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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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.