Former Bradford City defender Williams struggles on the dark side (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Former Bradford City defender Darren Williams struggles on the dark side
Darren Williams would have preferred a more even contest for his stint as a radio pundit.
He was not alone, of course. Tuesday night at Hartlepool turned into a mismatch of nightmarish proportions.
Williams had a foot in both camps as he looked down from the spacious Victoria Park press box.
He had spent two eventful years with Pools – going down to League Two and then coming straight back up – before joining City for the first season of Stuart McCall’s reign in the hot-seat.
Before that, Williams really made his name at Sunderland where he played more than 250 times, including 108 in the Premier League.
But at 36, he now finds himself on the outside looking in. A player-manager role at part-timers Whitby Town helps the football fix but cannot fill the void of the training ground and its daily banter.
Mixing it at matches – even the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy one – is a reminder of where he would still love to be.
It is an emptiness that has driven him to depression; one of the growing number of ex-players who struggle to cope with life away from the game.
Clarke Carlisle’s recent TV documentary - The Dark Side of Sport - highlighted an alarming problem, shining a light on a subject that had been strictly taboo. Williams could recognise all the symptoms as the Professional Footballers’ Association chairman spoke frankly about the battle with his own personal demons.
Williams said: “People see the glitz and glamour of football. That programme showed the other side of it and how hard things are when you finish.
“I’ve had a really tough time of it from a personal point of view. Coming out of football and back into the real world as such hit me hard.
“It’s all you’ve ever known from 16 and suddenly you’re trying to start again from scratch. Your life is empty, your situation changes, your personal life changes – it affects everything.
“You don’t know what to do with yourself because you miss the day-to-day routine so much; having a laugh on the training ground, just hanging around with the other lads. That’s the biggest thing you can take away from a footballer.
“Everybody thinks we all get paid astronomical amounts and I’m not saying it wasn’t good money. But it’s not in the same league as a Steven Gerrard, John Terry or any of the superstars.
“You get used to a certain lifestyle like with anything and can’t sustain that unless you’ve been at the very top earning mega bucks.
“Your whole routine has gone. You go days when you are stuck in a rut thinking ‘what am I going to do with myself today?’ “You want to fill up your days but there’s nothing there. You end up staying in the house, suffering in silence, and that’s not a nice place to be.”
Williams played 31 times with the Bantams before McCall let him go in 2008. Two seasons with Dundee followed and that was where the problems began as he struggled to settle in Scotland.
He said: “It’s difficult in a city being on your own. Once you’ve had a walk round the shops, you’re going back to an empty room and just sat there watching telly.
“You’re isolated with all this time on your hands and that doesn’t help anybody. It’s not healthy. You need people there and interaction.
“Depression has affected players for many years but gone relatively unnoticed until recently. It’s so important that people can get the help they need.
“As men in general, you’ve got that pride and don’t want to show any sign of weakness. Football is a team game and if your team-mates see you being weak, they will wonder if you can be relied on.
“But more and more people now are facing up to their problems. I think that makes you a stronger person because you’re being honest with yourself and with others.
“Clarke Carlisle hit the nail on the head when he said there was not much in place to help before now. What happened with Gary Speed highlighted that.”
The PFA are taking a more active role in tackling depression and Williams has been contacted by the organisation. He can see a major shift in attitudes within the game.
He said: “It’s fantastic that they are doing a lot more now. Hopefully players won’t be put off from admitting that they have got a problem instead of suffering in silence.
“I don’t mean to sound disrespectful but if you’ve never been involved in football, then you wouldn’t understand it – and how bad it can feel.
“I defy anybody to say they don’t miss it when they stop playing. I love my time at Whitby but my long-term vision is to get back in the pro game in some way.
“You cannot beat that feeling of going in to the club every day and the banter that goes with it. That’s what I miss more than anything.
“My advice to players is to take it all in now and enjoy every minute because it can suddenly end.
“That’s why it’s great that more help is available. People are happy to talk about it and that has got to be a good thing.”
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