Awarded an MBE for his work as a learning rep for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the ex-goalkeeper opens up about depression and alcohol addiction, and explains why it’s important for younger players to have access to mental health support and education.
I made my professional debut for Portsmouth Football Club at 16.
Football was my passion. I had a 25-year career,I went to America on a one-year coaching contract after retiring, but when I got back to the UK I struggled to find work. With no qualifications,my options were limited — I took on manual jobs to top up my income.
I missed playing football and the struggle to find work affected my mental health.
I suffered from depression and turned to alcohol.
I joined the union in the early stages of my career.
I was the understudy goalkeeper for one of the union reps who encouraged me to become a member of the PFA.I’m thankful I did, as the union helped me to get back on my feet. I went on a 28-day rehabilitation programme at the Sporting Chance Clinic in Hampshire (supported and funded by the PFA) for sports players with drug and alcohol addictions and mental health issues. That was nine years ago and I’ve been sober since.
The PFA is helping footballers to build other careers.
The union offers funding for further education, training and courses, and to help players build new skills. For example, if you want to learn to use a digger, the PFA can help you with this.
I want to give something back.
WhenPortsmouth became a community-owned club after going bust, they recruited ambassadors to support a range of local initiatives.I became a learning rep working with young apprentices (aspiring footballers) aged 15. My role is to prepare them for the future and help them understand how important it is to have another career to fall back on. They’re all starry-eyed and see themselves as the next Wayne Rooney or Ronaldo. I was the same at that age. I help to spread the message about the PFA’s services, from mental health support to funding for education.
The apprentices know they can speak to me anytime.
I’m at the club every day of the week and the young players have my number so they can call me. It’s been great to see some of them carry on their education and build careers away from the pitch – they’re doing well. If I can make sure they don’tgo through what I did, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.