Tag Archives: Mental Health

Scott Davies: I lost a quarter of a million pounds

When I watched Scott Davies playing for Oxford United back in 2014, it looked like he was living the dream. What was really going on in his life, though, was more like a nightmare.

Aylesbury-born Davies discovered his talent for football as a child and was on the books at Watford and Wycombe Wanderers before being signed by Reading in 2002.

He came through the ranks with the Royals as a dynamic midfielder with a good eye for a pass. He was briefly mentored by the highly-thought of now-Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers before breaking into the first team for a few games in 2009 after several loan spells elsewhere.

“It was a massive eye-opener training under a manager who, for me, is one of the best in the world. Even back then, he was different to other managers I had, ” says Davies.

From the outside looking in, it would seem he had the world at his feet. But, unbeknown to anybody else, he was going through a hellish gambling addiction that would soon overwhelm him and do long-lasting damage to his football career.

The downward spiral

From an early age, Davies had a competitive edge that made him crave success away from the pitch as well as on it, and that led him to the local betting shops.

“I was watching the ball go round on the screen at night and the room would be spinning.”

“I started gambling at 16 years old. I used to go into the bookmakers, never really got ID’d and was earning money for the first time. I was only on an apprenticeship, earning £50 week, but I was losing that within 15 or 20 minutes of getting paid,” says the 31-year-old.

“It completely got hold of me and then over the next few years, my football started to do really well. I scored 25 goals in my first 50, 60 games so was rewarded with a new contract where I went from £18,000 to £130,000 a year. I never got any life skills on how to look after money, and my bets just became bigger.”

Before he knew it, Davies’ debts started to pile up and he was beginning to struggle to find money for bills. Something that started as innocent fun was starting to become an issue affecting his life both on and off the pitch.

“I just couldn’t put my phone down. It was a necessity to stay up and gamble rather than get sleep and relax before a tough session every morning,” he recalls.

“There were times when I was playing the roulette machine so often, I was watching the ball go round on the screen at night and the room would be spinning. I would lean out the side of my bed and be sick because of the motion sickness.

“I used to bet on Hungarian handball or horse racing in Chile at four o’clock in the morning. I’d bet on badminton, table tennis; whatever would keep me stimulated throughout the night, I’d bet on it.”

Rock bottom

After leaving Reading in 2011, Davies attempted to revive his career at Crawley Town and Oxford. But by 2015, his gambling had spiralled out of control and he’d dropped into non-league with Dunstable Town after being let go by Chris Wilder’s Oxford a year earlier.

“I felt so worthless that I didn’t actually want to be here anymore.”

With his football dream in tatters, Davies was teetering on the edge of disaster.

“By that time I’d lost my career, I’d lost a quarter of a million pounds and spent about £50,000 of my parents’ money also,” the Bucks-born footballer explains.

“I got to the state of mind where I was suffering from depression, I wasn’t enjoying football. It wasn’t important to me anymore because I didn’t have a nice lifestyle off the pitch that enabled me to enjoy playing.

“In the end, I felt so worthless that I didn’t actually want to be here anymore because I had nothing to live for. It was a case of needing to sort things out before I ended up dead, I guess. “

Davies, by his admission, was a “closed book” and it was only until it really hit home just how much his addiction was affecting, not just him, but the people around him, when he took the first steps towards recovery.

“I was in the bookies one day and it all hit home when I turned round at the door and saw my mum in floods of tears, crying her eyes out. I looked at her and she looked so weak and vulnerable and for the first time in my life I thought ‘I can’t put her through this anymore’.

“I used to find her on the computer in the middle of the night googling how to help people with gambling addictions. It just wasn’t a nice place to be and my mum’s state of mind was probably just as bad as mine. I’ve got the best parents in the world and to put them through it wasn’t fair.”

The recovery

Davies checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic in 2015, opened up about his issues and, as of now, is four-and-a-half years without a bet. He encourages others in a similar position to do the same.

“Speak to someone. It’s quite scary, but not many people have a safe space to turn to and have that person who can listen and doesn’t judge. I had that for the first time when I checked into rehab,” the ex-Reading trainee recalls.

“I had a guy there who was an ex-footballer and a gambling addict. I was like ‘hallejuah, you understand me’. I’d say get it off your shoulders because a problem shared is a problem halved; that’s an expression that I live by and think it’s so true.”

Davies’ new role has allowed him to keep very famous Kompany.

Davies is using experience as a way of helping others avoid the same mistakes and now works with Epic Risk Management, a gambling harm-minimisation consultancy.

“I became the public speaker for the rehab clinic that I went to. They asked me if I’d be interested in going round and telling my story. I didn’t realise that I had a knack for it,” he says.

“I was then approached by Paul Buck, who is the CEO of Epic Risk Management. He just asked me if I wanted to run the new project that we’ve got and, for me, it’s been an absolute blessing. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Davies is striving to educate players, both young and more experienced, on the perils and long-term consequences of gambling, and still thinks there’s a lot more work that can be done.

“Something I always say at all the clubs I go and talk to, if you have a problem with your groin or hamstring or you roll your ankle, who do you go and see? Straight away they say the physio.

“Then I say if you’ve got a problem with something that’s going on in your mind, who do you go and speak to? And they look puzzled. It’s just something we need to take the attached stigma away from.

“There is a lot of work going on by betting companies [to prevent addiction], but it is just the start of a very long road. Hopefully a successful one.”

Image credits: Epic Risk Management (@epicpgc). Follow Scott on Twitter.

Review: Creed II

Fresh from the box office smash that is Black Panther, Michael B Jordan reprises his role as Apollo Creed’s dynamic heavyweight son Adonis in a sequel that links directly back to the Rocky saga.

Creed II sees Adonis take on Viktor Drago, the son of ruthless Russian boxer Ivan Drago, who killed his father in the ring in Rocky IV. They end up fighting not once, but twice .

Thus, this latest chapter packs plenty of emotional punch as it explores the conflicts that arise as Adonis seeks to avenge his father and fallen hero.

The Rocky series is undoubtedly the most iconic and popular boxing film franchise. However, despite their status, the films are known to be fraught with over-dramatised action and super hero comebacks that don’t accurately represent the reality of the noble art.

However With Tyson Fury’s recent Lazarus-like rise from the canvas against Deontay Wilder, maybe those Hollywood blockbusters aren’t necessarily so over-cooked.

Emotional

As directed by Steven Caple Jr, entrusted with his first big-budget movie at the tender age of 30, the fight scenes in Creed II certainly feel more realistic and less corny than those in the Rocky series, making it a more grounded affair.

‘Creed II shows just how hard it is combine the brutality of training and fighting with a loving family life’

Jordan excels as Adonis, imbuing him with so much passion and conviction that you actually feel he really is a boxer whose dad has died, albeit many years before.

Although the first Creed movie featured British boxer Tony Bellew as its villain, returning to the Rocky series for inspiration ultimately proved too tempting for the producers, including original star Sylvester Stallone, who returns once again as Rocky Balboa, now Creed’s trainer.

So, Dolph Lundgren is back as Drago Snr, joined by Brigette Nielsen as his (now) ex-wife. The Romanian-born, German-raised boxer Florian Munteanu plays their mountainous son.

There are also plenty of emotional father-son issues swirling around Ivan and Viktor, with the former looking to his offspring to redeem his reputation, destroyed by his loss in Rocky IV.

Mental health

The Rocky series is known for its sweaty training montages and inspiring moments where one line from the trainer inspires a huge knockout, but Creed II runs deeper then that.

Yes, the training scenes are still there to show that boxing is a tough and gruelling sport, but the film also touches on the mental well-being of boxers.

‘Ultimately, Creed II highlights both the risks of boxing itself but also the dangers of a damaged ego’

Again, Tyson Fury is the man who most recently shone a spotlight on how fighters struggle with mental health issues, including depression and addiction.

Creed II shows just how hard it is combine the brutality of training and fighting with a loving family life as Adonis’s partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is pregnant with their first child.

With a lot on his mind, Adonis rushes into the first fight with Viktor and wins – but only through disqualification. Badly beaten in the process, his ego and spirit are completely destroyed.

Thus, Creed II accurately depicts just how hard it is for boxers to recover both mentally and physically from going to war in the ring. Furthermore, it touches on their vulnerability and how lonely it can be in at the top.

Its not all gloom and doom though, as the film shows how the love and support of family and friends are as just important as training hard.

Trouble

So the stage is set for a second meeting – this time in Moscow – and Adonis is guided by Rocky to adopt a strategy to wear down his opponent, who normally wins by KO early on.

However, he suffers broken ribs in the later rounds and is knocked down, triggering a dramatic climax. This time, it’s Viktor’s turn to be emotionally distracted as his mother leaves rather than watch him lose, whilst his father eventually does the right thing by his son.

Ultimately, Creed II highlights both the risks of boxing itself but also the dangers of a damaged ego, as Viktor looks to fight on even though it could mean serious injury.

The poignant parallels between him and Apollo Creed are made clear as Ivan acts to save his son from the fate that befell Adonis’s father.

He realises that his love for Viktor counts for more than pushing him to win in the ring; the message is you can be winner by learning what is really important, even in defeat.

Chris Green talks about the issues surrounding ‘Every Boys Dream’

In 1997, the FA decided to revolutionise youth development in this country. Doing away with the national football school based in Lilleshall, Premier League clubs would now provide an academy system.

Late last year, Howard Wilkinson – the man who helped transition the league from the old to the new 21 years ago – called for a review and overhaul of the current system claiming clubs are failing in their ‘moral responisbility’.

With young players being churned out at every decreasing ages – do clubs properly care for the well being of those prospective kids?

Chris Green, along with being the late Cyril Regis’ biographer, has previously worked for BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 4 as a broadcaster.

Along with having written three other books on football, he also charted the trials and tribulations of the academy system since its inception.

Every Boys Dream

‘Every Boys Dream’ is his fourth football tome and was written after years of following various academy systems as a journalist.

He tells me that he decided to write it nine years ago due to the well-being of young players seemingly being a non-issue in football.

“Nobody had really covered what had happened after setting up the academy system in 1997.”

The catalyst for finally writing the book being a local story he had been gathering for Radio 4.

“After I did a really small piece on the FA coming down on a small club in Gloucestershire called Cirencester Town, because they had set something up called an academy and the FA were attempting to take legal action against them for using a word that they deemed in football now belonged to them.”

Howard Wilkinson now believes that the academy system has failed young footballers.

“Cirencester had actually trademarked their academy before the FA had set up the academy system. It was a satirical piece talking about how the FA now think they have ownership of a word with Ancient Greek origin; it was a place where Plato taught his students and now they are claiming it’s theirs.”

This then led Green to writing to the then technical director of football, Wilkinson, to gain a broader knowledge of just what the FA were proposing.

“He kindly sent me the blueprint for how the academy system was going to operate and that was called ‘a charter for quality’.”

Too much too young?

As he began mulling over what was supposedly the new layout for how the future of English football would play out, the journalist was surprised to find that the new regulations meant kids in Primary School would now be scouted.

‘It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this’

Previously the scouting system dictated that players aged 13 and upwards was the past policy when identifying young talents.

“It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this. It’s going to be fraught with issues surrounding the education of kids, the distance they travel to academies and the safety standards being brought in – many welcome – some I believed were a distraction.”

“I then found out by speaking to people, that was indeed the case. Although, it didn’t mean clubs were getting more players through or producing necessarily better players.”

Chris then highlights the role the media have played in hyping up young kids – after a newspaper in Sunderland published a piece about a young prospect recently signed by the Black Cats.

“They were parading a child around as the next Wayne Rooney. He was five and they had on him on the pitch before a game against Arsenal signing something.”

Green then detailed a story he had also heard recently of “how a Premier League club had signed a four year old and when he got to training, one of the coaches noticed he was still wearing a nappy.”

He continues, “Anybody who says they can spot a five year old and predict that he can be a footballer at 18 is mad, in my opinion. I think there are a lot of coaches who don’t want to be coaching kids at that age, and I know because I’ve spoken with many.

“They don’t see the value in it, they think it’s all about trying to make sure you have kids signed to your academy; just in case.”

Pay to play?

Based in Worcester, Chris now operates from his media centre where I am speaking to him. He believes that since stepping away from his job as an active journalist recently, little improvement in standards have been made.

“Scouts, as I hear it, are currently being paid to get five year olds to development centres that are unregulated – they are getting paid by clubs just simply to fill up the surrounding local centres.

“I know there are scouts operating in the local area, I say scouts in inverted commas of course. We often have no idea whether these are club officials or qualified coaches due to the lack of regulation.”

In light of the recent case of Barry Bennell at Crewe Alexandra – where young players were sexually abused over the course of many years in the 1990s and 1980s – this kind of dream weaving opportunity could present an even greater immediate threat for young footballers.

With no presence of proper regulation, Green questions how the club can truly protect that child and the motives behind this method of recruitment.

“They can get any number of these kids to a centre and go to these things because there is no paperwork; and to me the whole area is where the money is being spent.”

Mental well-being in youth football

More and more we are seeing cases of players after or during their playing careers, struggling and attempting to deal with personal demons.

However the same level of understanding – which is now afforded to those who have been lucky enough to play the game – is often found lacking for those who do not make the grade.

Chris tells me that he considers it “the biggest scandal of the whole system”.

“The fact that clubs can have such a big influence on young people and then just completely wash their hands of any responsibility.”

Often for those who cannot quite realise their ambition after years within a system, this can prove devastating. It has even led to some former academy players taking their own lives after being released.

Whether the FA decide to take advice from the man who provided Chris with the academy system blueprint in 1997 remains to be seen.

But with the emphasis so far simply on putting academy prospects into a professional setting from early; the other issues within the system seem to still be largely ignored.

Chris finishes with a quote from a man he says was a highly respected Premier League youth coach: “He told me that ‘the child is supposed to be first and foremost in the minds of Premier League clubs and that is a f*****g million miles away from how they think’.”

Photos Courtesy of @ChrisGreenMedia

Soccer Painters — the club curing post-university blues

Mental health issues can affect both new students and those who have graduated. Which is why LCC graduate Connor Winks set up Soccer Painters FC last August in an attempt to beat the university blues.

It can be a big step to leave your home and camp in a grubby death-trap for £190 a week. So it’s understandable to feel slightly lost and isolated in your first few weeks. This can also be the case for those who have left university, with ever decreasing job markets adding further pressure.

Photo: @g_daughtry

“I’m sure if you asked others who helped me set this up you’d probably get a few different answers. It’s quite a personal subject for me as the project was born out of quite a dark place,” says Winks.

“I suffered from post-graduate depression when leaving university after being in education for all of my life. I found it really difficult to adjust.

“I moved back home to Hastings and felt completely cut off from this whole life I had built for myself. Whilst I kept in contact with my closest friends I found I had stopped talking to a lot of friends I had made playing for Arts.

“I was struggling to rekindle those friendships with the lack of time I got to spend in London, really having to pick and choose who I saw when I was up.”

‘I found a few of the boys who had graduated felt the same; a little bit isolated and a little bit lost’

Winks was heavily involved in UAL Football during his time studying in Elephant and Castle and captained the now disbanded third team to undoubtedly their best season in recent memory. Those UAL sporting connections meant that when visiting London from Hastings he found that many of his former teammates and friends who had graduated also felt the same.

A dark place

It can be especially isolating in London, where the housing market is relatively impenetrable for new graduates unless you get a well paid job immediately. Winks, a Sports Journalism graduate, found it difficult going into a thinning media job market and was left feeling puzzled at what to do next.

‘It’s amazing what a couple of hours with your pals not thinking about anything other than football can do for your mental health’

“When visiting London I found a few of the boys who had graduated felt the same; a little bit isolated and a little bit lost. There’s such little research into post-graduate depression and a real lack of support for something that is so prevalent and affects so many.

“I felt that doing this would not only help me and the guys who had mentioned it, but maybe a few of the other boys who might have been having trouble but didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.”

“It’s amazing what a couple of hours on a Sunday morning with your pals not thinking about anything other than football can do for your mental health. Now I hope it can carry on for anyone who might be feeling the same coming out of UAL We want to be welcoming as many graduates from Arts as possible and hopefully get something really special going.”

Soccer Painters play their football in Hackney and Leyton Division 4, with all the games at Hackney Marshes. The name reflects the players’ University of the Arts background. Winks has found the experience immensely positive.

“The main thing is everyone is still enjoying it. We marketed and ran the club at minimal cost, meaning we only charge exactly what it costs to run. It’s London, so the boys have had to put their hands in their pockets a little bit, but I would imagine we are one of the cheapest teams in the league to play for.”

Fitting in with football

Winks believes the UAL sports teams prove a vital tool for those struggling to fit into their chosen school and more could be done for those who take on the responsibility of captaining and running a side.

“The students who are voluntarily running the clubs need more support from paid employees of the SU in terms of reaching students and keeping them in the societies. Are there fliers in every uni? Every hall? Could you have a scheme helping members struggling to pay memberships but who do want to play?

Ex-UAL student Oliver O’Callaghan captaining the side. Photo: @g_daughtry

“London can be a lonely place and I know the football club at uni really helped me adjust and settle when I first arrived. Most of my friends and best memories come from being involved with the sports societies and it was a huge part of my three years at UAL.

“It would be sad to think someone would not be able to experience that because there wasn’t room for them as there is no third team anymore or they just simply don’t know the university has a football team.”

Soccer Painters are a club ultimately wanting to expand, so opportunities for a game are expanding. Winks encourages those post and pre-graduation to contact the club if it you would like to get involved.

“We definitely have bigger plans. I’d personally like to get to a point where we have recruited enough graduates to have a Saturday and Sunday team and try to enter the proper English football pyramid at the bottom.”

The future looks a bright and lasting one as the club aim to utilise some of those skills he learned whilst studying at UAL.

“On top of that a few of the boys have some really interesting ideas on how to establish Soccer Painters as a brand.

“Coming from UAL we have a hugely talented team of people in terms of stuff like graphic design and we do want to utilise that. I think we’ve seen such an upturn of Sunday League teams getting huge publicity, such as teams like the The Gun, and it’s something we’re exploring currently.”

@SoccerPainters on Twitter for more info

Photos courtesy of Gabriel Daughtry – @g_daughtry on Twitter

Carlisle reaches out after taming his demons

Not a day passes where Clarke Carlisle does not think about 22 December 2014. On that wet, gloomy morning he stepped in front of a lorry travelling at around 60mph on the A64 in North Yorkshire. 

Having been charged with drink-driving just hours earlier, the former Queens Park Rangers and Burnley defender had hit rock bottom. No hope remained. The only way out was to end his life.

Two years after his near-death experience, the first thing that strikes you when speaking to the one-time chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association is how open he is when discussing his suicide attempt.

The 37-year-old says his outlook is now more positive, but admits that life is still far from perfect. He still has dark times but the worst has passed and now his main focus is discussing these issues with the wider public.

“Things are incredible right now but that doesn’t mean life is a bed of roses,” he says.

“What it means is that whenever pressures or stresses come on in my life or when I get uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety or anger, I now know how to cope with them and process them.

“I know how to handle that in a constructive manner so on a day to day basis, life is very good.”

Depression

Many factors contributed to Carlisle’s fragile state of mind but the main one was struggling to adjust to retirement from football.

Although he suffered from depression throughout his career, when he finished his career at Northampton Town in 2013 aged 34, he no longer had a sense of purpose or direction in life.

“There are a lot of outside factors that can contribute to a deepening depression,” admits the Lancastrian.

“One of the factors for me was the transition from playing football and going into another industry. Even though I had another job lined up and I went straight into broadcasting with ITV, the loss of structure and the loss of identity was hard for me.

“When you’re an elite athlete, every day has a strong goal and focus, but when I came out of that and I was working in broadcasting, I was only contracted to do 36 days a year, which even if it was an overnight stay it was 72 days a year.

“I had no structure in what to do and even if I did fill that time with going for a run or anything like that, it wasn’t something that contributed to a greater goal.”

Carlisle says being part of an industry which kept reminding him of the one he had left was also not particularly helpful.

“I was commentating on players and I knew I was better than them or I could do just as good as job as them.

“There was a lot of feelings of failure that came around that and that was very tough to deal with, plus the standard pressures of bills to pay and the loss of income.

“The fundamental factor was that I didn’t have a coping mechanism. I didn’t have a way to understand what those stresses were and how to process them in a constructive manner. I was basically running away in the destructive way that I used to.”

Aftermath 

Life after his suicide attempt and deepening depression was difficult for Carlisle’s friends and family, a situation which in hindsight he calls “disgusting”.

“It’s incredibly hard to articulate the [impact] it had on my wife when I was married at the time, my children, my parents and on my siblings,” he said.

“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life”

“They were coming to visit me in hospital to offer me love and support but I was still there telling them I wanted to die.

“It’s not as though I immediately changed my mindset and my approach around life as soon as I got into hospital.

“There was a long period of purgatory where I was in that frame of mind that I wanted to kill myself. The impact on those around me was disgusting.

“Going through psychiatric hospitals was hard but being there for six weeks was incredibly important to start the beginning of me turning that journey around.”

Handling depression 

The man named as Britain’s Brainiest Footballer in 2002 after appearing on a TV quiz says his progression from running away to now confronting his problems is a big factor in his recovery.

“I was an emotional retard when I went to psychiatric hospital,” he admits. “However, the journey that I have gone on since has been all about understanding myself.

“I now understand the individual emotions that I’m feeling and I understand that I need to feel them, and I need to be able to be at ease with those emotions.

“When I’m feeling incredibly sad or fearful or anxious, I now know what to do in order to help me get through that. It might be going and talking to someone or it might be calming and centering myself by using prayers or meditation.

“That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel or I hide or avoid emotions, it means I now understand and acknowledge them and I meet them face on and that’s made such a huge difference to my life.

“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life because I know they aren’t necessary.”

Lack of understanding 

In the past, sport has been criticised for failing to understand depression, and Carlisle says the main reason why people within football take physical injuries more seriously is down to an absence of awareness.

“There is a distinct lack of understanding but it’s just not in the game, it’s in society in general,” claims the former England U21 player.

“Even though things are being done to address the issue, the fundamental knowledge in how to support someone in these situations is lacking across all industries. It isn’t football’s fault, it’s a societal problem.

“Football has the money, the time and the resources to be able to create a support template that other industries could adopt. They need to look after the health and safety of their employees at the workplace.

“People don’t engage and understand what mental health is. One of the factors is that it’s intangible. A broken leg is visible whereas with mental health issues, it’s the mind that is injured but it’s not something that can be seen.

“It is all about basic understanding and education. The way we can try and change that is by educating children so when they grow up and become the decision makers, they will know how to make far more informed decisions about situations and circumstances that are relevant to sufferers.”

Support network 

Although his life will continue to have good and bad moments, Carlisle is now aware on how to face his problems head on.

He speaks at awareness events for many charities, but his own foundation the Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis is continuing to help others with mental health issues.

“You don’t have to stand up and tell the world… but it is mandatory that you tell somebody”

“By being public about it and putting support mechanisms out there, it’s given people permission to acknowledge what is going on in their lives and has given them a chance to seek support and seek an emphatic ear,” he explained.

“It’s wonderful but it’s also good for me because as much as I’m helping others, it’s helping me because it normalises with what I’m going through as well. The illness itself makes people believe that they don’t have no one to speak to and no one wants to listen but that is utter rubbish.

“There is always people out there, whether it be your GP or charities etc, but there are so many people out there who want to listen and want to help and who can help.

“My advice would be: you don’t have to stand up and tell the world and you don’t have to tell everybody, but it is mandatory that you tell somebody. It’s from there that you can begin to engage with a support pathway.”

Follow Clarke Carlisle on Twitter @CCforDD 

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255