Woosie's Words: Football must do more to help mental health problems
This week, my column will still be focussed on Crystal Palace FC, but less about the upcoming match against Manchester United, or the injuries to Jonathan Williams, Jimmy Kebe and Jack Hunt.
Instead, it is about past and present players, and the current manager. It’s about the emotional state of a person who happens to be in the profession of playing football.
This week is world suicide prevention week, and PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle spoke openly about his battle with depression, as well as his suicide attempt. Something which stood out was that he claimed current Palace manager Ian Holloway saved his life.
The two were at QPR and Carlisle had picked up a severe injury which triggered a spiral into depression, and then a year later QPR were defeated in a play-off final which led Carlisle to continue drinking his problems away. He claims that Holloway was about to sack him, until he realised there was a problem, at which point he was “fixed up with” the Sporting Chance clinic whereby things improved.
Towards the end of last season, it was implied that one Palace player had his own demons to deal with, but there is a pathetic, but common, misconception that because footballers are often well off, living their dream job and cosy lifestyle that they cannot suffer from mental health issues.
Former Palace academy graduate and striker Leon McKenzie has discussed at length his battle with depression and a suicide attempt. Whilst with the Eagles, a youth team coach told him that he had ruined his life by having a child at 19, yet manager Steve Coppell simply asked him if he was happy. A battle with injuries throughout his career contributed to his depression, and he knew not what to do.
Kenny Sansom, arguably Palace’s greatest ever full-back, fell into troubled times and turned to alcohol, running away from his problems. Fortunately there are people who have helped him back to his feet, including Palace’s current owners, but it goes to show that once a career in football is over, support seeps away and it can be difficult to lead a ‘normal’ life outside of the fame and adoration received whilst playing.
Young players who fail to make the grade can easily slip into depression. There is so much pressure placed on young shoulders, they are hyped and consistently told of their worth, but when they are shown the door on their dream, what comes next? Who is there to remind them that they have a purpose, self-worth and that their life can continue?
There are numerous professional footballers who have suffered from mental health issues, and one might make an educated guess that at Palace there are one or two players in the current squad who might be facing such problems.
However, with the experience of Ian Holloway, and his somewhat jovial personality, it feels as though there are perhaps provisions in place to ensure that mental health issues are controlled. The club has its own doctor, whom it can be presumed would be at least partially aware of any issues.
Ian Holloway helped save Clarke Carlisle’s life, but there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues. Something which must be addressed, by the public, but also by clubs in general, before it becomes more endemic.
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