Football is a hard world when it comes to players admitting to mental illness, once-capped England defender Steven Caulker told The Guardian on Friday.
The 25-year-old, who also played for the British team at the 2012 London Olympics, gave a frank and moving account of his own travails to the newspaper encompassing his addictions to gambling and alcohol.
Despite the centre-back revealing his struggles, second-tier Championship side QPR are set to discard him this summer, although Caulker praised manager Ian Holloway for his support.
Caulker, who scored on his only appearance for England in a friendly with Sweden in 2012, said he realised football’s shortcomings regarding mental illness when accepting he had a problem while on loan at Southampton during the 2015/16 campaign.
“At Southampton I realised, mentally, I was gone,” said Caulker, who started his career with Tottenham Hotspur and has made 123 Premier League appearances for them and various other clubs.
“I wasn’t playing, my career was going nowhere and I had to reach out to someone.
“The doctor there tried to help me but others were just telling me to go out on the pitch and ‘express myself’.
“There was no understanding as to what was happening in my head.
“I know they’d brought me in to do a job and they weren’t there to be babysitters.
“Just like at QPR, I needed to justify the money they were paying me but I was in a state and, at some point, there has to be a duty of care.
“Football does not deal well with mental illness.”
‘I was out of control’
Caulker admitted things spiralled out of control once he returned to Tottenham after a loan period at Swansea.
“Being dropped rattled me even more because football was what I had relied on to make me feel better,” he said.
“So then the gambling was every single day. The pain of losing all my money, combined with the shame and guilt, ate away at me.
“So I’d drink myself into oblivion so I wouldn’t have to feel anything. I was numb but I was out of control.”
Caulker, who has not gambled since last December nor touched a drop of alcohol since March, eventually moved to Cardiff where things briefly improved before his demons soon resurfaced.
But Caulker said he hit rock bottom at QPR, who bought him from Cardiff for £8million, last season after picking up a niggling hip injury. The club tried to persuade him to accept a move to Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moscow in January, which he declined.
“I’d had one last gamble and lost a hell of a lot of money in December,” said Caulker, who estimated he has lost 70% of the money he has earned in the game.
“A last blowout. It was at that point I finally accepted I could not win; that there was no quick fix, no more daydreaming I could save the world through one good night on the roulette wheel.
“It was all a fantasy that took me away from having to feel anything. I contemplated suicide a lot in that period. A dark time.
“Everything I’d gone through in football, where had it taken me?”
While Caulker’s days at QPR appear numbered, his revelations received a warm reception from the Professional Footballers’ Association.
“What we have to do now is when the likes of Steven Caulker come out, or (former Arsenal Ladies and England forward) Kelly Smith, (ex Wales goalkeeper) Jason Brown, or someone like Craig King from Luton, who has come forward to share their experiences, we need to offer the relevant support,” PFA head of welfare Michael Bennett told the Press Association.