You’re up but You’re Down

Depression. It’s everywhere.

Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian daily sports paper recently carried an article (and it’s adequately translated into English here) discussing how 58 per cent of top level footballers suffer from depression. Considering people can be depressed but aren’t even aware of it, I would suggest this percentage could be higher. (Click here to look at some salient UK Mental health statistics)

But why is this? Don’t these young men ‘have everything’?

Most of them are being very well paid for doing what they want to do whereas their peers are likely to either be unemployed or doing uninspiring, lower paid jobs.

With top level football comes a lifestyle of glamour, attractive partners, uninsurably expensive cars and long holidays (yes, that’s right, the season finishes in May and training resumes in mid-July. That’s around eight weeks). The list of advantages goes on, so what’s the problem? Why are these physically strong, living-the-dream young, successful people feeling depressed?

Here are some educated guesses:

Homesickness. I mentioned in my previous blog that a famous Premiership manager told me that one of his team building tasks was to mold young boys from around the globe into a new common culture. Hitherto they’d had nothing in common other than their passion for soccer but now many of them are assembled in a club far from home and are being trained and focussed on becoming a cohesive sporting unit for one or two matches a week.

When I lived abroad the loneliest moments were when I wasn’t at work. I had jobs that occupied me for 6 or 7 days a week, but footballers, training aside, probably accumulate 20 or 30 weekly hours of ‘down time’. Time in which they can become bored and isolated and cut off.

Footballers have been subject to transfers since the sport began and the earliest move was reported as being 120 years ago. Until quite recently however, international transfers were less common than those in the same country and clubs recruited local boys to play. Although local recruitment still occurs, clubs have a tendancy to develop and sell them and in turn, the monied ones at least buy in the lads that other clubs have nurtured and invested in. It’s a strange circus that does not look like changing.

The Fear of Failure & Fear of Success. Regulars will know I’ve written about these terrible twins in other contexts, but they always seem to rear their Janus-like heads. The fear of failure is fairly obvious. To have become a top level player you have survived a series of trials and culls. You’ve seen many mates fail and been relieved at your success. You know however, that you are an injury or a drop-of-form away from falling from grace.

On the other hand, the fear of success can be equally as difficult to handle. The pressures from the media, your agent and the fans who emblazon your name on their replica shirts must bring a heavy and unpredicted weight and it’s hard to cope. On a deeper level the Fear Of Success can occur when you achieve what you set out for and you don’t know what’s next. This too can be depressing.

This is a subject that’s getting more recognition and we will return to it later on. But for now it’s worth reading The Lancashire Evening Post’s July 2013 feature on footballer Clark Carlisle

I walk through the open door

Voices, loud masculine laughter

Hiding funny thoughts

Am invisible, but

they

see

me

I want to be effective but not lauded

I could take life without the plaudits so long as the  blame were to evaporate

too

But the choice isn’t mine

It belongs to the baying watching mass

I walk towards the closed door

And cannot see if there’s another side

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