Sam Hutchinson will be glad to be among friends at Stamford Bridge tomorrow after feeling like a pariah during the reign of former Sheffield Wednesday head coach Jos Luhukay.
The Owls midfielder’s career has been a voyage of discovery that has encompassed the pride of representing his boyhood side and playing a leading part in the renaissance of one of the game’s grand old clubs, but also depression, self-doubt, injury despair and retirement – the latter a decision that was ultimately rendered premature.
He is back in the fold at Hillsborough after being ostracised by Luhukay for the vast majority of the Dutchman’s 11-month tenure for reasons still unknown to Hutchinson. He was selected just six times , but tomorrow will see him achieve a sense of closure to another fraught period in his career.
Joy and despair also formed part of Hutchinson’s story with Chelsea after joining the club’s academy at the age of nine.
The Windsor-born player made his senior debut at the age of 18 in May 2007 only for his world to be shattered when a chondral defect in his knee led to him retiring from football just over three years later.
A spell of depression followed, which saw him alienate himself from family members before Hutchinson sought help at The Priory for mental health problems.
Fortunately there was a happy outcome from both professional and personal perspectives as he resumed his career with Chelsea following treatment to fix his injury – with support of those at the club unstinting.
Most of those backroom figures at the club have gone, but some still remain.
What also persists is Hutchinson’s ongoing battle to remain “in a good place” mentally, which is a daily challenge.
But tomorrow will represent a special day. It will also be a proud occasion for Hutchinson’s wife Jennifer, who will be accompanied by the couple’s two oldest children – five-year-old Mila and Albie, who is six.
They will be among the Owls’ 5,900 away fans along with other family members.
It will be a cathartic moment for Hutchinson, father and husband, and for the wider family.
Admitting that coping with depression still represents an ongoing battle, he said: “Oh yes, I go back into it. Even now I go back into it, but I just have the tools to cope with it. Everyone has bad days, but it is all relative.
“My bad days are nowhere near as bad as other people’s. My three kids are my saviour. You look at the joy on their faces when you walk in and that is all I live for. My wife will probably be cheering for Chelsea. She will be there. My mum and dad, sister and nephew (too).
“I did not speak to my mum and dad for a year and a half to two years. Literally it was just me and my missus. I used to record Homes Under the Hammer, wake up at, like, two o’clock and sit watching it under a blanket. She would come in from work and be like, ‘What are you doing with your life? You need to start playing football again’.
“She is the only one who has probably made me play football again because she knew how much I loved it.”
Hutchinson’s prospects of re-establishing himself in the Owls’ line-up, let alone being involved in a glamour FA Cup tie at Chelsea, would have appeared slim had fate not intervened when the club decided to part company with Luhukay.
Revealing that he was offered no explanation as to why he was frozen out from the first-team squad under the former Owls head coach, Hutchinson – brought back into the side just before Christmas following the Dutchman’s departure – said: “It was his choice and part of football. Everyone has had it in their career and it was my time.
“It is difficult, but I had to put up with it. I have had mental struggles before and am mentally strong now and can put up with anything.
“I had not trained with a younger age group since I was 16 or 17, I was always training with the first team wherever I was. That was difficult, and I have got (Owls’ Under-23s manager) Neil Thompson to thank for looking after me as he has done with all of us in that situation. If it was not for him I would have probably fallen off.
“I never thought I would play again (for Wednesday). That was upsetting as I have been a big part of the club and it’s a massive part of my life. All the boys here are fantastic, everyone around the club staff-wise have been amazing. It is like a family.
“I am away from home with three children and, realistically, if I am not playing for Sheffield Wednesday there is no point in me being in Sheffield. Do not get me wrong, my life is now in Sheffield, but my family are still down south.
“I wasted four months of my career and life. If I did not have a new-born baby (six-month-old son Arnie) it would have been even harder, but obviously I had my hands full with that.
“It has gone back to how it was before. Obviously Jos had a different philosophy and way to look at it. I am not sure he understood the Championship at all. That was his course and you live and die by your actions.”
As for the personal symbolism of tomorrow’s tie, he added: “As soon as it got announced I celebrated, to be fair, with my little boy. Not only going back to Chelsea, which is good for my family as I played in every age group there; it is also a big tie.
“It is one you can go and thoroughly enjoy as there is no pressure on us and they have got all the pressure.”