Let’s face it there can’t be a better job in life than being a professional footballer can there? Getting paid well for just kicking a ball about and being idolized by children and adults alike and if you’re a Premier League player today living a life that us mere mortals would probably chop off our arms for given half the chance.
But as we know living such an affluent lifestyle can have its darker side and where there are vast amounts of cash can come temptations like drink, women, gambling and drugs and sadly many footballers have been seduced by one or more of these vices. And add to this list the crippling illness of depression that has only came to light in the past few years maybe the life of a footballer for some isn’t as glamorous as it appears to be?
In the seventies you had the likes of Georgie Best, who off the pitch was living the life of a rock star, he was pulling beautiful women, driving flash motors and drinking champagne in top nightclubs, which although to every red blooded young man sounded like pure heaven, it did lead to Georgie admitting later on down the line that he was an alcoholic which culminated in him in his own words retiring from top flight football far too soon.
Another great footballer that nearly got destroyed by alcohol was Jimmy Greaves who although a goal machine on the pitch and one of the greatest ever English footballers, was secretly fighting an alcohol addiction. In his autobiography he goes into great detail about how bad his drinking had got to and it nearly cost him his sanity and his life. Thankfully through professional help he stopped drinking and turned his life around.
Then there’s Paul Merson and Tony Adams, two Arsenal legends who won medals galore with the Gunners, not to mention England caps, but unbeknown to many adoring fans were drinking heavily after games and even on occasions just before the kick off, as their love of the booze was taking over their lives. Merson also had a gambling addiction which resulted in him breaking down live on air and admitting he was seeking help for his problems.
But like Greavsie, both Adams and Merson beat their demons while sadly Paul Gascoigne seems to be struggling with his and he not only has to fight drink problems he suffers from depression too and I admit that when I hear Gazza’s name mentioned on the T.V or radio I think to myself I bet he’s in trouble again or even worse been found dead in some hotel somewhere. He gets help from friends and family cleans himself up and just when you think great he’s on the mend he falls back again.
And recently you had Clarke Carlisle the ex Burnley and Q.P.R. defender who was the former chairman of the players union The Professional Football Association who while suffering from severe depression threw himself in front of a ten ton truck which put in him hospital with multiple injuries and it was a miracle he survived that horrendous incident.
But Clarke Carlisle had been candid and open about his mental health problems before he tried to end his life and talked about it in the media, and he went on to say he knew many footballers throughout his career who had similar problems but were scared to seek help as they were worried it may harm their careers. Clarke says he is recovering well both physically and mentally from his suicide bid and has stated that he is so thankful to still be alive that he is helping four current top Premier League players who are suffering with mental health problems. He says the pressures of playing top flight football has resulted in them finding relief through drugs and drink and as they are so well known he is keeping their names secret as he wants to help them away from the media’s attention.
I’ve only mentioned a few well known footballers who have had problems but there are so many more players who although not so high profile have battled to overcome their demons privately and away from the public glare, but it shows that football has a darker side and Clarke Carlisle says more players are suffering with anxiety now than ever before. But the more cynical onlooker may think why are they suffering with anxiety when the majority are living such a pampered lifestyle? It’s hardly surprising people can be unsympathetic when they read about the money many footballers get paid, but maybe when we look behind all the affluence and high living and pop star culture we may forget that footballers are still human being and they can suffer with addictions and vices just like anyone else? The more money they have, the easier it is to indulge and if they do have an addiction they have more time on their hands to drink or gamble, so before long they end up in a downward spiral and hit rock bottom.
I think we as football fans build up our heroes to be perfect in every way forgetting they have weaknesses and when I was a youngster I thought footballers were like film stars and from another planet. But they are on the whole just normal people who happened to be good enough to play football for a living and they still have the same worries as the rest of us.
So youngsters will keep on looking at their heroes like they’re Superman and adults will laud them as role models and the media will be watching their every move in the hope of a good juicy story, so is it any wonder they’ll be some who succumb to pressure and end up seeking help? Maybe that is the problem; top players are put on a pedestal by society and they find the pressure maintaining a perfect image can get too much and if a footballer hasn’t a strong enough character they find comfort in drink or drugs?
A footballer’s life is a good one and for the elite the financial rewards are great, but sadly for some this can lead to despair and ruin and in the case of Clarke Carlisle nearly loss of life. But hopefully players will now seek the help they need and not be worried what society thinks as they deserve help just like anyone else does.