can get something out of these stories then that’s incredible.”