Tom Youngs: Ex-Cambridge United striker on his battle with multiple sclerosis

Tom Youngs playing for Cambridge United against Millwall in 2003
Cambridge United fans used to chant "Tom Youngs has got A Levels" at the striker

For 10 years, Tom Youngs' biggest concern was keeping supporters happy while doing "one of the best jobs in the world". These days, aged only 37, he is facing the far more "scary" prospect of living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The former Cambridge United and Northampton Town striker had been roaming the touchline as assistant manager for Suffolk-based non-league side Mildenhall Town when he first realised something was not quite right.

"I'd had a cold and realised shortly into the game that I couldn't follow what was going on," Youngs told BBC Sport. "I couldn't follow the ball.

"I didn't think too much of it, but when I went to work the next week I couldn't see my screen very well."

A trip to the opticians followed, then hospital. It took another year and numerous tests before an official diagnosis of MS was reached.

'That not knowing is still scary'

"To start with it was pretty horrible as I knew nothing about MS," he said.

"One person can be wheelchair bound quite quickly, others can live their whole lives without noticing any problems.

"There is a whole spectrum of outcomes. That not knowing is still scary."

Two years on, Youngs' eyes still cause him problems and he suffers from fatigue and some numbness in his limbs.

Most recently he has started having problems walking properly as "my left leg isn't working that well".

But he remains positive - happy to still be able to go to work, walk and drive himself around.

The 'purple patch'

Tom Youngs playing for Mildenhall U9s
Tom Youngs' football career kicked off with Mildenhall's youth sides

It is a long way from 2000 when Youngs was in the middle of what he now calls a "purple patch". Across two Division Two seasons from 2000 to 2002, he topped the goalscoring charts for the U's, banging in 26 goals.

"I went from being injury prone to getting an opportunity in the first team, to staying there for the rest of the season," he said.

It was the peak of a career which had seen him picked up by Cambridge's centre of excellence as a youngster - despite the fact he was not interested in football until he was eight years old.

The year was 1987 and he was soon heading off to his first football game - at Wembley no less. It ended in disappointment when the side he supports, Tottenham Hotspur, lost in the FA Cup Final to Coventry City, but "I was hooked".

'A blokey, macho world'

Youngs wasn't your average footballer, coming into the game with A Levels in English, Maths and French. Towards the end of his career he added a degree in Sports Journalism from Staffordshire University to his list of academic achievements.

The crowd at Cambridge United used to chant "Tom Youngs has got A Levels" and team-mates called him "Boffin".

And, while he says that helped him form a point of difference which allowed him to integrate in to the dressing room, Youngs admits there were times when the "banter" was too much.

"Most of it is good natured and friendly," he said. "But unfortunately it isn't all like that.

"I found it difficult sometimes and had to get away.

"It is a really blokey, macho world. That's understandable when you are stripping lads straight out of school, chucking them into what is essentially an extension of school."

Tom Youngs playing for Cambridge United against Huddersfield in 2002
Northampton Town spent £50,000 to take Tom Youngs (left) to Sixfields in 2003

After making more than 100 appearances for Cambridge - and scoring 48 goals - he earned himself a £50,000 move to Northampton Town in 2003.

It was a big move for the lower leagues at the time, but injury and loss of form followed.

Two years and a handful of games later, Youngs left the Cobblers without a goal to his name.

A spell with Bury followed, but by 2007 he was bringing the curtain down on his career at a succession of non-league clubs, including Mildenhall, where he was also the club's assistant manager.

The end came when he suffered a hip injury during a 9-0 win against Wisbech Town. "I went off injured before any of the goals," he points out.

"When my hip gave way was harder to deal with than the diagnosis as I couldn't play football any more."

'You just keep your fingers crossed'

Tom Youngs and family
Tom Youngs said his wife Chelle and daughters Orla and Hannah have been a great support since his diagnosis

Youngs, who recently wrote a book about his career and coping with MS called 'What Dreams are (Not Quite) Made of: No Fame, No Fortune, Just Football... and Multiple Sclerosis', continued coaching at the club until the fateful day when what he thought was a cold turned out to be a life-changing condition.

"You just keep your fingers crossed and hope nothing too debilitating comes along," he said.

"I met a man who'd had his first diagnosis. He was 62 or 63 and had suddenly started to struggle with his feet and to walk.

"When that takes hold at that age it's a real game changer.

"That is one of the possibilities, but I just carry on in that typical footballer way - take each day as it comes."

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