Date: 31st May 2017
I well remember the time that Andy Goram was unwell. Do you also remember the fact that at one point Mark Viduka began his Celtic career with a short stay of absence – before he joined them? Can you remember the headlines? The Goram debacle ended up with chants suggesting he suffered from some form of schizophrenia whilst Viduka’s posturing or perhaps his real issues with the new Celtic deal of which he was now a part, define how you saw it.
In each case, at a time when we were less than sympathetic to those less fortunate than ourselves, the old style non-PC brigade had a field day.
Now we know, and are acutely aware, that whatever these two footballers faced, and I am not suggesting that either were clinically sick, the reactions to their behaviours were so virulent and reactionary that many others who felt like they suffered similar feelings, must have thought twice and three times before suggesting that they too were sharing a similar boat.
Now we have names like Gary Speed and Chris Mitchell to link with Robin Williams and Kurt Cobain as people whose lives were cut short by events that are inextricably linked to poor mental health. Just a few weeks ago David Cox spoke bravely of his experiences and made reference to the bravery of Neil Lennon. Lennon had taken the unusual step at the time of speaking openly about his bouts of depression. Cox had originally moved between a few clubs with social media and fans linking his inability to settle as a “bad attitude.” His name came with a knowing look, a wink and a stinker of an impression.
Cox is certainly not a millionaire footballer to whom many will listen, but his words carry the richness of authentic experience. Mental health and ill health affects the ordinary heroes that grace our pitches the length and breadth of the country with players struggling to make the difference their chanting followers would like.
They get in a team, they play in that team, they hear their name chanted and understand that they are the best friends of all the people who pay their cash. They are idolised by hundreds, thousands and sometimes more than that tune in to see them triumph on the green fields.
Then it gets tough.
Their name is not chanted in praise but vilified. They stop scoring, getting past full backs, dominating the midfield and start hitting the low times that comes with a loss of form, and a loss of confidence leading to a loss of form that leads to a loss of confidence that murders your lack of confidence that leads to many dark places.
We truly need to get ahead of it.
In Scotland, the fantastic charity that is SAMH is there but resources are stretched and they depend so much on volunteers and voluntary contributions whilst we are crying out for some form of positive sports psychology for the David Cox’s and the ordinary guy who puts in shifts weekly for little or no reward.
High profile cases bring in the headlines and occasionally there are a few pennies like manna from heaven dropping into the pockets of that initiative or this project or whatever sticking plaster over an amputation is the flavour of the month.
It goes without saying that what is truly needed is not some kind of temporary therapy but an all-out war on the causes of it.
We simply do not do enough.
We do not contribute enough and this is a ticking time bomb that shall eventually blow. That we lose one life is tragic, that we lose more would be seen as complete carelessness as we can and should be working towards preventing it.
Not by hauling in a personality to endorsing things but by launching a campaign within the game that educates and engages fans as well as keeps players, managers, coaches and all working in the game – paid or not – safe.
It does need a coordinating national body that can promote and represent back the views of the ordinary punters who support the sport and expect their support to bring back some form of professional effort and reward.
Perhaps it could use the professionalism of sport psychologists who tend to be associated with the desire to promote a winning mentality amongst the elite. Perhaps now, we need to harness that along with someone who has a less clinical and also less cynical role and will be there when the crisp bags are drifting across the hills and highways.
A coordinating body that is effective and efficient. Seems to rule of the SFA and the SPFL, don’t you think…?