Darren Eadie: Fighting depression in football

The former Norwich and Leicester star talks further about his mental health campaign.

Recently, I’ve been struck by former Norwich City and Leicester footballer Darren Eadie’s revelation of his struggles with depression and anxiety after retiring, and especially by his proposal to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) that a retreat be founded to help current or former players cope with mental health issues. An ardent Norwich supporter as a teenager (and now), Eadie was my favourite player. A fast and skilful winger, I followed his progress from City’s youth system as he broke into the first XI during their memorable UEFA Cup run of 1993-94 and then became their star, scoring 17 goals in 41 First Division games in 1996-97, easily being voted their Player of the Year.

I would rave about Eadie until my classmates told me to stop, feeling vindicated in my claims that he would be “England’s left winger for the next decade” when Glenn Hoddle called him up to play for England in summer 1997. Eadie got injured in training and had to withdraw from the squad, which proved the story of his career, as he played in less than half of Norwich’s games in the next two years. After a strong start to 1999-2000, Norwich sold him to Leicester for £3m in December 1999, where his problems intensified – he played just forty times for Leicester until numerous injuries forced him to retire in summer 2003, aged 28.

Around the same time, attempting to manage my own depression and anxiety, I noticed Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore’s admission that he was dealing with clinical depression – and the response of his manager, John Gregory, who stated his disbelief that anyone could earn £20,000 per week and be depressed. Given his previous indiscretions, particularly having beaten his ex-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson, Collymore struggled to find support from players or the press, but so did promising German playmaker Sebastian Deisler, and the issue was discussed less, excepting the continued problems faced by Paul Gascoigne. Then the sad deaths of Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke in November 2009 and Wales manager Gary Speed two years later forced the world of football to treat the subject far more seriously.

Since, various players, including Leon McKenzie, Richard Sadlier and Dean Windass have shared their experiences with depression, and Eadie is hoping to find ways to help footballers deal with the sport’s many pressures and handle their transitions into retirement. Believing it to be endemic – “six or seven” former team-mates from his eight years at Norwich contacted him about their depressions – Eadie recently met with PFA Deputy Chief Executive John Bramhall and former Charlton Athletic midfielder Mickey Bennett, who now works as a counsellor, to discuss the retreat.

“I’m waiting for the PFA to respond”, Eadie tells me, “but our meeting was very positive. I put the idea to their board, but there are plenty of processes to go through before it can be launched. We’re talking to clubs, the FA and the Premier League as well, trying to get them involved in a campaign. It’s slow, but they’re all willing to help.”

Inspired by Olympic athletes who thanked confidence coaches after winning medals, and realising that sportspeople have powerful voices, “more so even than politicians”, Eadie was motivated by gaps in the services for footballers. “It’s hard for the PFA to get current players to open up,” says Eadie. “Developing a different language is important – there’s still stigma around depression, and clinics, and players don’t often want to call national charities. So the PFA need to make initial contact and then get people to specialists.

“The PFA do fantastic work in getting ex-players into coaching or other jobs, and they’ve managed to get contracts to ensure that clubs look after players’ mental health, which is great. I’ve never criticised them, but when I plucked up the courage to get help, the PFA put me in touch with Sporting Chance [the clinic founded by former Arsenal defender Tony Adams]. I was told that they couldn’t help me, as Sporting Chance is for addiction, gambling and similar issues. They suggested I see my GP, which completely deflated me.”

Eadie’s retreat aims to help players avoid addictions by tackling the underlying issues. “It’ll offer rehabilitation for players with injuries – that’s often when these things start.” (Indeed, following his transfer to Stoke City, talented winger Michael Kightly spoke about his depression during 15 months out whilst with Wolves.) “Players are injured for long periods, missing the banter with their team-mates, sat in the gym wondering ‘When will I be able to go back?’ So we’ll have facilities for them, as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to address slides in self-confidence, before it slips further, into depression. Above all, we’ll be receptive to what players want.”

During Eadie’s BBC Radio Five phone-in this week, ex-Portsmouth, Stoke and Cameroon striker Vincent Péricard explained the constraints of the competitive world – one where every public act is judged by colleagues, spectators and journalists. Péricard said he didn’t want to talk to team-mates about his depression as they might target his place in the side; he couldn’t tell his manager for fear of being dropped; nor his chairman for worry that he would be sold, or that his contract wouldn’t be renewed.

Whilst the influx of overseas players, managers and owners has led to positive changes in English football, Eadie acknowledges that, as Péricard suggests, there are specific challenges for players coming from abroad. Some clubs appoint player liaison officers to help them adapt to new cultures, away from family and friends, and handle the immediate pressure to succeed, but the precarious nature of their vocation can be unsettling. “I didn’t want to leave Norwich”, Eadie tells me, “I was happy there, enjoying my football and earning good money, but I was told that if I didn’t join Leicester, the club could go under.” (Norwich put out an emotional statement to disgruntled supporters following Eadie’s departure.) “I only went two hours down the road and I found it hard, so for foreign players it must be really difficult.”

One who really struggled was Cédric Anselin, a French under-21 international signed from Bordeaux to play alongside Eadie at Norwich in 1999. Also derailed by injury, Anselin had a traumatic time after leaving City in 2001: a short spell playing in Bolivia ended when he contracted malaria, and he struggled to return to football after moving back to East Anglia. This week, he told The Pink’Un that his wife once found him with a rope around his neck. Now, he’s helping Eadie with the retreat: like Anselin, Eadie recovered with the support of his partner, who helped him manage worries about their income after his enforced retirement.

“I’m not looking for sympathy, but there’s this media-led perception that footballers are all egotistical meatheads” says Eadie. “There are some bad eggs, but we’re mostly down to earth people who care about our families.” He hopes that the retreat, which will allow people to keep “one foot in football, and one outside” will help loved ones to cope as much as the players themselves – and that it can be the start of a significant cultural change.

Darren Eadie playing for Norwich City in 1996. Photograph: Getty Images

Juliet Jacques is a freelance journalist and writer who covers gender, sexuality, literature, film, art and football. Her writing can be found on her blog at and she can be contacted on Twitter @julietjacques.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.