DRESSING rooms are often the closest places in football, where the bond between players is often formed and the banter flows. Whether it’d be practical jokes or letting the manager vent his anger at poor performances, it is the place where the players come together.
It can also be a lonely place.
Personal problems are very seldom shared, and young footballers find it difficult to open up about the pressures that come with being a player. The perception of “how can you be depressed, you’re in the dream job” and being told to “man up” often take over as players bottle up the issues affecting their on field performances.
There’s then the effect on life after football, where not being able to play the game you love is difficult to adjust to. For Forbes Johnston, Paul McGrillen and Chris Mitchell, they got to the darkest of places and took their own lives. Even Gary Speed, a highly regarded player in England’s top flight for almost two decades, found life difficult after football and hanged himself. This was just hours after appearing on Football Focus, where he was speaking of his pride of being the Wales manager at the time.
To get to that point where you feel life is not worth living is something that’s difficult for outsiders to understand why people get to that point.
Junior Footballer Aaron Connolly has been on this dark journey!
Earlier this year, the 27 year old had disappeared suddenly from a night out with friends in Edinburgh with the sole intention of killing himself. He had reached that point, saw no light at the end of the tunnel, thought life was not worth living, and was ready to step out in front of an oncoming train.
Then he heard a voice! The sound of his son Ruari’s voice! He wasn’t there in person but Aaron heard Ruari in his head, and the thought of leaving his son without a dad was the intervention he needed. It saved his life!
Aaron’s sudden disappearance launched a nationwide appeal from his family and friends as he then boarded buses to Glasgow and Aberdeen, before being found by Police and coming home. He was admitted to the Leverndale mental hospital in Crookston, Glasgow.
It was during his four week stay there that I decided to send Aaron a message, just to ask if he was ok. Having had a former neighbour and friend, who used to play football with us on a Sunday night, take his own life in January and having seen at first hand the effect it had on those around him, I felt as though I had to reach out to pass on my best wishes. Aaron was thankful for this and has since said my message, along with many others, helped him on the road to recovery.
Now Aaron is in a better place. He has signed for Fauldhouse United in the East Region of the Junior Superleague and has become an Ambassador for the mental health charity Back Onside. He talks openly on Twitter about the stigma of mental health and how lucky he is to still have his son and loving wife Siobhan by his side.
It is really brave of Aaron to speak so openly about mental health and break down the barriers that surround the dressing room. Thankfully, it is becoming more acceptable for players to open up about their problems to their manager and fellow teammates without being told to “get a grip” and “man up”. It actually takes more of a man to admit they have a problem than to act defiant.
This season has seen Leigh Griffiths take a break from the game he loves because of issues in his personal life that put him on the brink. Despite wearing the number nine shirt at Celtic, he suffered so badly that Brendan Rodgers intervened and gave him the time he needed to get himself into a better place.
Years ago, the thought of a high profile player at a high profile club being depressed was laughable, no player earning tens of thousands of pounds per week had no right to be depressed and a manager would question their mentality. It can only be a positive that Celtic and Griffiths went public on this so that others can come forward and open up about their problems. Nobody should suffer in silence.
Of course, there is still a very long way to go and we are still seeing many young men feel the need to commit suicide as their only way out of suffering. According to the Scottish Public Health Observerory (https://www.scotpho.org.uk/health-wellbeing-and-disease/suicide/data/scottish-trends/), 784 people committed suicide, of which 581 were males. This is an increase of 104 from 2017, of which the male figure rose by 59, and is a worrying trend that people feel that death is their only route out, leaving the bereaved constantly asking why.
If there is a legacy for those who took their own lives, it is through the work of Back Onside in raising awareness of mental health to speak the message that it’s ok not to be ok, as long as you talk to someone. For everyone else, just asking the question “how are you” is more powerful than three words, you could be saving someone else’s life.
Aaron Connolly has found the light at the end of his tunnel and has been brave enough to go public on it with recent interviews in a local newspaper, Twitter and work with the charity. We are also delighted to be welcoming him onto our Podcast on Monday to allow him to publicise the charity further, and to give his general thoughts on the game. We have no doubt he’ll speak more sense than the regulars put together!
Our message to those who are suffering with mental health, speak out. It doesn’t matter who, just anyone who is willing to listen, so that you don’t suffer in silence. Our Podcast team are advocates of mental health and would gladly lend an ear for you.
For further information on Back Onside, they can be contacted via the following platforms.
Website – https://backonside.co.uk
Facebook – https://m.facebook.com/backonside/
Twitter – @BackOnside