Chris Hussey is at his happiest when he is busy, so the coming months promise to be particularly enjoyable for the Cheltenham Town wing-back.
The 32-year-old launched a new business venture last week and has just resumed training after a two-week break after helping the Robins win the League Two title.
He is starting a master’s degree in sports psychology in September and his second child is due in October.
All that along with the challenge of stepping up to League One, but Hussey has absolutely no doubt about his own ability to thrive at the higher level, nor that of the club.
He believes that if the defensive side of his game was as strong as it is now, he’d be playing in the Championship or higher, admitting that it took him a few years to realise he could not focus purely on attacking.
Hammersmith-born Hussey started out as a school boy at Brentford, but he was released without earning a scholarship and joined non-league Woking.
He was thrown out by the part-time club for failing to keep on top of his college work, admitting he was “a bit of a problem”.
Isthmian League Premier Division side AFC Wimbledon offered him a chance and that is where his career started moving in an upward trajectory.
“I started in the reserves and did well so I was soon integrated in the first team and we got promoted two years in a row,” Hussey said.
“Expectations were high and we were getting 4-4,500 for home games, often having more fans at away games than the home team.
“We had to win every game, but I really enjoyed that and got used to playing in front of decent crowds.
“You could say I came through the school of hard knocks in non-league football, but I wouldn’t change it.”
After 14 games in the Conference, Coventry City paid £150,000 for his signature in October 2009.
It wasn’t long since he was on loan at Windsor & Eton from Wimbledon, but he now found himself surrounded by international talent like Clinton Morrison, Leon Best, Keiren Westwood, Aron Gunnarsson, Sammy Clingan and Freddie Eastwood.
“I felt like a fish out of water at first and that I didn’t belong,” Hussey said. “It was scary going from one end of the football spectrum to the other really.
“Looking back, I wish I’d believed in myself a bit more, but I enjoyed it.”
Hussey had recovered from the disappointment of his early rejection to reach the Championship and he used his experience to advise young midfielder Tom Chamberlain, who was released by Cheltenham last week.
“Being released before youth trainee age was devastating for me, but I said to Chambo that he’s one step ahead of where I was at his age as he’s had a year as a pro,” Hussey said.
“It’s not the end of the world and I was in a worse position but did all right, so I told him to work hard, apply himself and that’s half the battle.”
One of the youngsters impressing at Coventry during Hussey’s four-year spell there was his current Robins team mate Conor Thomas.
“CT was very good and fit as a fiddle at 18, as he is now at 27,” Hussey said.
“Liverpool were interested and I remember him going there on loan with a view to a permanent move, but he got homesick and came back to Coventry, which is where all his family are.
“He did well and played a lot of games for the club in the Championship.”
Hussey agreed to leave Coventry by mutual consent in January 2013 and he re-joined Wimbledon, who had made the step up to League Two while he was away.
Among his team mates at Kingsmeadow were Alan Bennett and Harry Pell.
“I wanted to be back home and I wasn’t that worried about the level, but we were scrapping for our lives in League Two,” he said.
“We stayed up on the final day and did what we needed to do.”
Hussey was then signed by Burton Albion, making his debut away against Cheltenham on the opening day of the 2013/14 campaign, playing in front of current England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
His form for the Brewers alerted the attention of Bury and he joined the Shakers on loan, signing a deal to join them permanently the following summer, but not before he had returned to play in the play-offs for Burton, who lost 1-0 to Fleetwood in the Wembley final.
Hussey’s first appearance as a full-time Bury player was also against Cheltenham, when Joe Hanks scored a fine goal to seal a 1-0 win for Mark Yates’ Robins at Gigg Lane.
This period in Hussey’s career is when he believes things began to turn around for him, despite off-the-field struggles.
“I was 24 or 25 and I was doing the lower league rounds, but I needed to work on my defending because it was a real weakness,” he said.
“I worked and worked and worked on it and watched video after video, I was so driven.
“I wasn’t sleeping at the time, but no matter how tired I was, I trained and played every day as best I can, because I felt it was a crossroads for me.
“I either had to buck up my ideas and sort myself out, or stay in the lower leagues. I ended up playing well, we got promoted and I set up 19 goals in League One to get a move to Sheffield United.
“My time on the pitch at Bury I really enjoyed, but off the pitch it was difficult. It shows no matter how tired you are, if you put your mind to something, you can do great things.”
Chris Wilder was in charge of the Blades, who were in League One at the time of Hussey’s arrival in 2016.
He sensed something special was around the corner for the club, who went on to reach the Premier League in 2019.
“I remember the excitement when I joined them, I was ecstatic,” he said.
“You can half see the success coming and Chris Wilder had everyone pulling in the same direction, like us at Cheltenham now.
“Playing in front of 25,000 fans who are all with you, it’s hard for opposition teams to stop you.
“We didn’t start the season well though and I wasn’t playing that great.
“But he changed the formation for a Sky game against Gillingham and picked up from then.
“I’d split with my partner and I was struggling with anxiety and not sleeping, so I couldn’t really function.”
Hussey spent the 2017/18 season on loan at Swindon Town, where he was reunited with his old Bury manager David Flitcroft, who he rates as the most influential on his career pre-Cheltenham.
“I actually fell out with him at Swindon because I was injured and couldn’t get fit,” he said.
“It all kicked off, but I’d gone there because of him and at Bury he took me to another level, so he’d be the biggest influence manager wise, hands down.”
Hussey was once again to stay as close as possible to his Worcestershire home and in the summer of 2018, Cheltenham came calling.
“It’s 25 minutes from home and Gary Johnson called and said I was at the stage of my career when I needed to be playing games, which I agreed with,” he said.
Things did not start well for Cheltenham that season and Hussey was rushed back from injury to go on from the bench at Macclesfield, but Johnson was sacked immediately after what was only the fourth game of the league campaign.
“The club was a bit all over the place, without any disrespect to anyone,” Hussey said.
“It felt like a non-league club and it wasn’t as professional as it is now, from the food to the training.
“Something wasn’t quite right and we had a game on the second day of pre-season, which I’d never experienced before and that put me on the back foot, even though I was injured and didn’t play anyway.
“Gary Johnson’s had a great career and I am sure he’d be welcome back at Cheltenham after helping them win the Conference, but at that time, there was a bit of a funny feeling.”
Hussey appeared against Cambridge United away, with Russell Milton in caretaker charge before Duff’s arrival, but he suffered a setback with his fitness.
“It was no fault of Gav, who I love to death and he’s a brilliant physio,” Hussey said.
“There was pressure on me to get back and I wasn’t ready, which is why I broke down again.”
It was not long before Hussey established himself as key player in Duff’s new 3-5-2 formation, leading to an upturn in form as they pulled away from the relegation places to end 16th.
Even though Duff did not oversee a win in his first nine league matches, Hussey was immediately impressed with the new boss.
“You could see the ideas he was bringing in, even when we were losing,” he said.
“His record speaks for itself after taking a while to get used to the level after coming from Burnley.
“His ideas are always clear, concise and constructive and he’s never too high or too low.
“We knew what he wanted from us and we went out and executed it.”
Hussey has spent most of his career as a left-back, although he did operate on the left of a midfield four at Burton.
But left wing-back has suited his attributes, earning a place in League Two team of the year this season, even though he feels there has been room for improvement with his performance levels.
“I know I am the best left-back in League Two and that’s not me being arrogant, it’s just having self-belief in what I do,” he said.
“I don’t even think I’d played that well this year and there have been times when it’s been hard to get up for matches without any fans and it can feel more like a reserve game.
“The gaffer has said I need to get out of my deck chair and take the cigar out because sometimes it looks like I am cruising or too comfortable.
“He puts a bit of extra pressure on me, but I think the lack of fans has affected me more than others.
“I need something to thrive off, but I will take what’s happened this season all day long because the lads have been brilliant.”
Hussey has played more games for Cheltenham than for any other club in his career and he signed a new two year contract extension in January, keeping him at the club until the summer of 2023.
“The gaffer has put his trust in me and he allows me to do what I want and need, within reason,” he said.
“When you have that rapport, you don’t want to let him down and he’s done a lot for me, so I don’t have a bad word to say.
“I feel I’ve been a good servant for the club and played the majority of games, to a high standard 95 per cent of the time and it comes hand in hand with being back home with my family.
“If I am happy off the pitch, I will deliver performances.”
Hussey wishes he had concentrated on his defensive qualities at an earlier age, but he believes he will once again be one of the best in his position as Cheltenham move up to League One.
“I am miles better now and if I defended like I do now back when I was breaking through, I’d be playing in the Championship now, I know that for a fact,” he said.
“I didn’t want to defend and the penny didn’t drop, so I just wanted to attack. I now do extra one-on-one defending every single day and I think the gaffer gets annoyed as he’s the one that does it with me!
“But if you attack your weaknesses, you can only get better and if someone said now I can’t defend, you couldn’t believe them, which shows how much I have turned it around.”
Hussey has been keen to raise awareness of mental health issues, speaking out during the season and he appreciates the support he has been given.
“The gaffer understands my problems and if I am yawning it’s because I’ve not slept, rather than me being a bad egg or not enjoying it,” he said.
“That’s what’s brilliant about the gaffer and not everyone’s the same.
“I am quite resilient and I don’t get fazed by much now because I’ve been through my own battles and there is no harder battle than with yourself.”
It was Hussey’s superb free-kick that secured the point Cheltenham needed against Carlisle United to guarantee automatic promotion to League One on April 27, with the title wrapped up 11 days later with a 4-1 home win over Harrogate Town.
“I was delighted and I texted the gaffer a few days after the goal, saying ‘I hope that was all right’,” he said.
“He replied by saying ‘welcome to the club!’ as he also scored the goal that got Cheltenham promoted from the Conference (in 1999), so I hope my goal is remembered like that one, for a long time.
“I am delighted for the whole club and it was a relief to do it, but the gaffer being the gaffer, he was never going to let us settle for that and it was all about winning the league, which we also managed to do. He always wants more!”
Hussey regards his strike against Carlisle as the best of his career, due to its significance and quality, but he does not tend to score tap-ins.
“Some fans say I should score more and I understand that, but for me defending well and setting up goals is my game,” he said.
“I can score more, but if I score one goal and we win another league, I’d take that all day long.”
Hussey can now look forward to taking on former clubs Burton and Wimbledon in League One next season.
“I am looking forward to it and I know better opposition will bring out the best in me,” he said.
“I know I’ll need to be on it and you can’t get away with things maybe we have done in League Two.
“With crowds returning as well, I know I’ll be up there as one of the best in that league too.
“There are some good players of course, but we have more than enough to acquit ourselves well in the division.
“There are six or seven big clubs in there, but we played Peterborough away in the League Cup and beat them.
“They ended up getting promoted and I don’t think you could tell which club was in which division that day.
“We have lads who have played at that level and I don’t think the gulf is massive.
“Sunderland, Charlton, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday…massive clubs but I am really looking forward to it, as I am sure all the lads are.”
Off the field, Hussey last week launched Local and Loyal, which is designed to help independent businesses in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire recover after the effects of the pandemic.
“In lockdown, I came up with the idea with my neighbour, who is also my business partner,” Hussey said.
“A lot of things were closing down and grassroots football was also impacted, with no funding.
“People’s mental health was affected and I wanted to do something to help and so something that means a lot to me.”
The idea is for businesses to sign up free of charge and then have trade driven in their direction, providing offers, with consumers signing up for a yearly membership to take advantage of those deals.
“A lot of households’ income has been reduced but we hope this can try and keep things going,” Hussey said.
“A percentage of the money goes to a mental health charity and some will also go to grassroots football clubs.
“The response has been brilliant and only a week on from launch, we’ve had 40 businesses signed up, with loads of positive feedback already.”
Despite having so much on his plate, Hussey is looking forward to returning for fitness testing on June 24 and 25, with pre-season starting in earnest on June 28.
“For now, we have been given a programme of four days a week and ticking over so we are in a position to be able to complete pre-season,” he said.
“My missus has made me mow the lawn 300 times already, so it’s good to have that structure again and when I have nothing to do, it’s when I tend to struggle a bit.
“It’s going to be a busy few months now, but it’s all good, positive stuff and it’ll keep me out of trouble!
“Hopefully by the time my little boy arrives at the end of October, we’ll be flying in League One. We’ll be going in with all guns blazing.”
For more information about Local and Loyal, search social media for @localandloyaluk or email firstname.lastname@example.org