TATTOOED on Lindon Meikle’s left bicep is the name of a dearly missed friend. It reads “RIP Liam Munn”.
Mansfield Town and England C winger Meikle will never forget 2009. It was the year he suffered double tragedy.
Just six months after the death of Liam, Meikle lost another childhood friend, Reece Staples, a young man who looked to have the football world at his feet.
?Liam was a close family friend – his dad and my dad grew up together and then we did as well,” says Meikle, 24.
?Liam died in a typical fight on a night out. The sort you see every week. Someone hit him once but he fell off the kerb at a tram stop in Nottingham.
?The punch knocked him out so he’s fallen and hit his head. We don’t know if the punch killed him or the impact of the ground. It was crazy. Then a few months after that my mate Reece died.”
Staples, who had been released by Nottingham Forest, had travelled with his girlfriend to Costa Rica to smuggle drugs back into the UK.
He swallowed at least 18 packets of cocaine. One split in his stomach leading to bizarre behaviour that saw him arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.
While he was in custody he begged police to help him, saying he was going to die. But his pleas fell on deaf ears. Suffering from acute cocaine intoxication, he collapsed and died in his cell.
An Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry earlier this year found that Nottinghamshire Police had failed in their duty of care to the 19-year-old.
?When we were growing up Reece was so much better at football than me,” Meikle says.
“There was a point where he had Manchester United after him, really after him. He was at Notts County and there were loads of teams who wanted him, but he didn’t want to leave Nottingham so he went to Forest.
?He had it made. He just had to keep fit, keep doing what he was doing and he’d make it. To me he had such a good opportunity, much better than me. I was playing part-time football at Eastwood.
?That’s why I can’t understand why Reece had to resort to those things. He’d just been released by Forest but even before that he was just into stupid stuff – gang culture in Nottingham.
?We lived on the same street. He lived at number seven, me at number 13. So I was out with him every day. I lived next to a place called Hyson Green, near Radford. It’s a pretty bad area.
?He started going up there all the time. Me, I’d just rather go out into the city for a few drinks and to party with my mates.
“You’d ask him to come along but heâ€™d say no because he might see rivals from other areas. You just think, ‘What are you doing?’ I guess he threw it away.
?So I feel like I’ve got my chance now and I’ve got to make the most of it. To be playing football every day, which is something I love to do anyway, get paid good money for it as well as have England C… you just appreciate it.”
The memory of those he’s lost spurs Meikle on. After breaking into the Eastwood first team under Paul Cox, he flourished.
He helped the Badgers to promotion from the Northern Premier League and then into the Blue Square Bet North play-offs, before they were booted out for failing ground grade rules.
When Cox went to Mansfield last summer Meikle was one of the first he took with him.
Last season Meikle impressed again as the Stags went so close to a Football League return, but now he’s a marked man. Mansfield’s assistant-manager Adam Murray recently said Meikle must keep the opposition guessing.
?When I came to Mansfield last season I wasn’t really sure of the level,” says Meikle, sitting in England C’s hotel after playing a pivotal role in their important 2-1 win over Belgium.
?I was kind of keeping my head above water, trying to ease my way in. This year I know what the league is about. This year it seems like I’m not just playing against one left or right-back but two. I get the ball and I’ve got nowhere to go.
?He’s (Murray) saying I need to reinvent my game a bit. When there was just one defender I could dazzle him. Now it’s two so I need to do something different. That’s me needing to work hard to improve my game.”
With some big summer signings like Luton captain George Pilkington and Wrexham top-scorer Jake Speight,? Mansfield are tipped to take the title. But so far they’ve failed to fire.
Meikle says: “It’s just not happening yet. We’ve got a lot of new players in and it takes time to readjust. Last season we were a solid unit. The left arm knew what the right arm was doing.
?At the moment it’s not quite like that but it will come good.
His own performances have been enough for another England call-up and the chance to add to the two caps he won last term against Gibraltar and Russia.
?It really feels like we’re a team that’s been together for ages even though it’s only three days,” he says.
?The talks we have are great and you learn a lot. Sometimes it’s not just about how many stepovers you can do and if you can bang one in the top corner. It’s also how you approach football in your mind.
?Everything that has happened makes me realise what I’ve got is good. My aim is to do the best I can in football.”