Nicky Byrne as a football player (source: Archive)

Most of us only know Nicky Byrne as a personnel of Westlife, a world famous Irish pop vocal group. But, he apparently had a career as a goalkeeper until he was 21 years old. He played in several Irish teams. The biggest team he has ever joined was an English team, Leeds United. Nicky also played for the U15 and U18 Ireland national team.

Nicky had a team with phenomenal players such as Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, and Richard Dunne when he was in the Ireland national team.

Life as a Football Player

Nicky joined the famous local team, Home Farm FC, when he was 7 years old. He then joined St. Kevins Boys. Nicky was known as a great goalkeeper. He even won Young European Goalkeeper of the Year.

As a professional player Nicky joined Leeds United in 1995 when he was 16 years old. Initially, he was there only for a trial with Alan Maybury and Stephen McPhail, who also came from Ireland. Impressed with his performance, Leeds then signed him with a two-year contract.

One of Nicky's achievements at Leeds was when he won the 1997 FA Youth Cup. Although it was not a prestigious title, the Leeds youth team was considered a golden generation. Besides Nicky, Maybury, and McPhail, the team also has future players such as Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate, and Alan Smith.

An opportunity for Nicky to join the first team finally came when Leeds goalkeeper Mark Beeney got a red card.

"I was only 16 and a half years old, and he (Howard Wilkinson, Leeds manager at the time) said: 'We will play Southampton next Thursday and I want you in the squad. I just want to know if you can play, how do you feel?' I remember I was very panicked, but I looked into the manager's eyes and said: 'I'm fine, I'm ready,' even though from the bottom of my heart: `I AM NOT READY! '" Nicky said, as quoted from

Nicky claimed he was not at home at Leeds. He always missed his parents and girlfriend in Ireland. It affected his performance in some ways.

"In his first season, he (Nicky) was very great. But, in the second season he made a few mistakes," Maybury said. "They also just signed Paul Robinson, so a few mistake could get you out of the (main) team."

He only lasted two years at Leeds. In addition to homesickness, George Graham - the Leeds manager at the time - also said that Nicky was not tall enough to be a goalkeeper (he is 179 cm tall). "There was always a question mark relating to his height to become a top class goalkeeper," Maybury said.

Graham said that his two-year contract might be extended if Nicky could grow taller. But Nicky never grew again at the age of 18. Leeds then released him to other team.

He then underwent a trial at Cambridge United, but never got a contract so he decided to return to Dublin to play with Shelbourne, Cobh Ramblers and St. Francis FC.

He wasn't selected as the main goalkeeper at St. Francis, Nicky then decided to retire from football even though he was only 21 years old.

From Football to Vocal Group

Since quitting football, he began to pursue a career as a singer. With his father, he performed at pubs and clubs in Dublin. In 1998 he joined an audition for a new Irish vocal group; Westlife. And the rest is history.

"Joining a band like Westlife, it's like winning the lottery," Nicky said in his interview with Hello! Magazine.

But, Nicky is still a football player at heart. He participated in several edition of Soccer Aid. He even scored a goal in Soccer Aid 2014 at Old Trafford.