LISA SWANSON can attest to the adage which states that football is the most important of the least important things in life. Football has saved her life.

She would live the dream with Rangers while battling inner demons, dealing with the death of her ‘Nana’ and the suicide of her brother, Billy. She was registered as homeless and survived her own failed suicide attempt before rebuilding her career and her life away from Ibrox.

Today, the game that drove her, that defined her, is no longer her priority. Swanson has a new challenge on the park, but a fresh focus off it as she writes the next chapters in an inspiring but brave account, a tale of tragedy and story of survival.

“No matter what has happened in my life, I threw myself into football headfirst,” Swanson said. “I dedicated absolutely everything to making sure I was at every training session and available for every game.

“Football did dictate my life but that was a decision I made, everything was focused around that. I have used it to help me through things in life, it is my escape from everything that is going on.

“When you are at football, you don’t think about your problems or anything you are going through, you are just focused on what is happening in that moment. Football has, at points, saved my life.

“At the end of the season, that is when I struggled the most because I didn’t have football to turn to and it has always been something I have used to help me through things.”

There is a picture of Swanson, aged just four and already football daft, that she cherishes. Still dressed in her school uniform, she stands alongside Billy, less than a year her junior, with a ball under her arm.

Within four years, the inseparable were separated. The breakup of their parents’ marriage led to her mother and Billy moving to Doncaster while her and her sister, Amanda, would stay in Scotland with her father, mainly so that she could be close to her Nana, the women she describes as her ‘hero’ growing up and the one formed her love of Rangers.

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Picture: Lorraine Hill

It took 14 years for sister and brother to be reunited and Billy would see his sibling play in an Old Firm game as well as get the chance to train with her at Rangers. Tragedy would soon hit hard and the loss of her grandmother in July 2014 was followed by Billy’s death the following year.

“He was suffering,” Swanson said of Billy, who passed away five years ago this month. “He was like me, he never asked for help and he just kept things to himself and nobody really knew that he was suffering from depression.

“Sadly, he took his own life. That was obviously a difficult time.

“But what I learned from that, and what I would say to people, is that you should never be ashamed to speak out and ask for help and that is something I didn’t do when I was struggling.

“It took a lot for me to get help for the things I was going through and I have learned a lot through all of that. One of the things I would urge is for people to speak out, there is always someone there to listen to get you what you need.”

Swanson would meet her mother for the first time in 16 years at Billy’s funeral. Just days later, she was back playing, and scoring, for Rangers as football became her escape.

As time went on, the games, the goals, the chance to pull on that blue jersey she adores so much could only offer limited respite. She would spend a fortnight in a mental health ward after trying to take her own life.

“I asked if I could speak to the club doctor, who referred me to Hampden and I was allocated a sports psychologist,” Swanson told the fourladshadadream podcast. “The reason for that is that I needed to keep my head in the right place.

“From 2016-2018 I was getting help for my own mental health, I struggled a lot when my Nana passed away and 14 months later my brother passed away. The only way I knew how to deal with things was to throw myself into football and that is what I did.”

Swanson would go on to become a legend of the Rangers Women’s team as she represented the club, the one she grew up supporting and the only one she ever wanted to play for, with distinction and loyalty during an 11-year career.

She had almost given up as a teenager but an offer to take part in an Under-17s trial changed her mind and made Nana proud. Soon, Swanson was training at Murray Park - a venue she jokes she had only seen on the television series ‘Blue Heaven’ – as she lived her own fairy tale and looked to emulate her football idol, former Scotland striker Julie Fleeting.

“In terms of achievements, in my time there we didn’t win anything really,” Swanson said. “That comes down to inconsistency, I think, and in my 11 years we had eight different managers, so you are effectively playing in eight different teams.

“In terms of achievements, it is probably how long I was there. I am currently the longest serving female player at the club and, for me, that is amazing.

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“As a young kid, all I wanted to do was play for Rangers. I promised my Nana I would be the first player to get ten years there and I managed that. Out of everything, I would say that is my biggest achievement.”

A spell in Finland gave Swanson the chance to earn money for her talents and an opportunity to experience new horizons. Rangers was always where her heart was, but her love for the club potentially led to her permanent exit from Ibrox.

“I felt as if Celtic were doing better than us, that they were ahead of us in every way and that Rangers were kind of falling behind a bit,” Swanson said. “At the same time, the Rangers Women’s team were doing a huddle before games.

“As a Rangers supporter, never mind a Rangers player, I didn’t agree with that and didn’t think it should be happening at Rangers. Some people argue the point, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it and it is not something I think Rangers should have been doing.”

Swanson would raise concerns but then quickly found herself out of favour as football couldn’t provide solace for her problems away from the pitch. In 2018, she would register as homeless for eight months.

Eventually, a loan move to Kilmarnock allowed her to regroup and refocus as, back doing what she does best, the goals and the games followed. A friendly at Auchenhowie was a bolt from the blue.

“I know it is only a number, but my squad number was important to me and it is a number I had worn for over a decade at that point,” Swanson said of the moment she realised one of her Rangers team-mates had been handed her 10 jersey. “It was just given away and I later found out that it was done to wind me up.

“There was no need for that kind of thing, it was already hard enough that I had been sent away from the club. I was still training with Rangers on a Wednesday night but after that game I never went back, never trained again and just focused on Kilmarnock.

“In that same game, I scored and celebrated against Rangers, which is something I said it would never do. I was that wound up and annoyed.”

That would prove to be the beginning of the end for Swanson at Rangers. She felt she had proven herself with eight goals in eight games for Kilmarnock, but her fate had been decided.

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When her Light Blues team-mates were wishing her well for the future at the end of season awards night, Swanson knew the writing was on the wall before she arrived at Ibrox for the last time as a Rangers player.

“After that meeting, I drove home back down the road and I was genuinely heartbroken,” Swanson said. “I had to stop the car twice because I couldn’t see.

“I just cried all the way home and I knew, after the way I was treated… I was ignored when I was out on loan, it was out of sight out of mind really and nobody really communicating with me from the club. I felt forgotten about. I knew what was coming.

“I drove home that night and that was me done with football, I was done and I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

The Rangers influence would determine otherwise. A night out in the company of Charlie Miller, Bob Malcolm and Andy McLaren would ultimately salvage Swanson’s career.

“Something clicked for me,” she said. “Charlie said if I was telling him I was good enough then go and show it, don’t give up something you love based on the opinion of one other person, who doesn’t like you or what you do.

“I thought about it for days and days and realised they were right. Why throw it all away because one person doesn’t like me or want me part of their team? That kept me involved in football.”

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It is at Motherwell where Swanson now hopes to continue her lifelong love affair with the game. A move to Hearts had been agreed following her departure from Kilmarnock but recent months have given her time to re-evaluate and reassess.

The game that has given her so many highs and lows can now take a back seat as she helps others as a mental health worker. The support of Amanda and close friend Kimberley has been long-standing and heartfelt, and the focus is on the future these days.

“During lockdown, I made a few big decisions in my life and it gave me time that I had never had before,” Swanson said. “I have used it in a positive way.

“I was injured as well so that worked out for me. It is easy to really miss it when everyone is playing and you’re not. But nobody was, so it didn’t affect me too much.

“I have made a big career decision and decided I’m not going to be at Hearts. I am going to focus on my career.

“I have never really had a career, but I have just turned 29 and I have jumped from job to job so I have money there for my football. Now I am at the age where I need to start focusing on my future and put my career first.”