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Leigh Nicol: 'Talking about abuse is my way of trying to put things right'

In the spring of 2019, Charlton Athletic's Leigh Nicol stared at a tree in her back garden with dark thoughts in her mind after a phone hack led to private pictures being uploaded to adult websites.

In a random iCloud hack, the "little girl who loved football lost the most expensive thing in the world". Her privacy.

Five years on, with her boots hung up and a smile across her face, the former Scotland youth international now believes she has "the best job in the world".

Now she shares her experiences, offers support and provides tools for young sportsmen and women to deal with online abuse.

The 28-year-old does this in her role as an associate director at a media law company and as a player liaison officer at her former club Crystal Palace.

"I get to be in the changing room and part of the banter - all the fun stuff - while no longer needing to put my body through pain anymore," she told the Scottish Football Podcast.

"I'm there to make an impact on individuals, begging them not to do what I did.

"It's a privilege to get to go out and share all my wrongdoings in life - that's my way of trying to put things right."

Nicol is speaking to everyone and anyone who will listen. Men and women, young and old, because what happened to her, could happen to any of us.

A video with a former partner from when she was 18, a video that wasn't even on the phone she had at the time, was shared worldwide.

Nicol suffered sickness and panic attacks and felt nothing but numbness. But now she has has become a voice for the voiceless, a symbol of strength and proof of light at the end of the tunnel.

How would the woman she was in 2019 view the woman she has become?

"She'd be so proud," Nicol says. "With a lot of disbelief because she didn't want to get out of bed, then. She didn't want to speak to anyone."

'Most hurtful comments don't cross illegal line'

Nicol still receives online abuse, in its various forms, every day. She reads every message, post and comment - and there have been thousands.

But, she is channelling that into helping prepare others being overwhelmed by the abuse they receive.

The week she did this interview, she spoke with members of the Professional Cricket Association and Irish rugby teams, as well as Sheffield United Women's under-21's squad.

"A lot of social media abuse isn't criminal, which is difficult, but sometimes the most hurtful and disgusting comments don't cross that illegal line," Nicol says.

"So we try our best to prepare players for dealing with sexualised abuse, prejudice and body image."

One session with a Premier League club was interrupted a few minutes in by a round of applause. Moments like those make Nicol's survival "the proudest achievement in my life".

That's not to say the abuse does not still get to her. She is rocked by it almost daily. But she's better equipped to handle it, and that is why she wants to help others.

"I guess deep down it was the ultimate goal to go and help people - talking about it is the only way to keep me sane."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised, find support via the BBC Action Line