KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM has revealed his nightmare lockdown in Kashmir made him realise there is more to life than chasing the dream of a full-time footballer.
The former Kilmarnock, Dunfermline, Falkirk and Partick Thistle player spent nine weeks unable to go beyond the confines of his hotel in the conflict-torn Indian region because of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
With no prospect in sight of his return to the UK, the increasingly-desperate 31-year-old has revealed he felt so down at times he never even left his room.
But the Saford-born attacker put the time on his own to good use as he contemplated his future – both in football and in life.
It all led to ‘Higgy’ – who finally escaped his hotel hell in May after government intervention – finding an apprenticeship as a tiler and opting to drop into the part-time ranks to join Barry Ferguson’s Kelty Hearts in the Lowland League.
He told Capital City Press: “I’m 31 now and I’m just thinking more about the future and trying to get a trade behind me.
“Knowing the dire straits Scottish football’s going to be in, in terms of finances, I weighed up my options and I can’t thank the gaffer enough for bringing me in to Kelty. The ambition to succeed is there and I’m just happy to be part of that journey.
“I pretty much made my decision when I was in lockdown in India, thinking when I got back I needed to think of when I do retire and what I’m going to do.
“I didn’t want to come to the end of my career and have nothing behind me, so I’m working as a tiler now and trying to get as good as I can at that. Playing football part-time was the best option for me, I believe.
“If I strip it back, I think I’ve made the right decision, thinking of my family for when I do retire. I’ll have a decent enough trade behind me and still be able to support my family and pay my bills, basically.
“I still believe I’ve got the ability to play full-time and I could have sat around and waited but thinking of the future and getting a trade was the defining factor in my going part-time.
“Going over to Kashmir, I found out there’s more to life than football, especially missing my family and my two kids. I can now be at home and be a dad and be able to go home after work and see my family.
“Instead of still chasing that dream of potentially getting a move to England that pays good money, I’ve decided to stay at home and chase something else.”
Higginbotham was stuck in a hotel with former Rangers and Aberdeen defender David Robertson and the Real Kashmir manager’s son, Mason, as well as Scots coaches Jimmy Lindsay and Jonathan Craig.
He added: “We were in lockdown for nine weeks and we weren’t even allowed to leave the hotel. It was very tough, mentally, and it gave me a lot of time to think and decide what I want to do with my future.
“It was torture over there. It’s hard to tell someone how it was. I know everyone else was in lockdown back here but it was completely different over there, because there was that nagging thought every day of ‘are we going to get out of here today?’.
“As the days passed, it eventually became nine weeks. It was just really, really tough. Some days, I wouldn’t leave the room because I was that down. It was very, very hard.
“As soon as I got back and saw my family and my kids there were a lot of emotions and relief.”
He went on: “We were probably one of the last flights the government got out of India and every time we just didn’t seem to get on that next flight. I just thought, ‘are we actually even going to get out of here?’.
“The experience of going out there was amazing, and if I hadn’t gone I probably would have kicked myself for the rest of my life, but it certainly put things into perspective and made me realise that football’s not the be-all and end-all of life. There’s a lot more than just chasing that dream.
“If you think we’ve got things tough over here, when you go over there and see the people and how they survive you think, ‘how can I ever moan about my lifestyle or what I’ve got back home?’. The people there still walk about with smiles on their faces and just get on with life.
“I think that’s what gave me the motivation to just get on with life but at the same time I’m still able to play football.”