Jimmy Nielsen is goalkeeper for Sporting Kansas City. Nielsen, a native of Denmark, lives with his wife and two children in Brookside. He will speak and sign copies of his autobiography, Welcome to the Blue Heaven, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 4801 Main St. This conversation took place at Jalapenos in Brookside.
By CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
In your book, you write about overcoming a serious gambling problem that derailed your career in Europe. Why did you choose to go public with such private and embarrassing details of your life?
This is the second book, and if I hadnt written the first book, which came out in Denmark, I wouldnt have written this one. But people here kept asking me about having the book translated into English. At first I said no because I was over that part of my life. But then I decided to write a new book that was more updated and more about Kansas City but still include my gambling history, to be honest about that.
How did you overcome your gambling addiction?
I was in rehab three times in Europe. The first two times I didnt do it for me. The first time I did it for my mom. The second time I did it for my wife. When I left the second time, I left with a guy who had been in rehab with me, and we went straight to the casino. The third time I had hit the bottom. We had to sell the house because we were going to lose it. I had lost all our money and owed a ton of debts.
Your wife must really love you.
I hope she does. She stuck with me, and were having a good time now.
What strategies did you use to help you quit?
I used to spend a lot of time doing research and studying the sports bet to see who was injured and who was suspended in the teams starting. So there was a big gap afterwards, like what do I do with all those hours?
So it wasnt just placing bets, it was your pastime.
It was. That had been my life every day for 10 or 12 years.
How did you fill the time when that went away?
To begin with I was sleeping all the time. I went back to the rehab guy and asked him, Is this normal? He said yes, and at first he suggested I should cook. I had never cooked in my life. But I thought, all right, so I went to the store and I bought a bunch of ingredients, and then I came home and looked at it all and asked my wife, Can you please do this? So she took over, and I still have never cooked.
Did you find another passion to replace the passion for gambling?
Its not just about finding another passion. Sometimes that little devil pops up in your head and its about figuring out how to put it back in its box.
What worked for you?
It wasnt finding one thing, but about 10 things and filling the time slowly day by day by day. I took long walks with the dog. I have a skinny dog.
You always wear extremely bright colors, including hot pink on the field. Is it because you hope opposing players will subconsciously kick the ball toward you?
I heard there was something with those bright colors, that you are like a magnet. I read many years ago that you should never wear green because it has the opposite effect.
Game to game I dont choose what color to wear. I get to choose three colors at the beginning of each season and then week to week the league decides which one I have to wear.
Based on what?
Television and the opponent.
You stand right in front of the Cauldron
In pink. (Laughs.)
What is the craziest thing youve witnessed in the Cauldron?
Nothing is crazy. If you are a fan and you come out, you get to do whatever you want. Its a lot of positive energy out there. They are just excited and a very, very happy group. Its a great feeling to walk out and see and hear them. It makes you want to perform well for those fans.
In your book you write that when you got a call asking you to come and play here, you had never heard of Sporting and you did not know where Kansas City was.
I did not. I had the coach on the phone and I went on the computer and found a map (of the U.S.) and he said, Find New York. So I found New York. Then he said, Go left, go left, go left and when you get to the middle just come down.
Last year, the World Happiness Report, commissioned by the U.N., ranked Denmark as the happiest country in the world. Was it hard to leave Denmark?
I never heard about that until someone asked me about it once. To me, people seem happy here, too.
People here are more open and helpful.
Once when I had just moved here, I was staying at a hotel, and I went to do some grocery shopping at Sun Fresh in Westport. When I left the store the bottom fell out of my bag, and everything started rolling out all over the place. I bent down to start getting my stuff, and when I looked up there were five or six people helping me pick things up. That would never happen in Denmark.
Never. People would have seen me, but they would have pretended they didnt see it, looked the other way and gone to their cars.
Do your wife and kids enjoy living here as much as you do?
They love it here. Two years ago I had the opportunity to go back to Denmark. I didnt tell them at first. But then I got the phone call saying it was time to make a decision. So I told them, We have this opportunity to go back to Denmark and blah, blah, blah, and they all said, Fine. You can go back to Denmark, but we are staying here.
I was very happy they said that. We had a bad experience in England. My daughter was very unhappy in school there so we took her out and did home-schooling and, fair enough if you like that. But Im not a fan of that. I think the kids need more socializing. They are very happy in the schools here.
There is a casino now by Sporting Park. Is that hard for you?
No. Not at all.
Have you cut out all forms of gambling now? Do you play the Lotto?
When the Lotto was up to $600 million recently, all the guys on the team pitched in money and we bought some tickets. We went to Las Vegas for the team Christmas party.
Did you gamble?
I spent $80 $40 with another guy who was at the blackjack table and $40 in a slot machine. But the trip was mostly about having fun and not so much about gambling. I have never felt so proud as on the plane ride home from that trip. My wife had faith in me that I would not fall back into it, and I was able to show that her faith was not misplaced.