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Mental health: Fighting a battle on and off the pitch part 1

SUPPORT: Fans and fellow footballers rallied around Aaron Lennon after his recent mental health crisis

WHEN ANDREW Cole joined Manchester United from Newcastle United in 1995 for a record British transfer fee of £7 million, he was welcomed with adulation. While at the Magpies, Cole scored 68 goals in 84 appearances – a strike rate of 81 per cent.

Shortly after his arrival at Manchester United at the age of 23, the legendary striker was reported as saying:

“I don’t see the fee and I’m looking forward to playing in Manchester. It’s every schoolboy’s dream to play at Old Trafford.”

But, with the excitement and exposure of joining one of the most successful football clubs in the world came excruciating pressures.

TORTURE

In his autobiography, the once-prolific goal scorer revealed the challenges he wrestled with. He recalled:

“I had my own torture chamber. It was my bedroom. Every day I would return from training, quickly smuggle myself in through the front door, and get to that private sanctuary as fast as possible. Then I would stay there, locked in with my own very confused thoughts. I felt isolated and a little desperate, persecuted as well, and I had to overcome all those messed-up emotions. It wasn’t easy and it took time.

“18 months followed before I had truly come to terms with life at United, and I wouldn’t want to go through such an ordeal again.”

The destructive coping mechanisms used by some professional players have led to varied results over the years.

Greats like George Best and Tony Adams resorted to alcohol abuse, while Gary Speed, the former Wales manager, committed suicide in 2011.

Over the past three months, the growing number of players and ex-players struggling with various forms of mental distress has come under increasing scrutiny.

In December 2014, former QPR, Burnley and Northampton Town player Clarke Carlisle stepped in front of a lorry travelling at 60 miles per hour on the busy A64 in Yorkshire. He said that what he did was an attempt to take his own life. Carlisle had suffered depression throughout his playing career, but revealed that after retiring in 2013.

The former footballer went on to found the Carlisle Foundation for dual diagnosis in 2016. The foundation delivers presentations to various educational institutions, as well as businesses and sports clubs.

To read part 2 of this piece click here.

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