As well as a football player’s physical health can affect them and their career, so can their mental state. This seems obvious but do we actually know the extent of how this affects a player? Mental health isn’t something that is discussed or is tackled as hard and as upfront as problems like racism and I can see why. Not enough people have sufficient knowledge about mental illness to really spark an interest in today’s footballing society. The common misconceptions about having mental health issues is that if you suffer from a mental illness you’re ‘crazy’ or that you’re ‘dysfunctional’. This is far from the case.
Take Clarke Carlisle for example. He was a seemingly normal footballer with a wife and kids and a flourishing career. Why would he try to commit suicide? Clarke suffered from post manic depression after a series of events that happened to him. First he had an injury with his knee in which he tore a ligament after being subjected to a tackle, which doctors then believed that the injury could have ended the defender’s career. Then after recovering from this horrific injury, he had to miss a month of the 2003-04 season due to an alcohol-related problem which was one of the first mental illness he suffered from, addiction. A season before this, QPR had another chance to get into the top division in which they lost the play-off to Welsh side Cardiff City. Clarke had a chance near the end of that game to push QPR into the top flight but the header just went a whisker wide. Nobody blamed him for this miss, but Carlisle took the blame upon himself. this is also one of main events that triggered the defender’s mental issues. Clarke Carlisle is also very open about his suicide attempt, in which he said he went to a park bench, popped some pills and ‘waited for it to happen.’ Thankfully his girlfriend found him and got him to hospital where he was treated and got better. After this, Carlisle became chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) and has been trying to raise awareness about mental illness by going to FA directly to talk about campaigns and programs on how to get the word out on mental illness and its ugly truths.
So why is this taboo not in the limelight of discussion as much as racism or diving? Maybe it’s because people don’t know enough about mental health and its effects on a person and how badly it alters your state of mind. Clarke Carlisle once described his depression as “my body shutting down I don’t just mean I’m tired, it feels like my brain is closing. I don’t want to get out of bed because I don’t want to have to face that day.” Another footballer who has faced mental illness and is still fighting against this horrible ordeal is Italia 90 superstar Paul Gascoigne. Gascoigne is an England legend, scoring 10 goals in 57 apps and famously led the English to 4th place in the Italian world cup on 1990, England’s best finishing position since winning the world cup in 1966. After this, Paul became a national hero and was a huge figure in the English First division in the following two years he stayed in England until 1992 when he swapped England for Italy to play for Lazio in Serie A for a transfer fee of £1m, which was Falcao money back then. After being unsettled at Lazio he moved to Scottish club Rangers F.C where he stayed until 1998 where he then moved back into England to play for Middlesbrough in 2nd tier football. He finally played in the top-tier of England, which was now called the Premier League since 1992, for Merseyside team Everton. He played in Liverpool for 2 years till 2002 which after he made a series of moves until retiring from football in 2004. It was after his playing career he ran into mental health problems, mainly with his addiction to alcohol. Due to his Alcoholism, he lost his job as Kettering Town manager in 2005. Gazza also has had numerous run-ins with the police, often to do with drink driving. In recent years, Paul has been in and out of rehab clinics and has had brief periods of sobriety, but hasn’t succeeded in kicking his drinking problems out of his life.
In my opinion, mental health and mental issues must be addressed as a serious problem in football as although it may only affect a minority of footballers, it can have profound effects on football as a sport.