Being a football fan I do know who Clarke Carlisle is, and I already knew little pieces of his story. Chairman of the PFA, the Premier League footballer who appeared on Countdown and supporter of anti-racism in football campaigns.
I was also aware that he is possibly the only modern day footballer to speak so openly about suffering from depression.
This book was written during Clarke’s last season as a professional footballer, ending May 2013. Unfortunately he has since tried to commit suicide for a second time, which makes reading the book hard as you know he suffered a severe relapse after finishing it.
The book starts a year earlier, where Clarke had decided to retire from the game, but after the opening weekend of the season realises he still has another season in him, and misses the game too much.
The book covers a lot of the struggles of a lower league footballer that the regular fan does’t think about.
The struggle to secure the best wages, as lower league players aren’t as handsomely paid as their Premier League counterparts. They need to think about saving for their future, as well as providing for their families, in the relatively short amount of time they are playing professionally.
The pressure it puts on their home lives, the extra aggravation of uprooting their families to move to the other end of the country when they change teams. Or having to leave them behind and spend their lives travelling back home on their days off to spend a few hours with their kids.
Then there are the injuries and dealing mentally, as well as physically, with spending time on the sidelines.
It is always interesting to hear from the other end of the spectrum, after reading autobiographies by the likes of Pirlo and Beckham.
Reading footballer’s books it’s also great to hear stories of dressing room banter, the different mentalities of the managers they played under, and which they couldn’t stand.
Clarke covers plenty of these, and it’s interesting to hear from the players opinion about the abuse, or banter, they receive from fans in the stand and on social media.
There’s a few great examples of this, with Clarke being one of the players who enjoys the 2 way banter with the crowd, but there was one story that stuck out.
A guy was hurling abuse as the players came off the pitch at Preston and aimed it at Clarke, who was an unused sub. Instead of ignoring him Clarke fronted him out, and asked the fan what he expected him to have done seen as he wasn’t playing. The fan quickly backed down and went with his tail between his legs.
Surprisingly Clarke later received a letter from the same fan, apologising for his behaviour. Explaining that since he had read about Clarke’s depression he felt he had to apologise for his behaviour – something Clarke had long since forgotten about.
What makes Clarke’s story more interesting is his role with the PFA, how this affects him on the pitch as well as off it. Cleary adding an extra level of responsibility for him to be a good role model to the already high level of esteem footballers are held to.
In the book he discusses issues that arise from his role, mostly linked to the Kick It Out campaign, and how racism is dealt with, or not dealt with), in football. It is sad that we need organisations pushing this, and that it is still such a prolific issue in the modern game.
“FIFA and UEFA appear to value the cash far higher than they value the integrity and image of the game – their fine system tells us so”
He also mentions the various different ways and players the PFA help, from players, to coaches and scouts.
Throughout the book Clarke makes no secret of the fact he struggles with inner voices in his mind. Telling him he’s going to fail at something, or that there’s no point even trying.
After doing his cruciate ligament shortly after breaking into the England U21’s squad, an injury so bad that at first it wasn’t clear if he’d be able to walk unaided again, let alone play football professionally, he nosedived into a dark place.
“Without money I couldn’t make any friends, and without football I couldn’t make anyone proud, I was making no visible progress with my injury and I could not see any kind of future. I wanted out.”
Spending his days between drinking in his flat, and smoking and betting at the bookies across the road, using a dial-a-crate service to get his booze and cigarettes delivered to his door.
“So I popped 56 tablets out of their foil wrapper and swallowed them, handful by handful, with a can of Carling”
Thankfully saved by his then girlfriend noticing something off when she returned home, getting him to hospital to have his stomach pumped.
Describing the depths of depression as predominantly feeling like he can’t do anything and just filled with overwhelming tiredness.
Years later when suffering a relapse after not taking his medication for a couple of months, his absence explained publicly as a bout of flu. Asked by a team mate he was close too what the actual story was, he told him the truth.
It’s quite poignant to read about him confiding man to man and to receive a reaction of total understanding and concern.
“When trust is placed in a person who loves and respects you, your vulnerability just endears you to them more.”
Clarke tells how after moving to London to play for QPR he got drawn into a celebrity lifestyle, going out partying, drinking, smoking.
Using the morning training sessions to sweat out the alcohol before heading back to the pub afterwards. Borrowing money from the joint house account to pay for nights out, even going as far as using money off his friend’s bank card when he’d given it him to buy petrol.
After boss Ian Holloway left him behind for an away game, after smelling alcohol on him getting on the team bus, he went straight to the pub. But seeing his team’s score on the TV screen in the pub, when he should have been playing, made him realise he had a problem. He’d hit his ‘rock bottom’, and with the support of his manager he got the help he needed.
It is refreshing to see a professional footballer who wants to do so much more with his life, and planning their career away from the game. Studying for a degree, making documentaries on the 2 subjects close to his hear, depression and racism, and getting into football punditry.
Obviously we know that that since the book Clarke has attempted suicide once more, so obviously he is still battling with his demons. But I advise anyone to read this book, as an example of how you can still achieve great things despite the depression, despite the addictions.