The hidden crisis of mental health among footballers

guardian.co.uk Tuesday 6th August 2013

Amid the mind-boggling numbers being bandied around as the summer transfer season for footballers reaches a climax, here are a few more sobering sums.

By some estimates as many as three in five former players will be declared bankrupt, often blighted by bad financial advice. At least 150 ex-professionals are currently in prison. Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, believes hundreds of current players face mental health issues. More than 700 a year end up being pitched out of the sport in their 20s after failing to win a new contract.

That the life of a professional footballer can be prone to severe and unusual pressures as well as huge fame and fortune, often at the same time, was highlighted on Monday by the latest episode in the life of Paul Gascoigne.

The former Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio and England midfielder was fined £1,000 after he admitted drunkenly assaulting a security guard at Stevenage railway station on 4 July. Gascoigne, who has battled alcoholism for many years, was fined £600 for an assault charge and £400 for a drunk and disorderly charge.

The 46-year-old, who received treatment for alcoholism in a US clinic this year amid much conjecture about his future, was originally charged with two counts of assault, one involving his ex-wife Sheryl. That was dropped.

Monday’s fine was made as one of his erstwhile opponents, former Arsenal left-back Kenny Sansom, admitted to sleeping on a park bench over the weekend. It emerged that the 54-year-old, capped 86 times by England and a £1m player in 1980 when that was a huge fee, was homeless and battling alcoholism.

After he gave an interview in which he said he would be “better off dead”, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said on Monday that Sansom was now staying in a hotel and its counsellors were discussing treatment options with him.

“We have helped Paul continuously since he’s had his problems. We get him back on track but then it can be a pattern,” said PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor.

“Coming out of the game and losing that everyday involvement has not been easy for him, the same for Kenny Sansom.”

Gascoigne, who with his starring role in Italia 90 helped bring football to a new audience, and Sansom plied their trade in an era when serious money started to flow into the game as it became a key driver of pay TV subscriptions.

But theirs was an era on the cusp, when the influence of overseas players and managers ushered in during the time of the Premier League had yet to disrupt the drinking culture well documented by Tony Adams, Paul Merson and others.

So clear are the memories, from Technicolor Panini stickers to the nostalgia shows that are a staple of Sky Sports, that their reduced circumstances jar even more than those players of the 1960s and 1970s who have fallen on hard times.

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