BY his own admission, Phil Coleman has a bulletproof mentality.

The former Colchester United player was a no-nonsense defender, a tough cookie and certainly no shrinking violet.

Even he, though, admits being "wiped out" by coronavirus - a real eye-opener that left him facing dark days over the festive period.

Mr Coleman, a teacher and Colchester Borough councillor for Mile End, lost his sense of taste on December 21.

He arranged a test at Essex University and then received the news he was positive on Christmas Day. A present of the most unwanted kind.

In the days since, he has suffered a constant, severe headache, breathlessness and problems with his legs and stomach.

He says it has been a nightmare which left him fearing the worst and wondering what would happen next.

"I lost my sense of taste and smell and eating a curry without both was a very weird experience," said the 60-year-old, who teaches PE and coaches rugby at Colchester's Sigma Sports Academy, based at Philip Morant College

"A cough followed and then a raging heading and tight chest. That's when I really started worrying.

"It felt like someone was pulling a skipping rope around my lungs and when I took a deep breath, it really burnt. A bit like when you breath hard on a freezing day except much worse.

"I was really concerned at that point, wondering and worrying what was going to happen next.

"Would I end up in hospital or worse?

"Some negativity crept into my mindset and that's not like me because I've got a bit of a bulletproof mentally.

"Not many things worry or faze me and that's coming from someone who used to play football in front of Millwall fans!

"My mentality as a footballer and in life was always win at all costs and when you lose or suffer adversity, stay positive and crack on.

"But Covid can affect anyone.

"It has no friends and takes down anyone and everything in its way.

"It really hurts and living with a constant, raging headache - a full-on migraine, running right across your temples - soon starts to get you down.

"It feels like my eyes are shutting down and I get out of breath after walking 100 yards.

"The muscles in my legs went a few days ago and just walking up the stairs can leave me feeling weak.

"It's totally wiped me out."

Mr Coleman made more than 100 league and cup appearances in two spells for Colchester in the 1980s.

He was an apprentice at Millwall and worked his way into their first team after turning professional in August 1978.

He lives in Mile End Road and said he felt fine when breaking up for the school Christmas holidays.

However, wife Bev developed a persistent cough and runny nose on the weekend of December 19 and 20.

She soon tested positive, although thankfully her symptoms were less severe.

"I walk 14,000 steps a day in my role as a PE teacher and rugby coach," said Mr Coleman, who isolated until New Year's Day.

"I'm reasonably fit and strong and lift weights a couple of times a week.

"But this has really got me.

"It's been an awful experience and although I'd seen cases and knew what was going on, it's come as a real shock.

"Now it's a case of when is it going to disappear? Am I going to have a headache forever?

"I don't feel unwell but I don't feel well, either, if that makes sense.

"It's more annoying than anything, although I must stress I feel lucky compared to many others.

"I'm fortunate and know I'll get through this.

"But it's caused me to think long and hard.

"It's been a real eye-opener and, looking at the bigger picture, I know the vast majority have done the right thing.

"However, there's a selfish minority that couldn't care less.

"It's like when you go in a supermarket. Everyone's wearing a mask apart from two people and that's the minority that have cost us all.

"I just don't understand it.

"Early on, people said they didn't know anyone that had the virus or been in hospital but now everyone knows someone.

"It's back with a vengeance and so much closer to home.

"People feel it's all about them. They want to come and go as they please but we can't keep losing people.

"We've lost too many already and it's dreadful.

"I just hope that selfish minority wake up and smell the coffee soon.

"They must understand that it's about short-term pain for long-term gain."