1. ITV Report

'Players are under huge amounts of pressure': Chris Kirkland warns about footballers' mental health

  • Video report by ITV News Central's Rob Jones

Former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has warned that more and more footballers will suffer from mental health problems in the coming years due to the increasing pressure and financial investment in the sport.

He battled depression and anxiety for five years, and was left dreading going to training before retiring last year.

Kirkland is now urging all professional clubs to provide players with full-time mental health care.

Chris Kirkland has spoken out with his battle with depression. Credit: ITV News Central

The Leicestershire-born goalkeeper was drafted by Coventry City and sold to Liverpool as the most expensive British number one ever.

He went on to play in a Champions League winning campaign for Liverpool, pick up an England cap and represent West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City and Wigan Athletic – before a move to Sheffield Wednesday in 2012 changed the way he thought about the game.

Getting close to pre-season training is when I started dreading it, going back. Right up until the game, I couldn’t wait to home. But then during the game, I don’t know what it was, but there was just a switch that switched everything off for those 90 minutes.

I’d almost come off the pitch at the end of the game not knowing what had gone on. Sometimes I didn’t even know the score of the game.

– Chris Kirkland
  • Chris Kirkland urges footballers to seek help if they're feeling under pressure

Kirkland says he was at his lowest ebb coming towards the end of his time at Sheffield Wednesday.

I’d put so much into the first two seasons, blocking everything out. I think I just needed a break mentally from playing… It’s so hard. You have to concentrate so hard on everything else that’s going on. It was just all becoming too much.

– Chris Kirkland
Chris Kirkland says his problems began towards the end of his time at Sheffield Wednesday. Credit: ITV News Central

In 2015 Kirkland signed for Preston, far closer to his home.

He played one season with the club, and one very short summer at Bury, before he pleaded with then manager David Flitcroft to release him.

I decided to give it another go because I didn’t want that regret in five or ten years thinking, I wish I hadn’t given it another go. So I went back.

After about a third day going back, I just stopped. I was on the training ground. There was a game going on, I just stopped and walked off.

I said, no that’s me now. I’m definitely done. Will you rip my contract up?

– Chris Kirkland
Chris Kirkland pictured with his wife and pet dog. Credit: ITV News Central

Kirkland is one of the relative few to have come out and spoken about his battle with depression at the end of his career.

He recently spoke at the Professional Football Association’s first mental health and wellbeing conference at St George’s Park.

The message was clear, and the warning stark:

Players are under huge amounts of pressure. This is why there’s going to need to be people there for them when they do have enough.

There are so many players that I know of that are going through it or have had troubles. There are probably a million that have kept it to themselves.

So the PFA have got to put stuff in place to help with the pressure of football these days.

– Chris Kirkland

Kirkland is now determined to ensure that the problems caused by the pressure, exposure and expectation that comes with being footballer are not ignored.