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Comment: Maddison's Bolton situation shows football is learning about mental health

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

It's easy to see the negatives with Marcus Maddison's short spell at Bolton..

He never really showed his form and he leaves prematurely under the cloud of mental health. But there's a good news story hidden in here. Football clubs are finally starting to take mental health seriously.

Less than a decade ago, we now know Marvin Sordell attempted to take his own life while at the club but it wasn't until recently that he opened up about his depression and about the racist abuse he suffered as a player.

The crucial difference here is that in this instance, Marcus felt able to reach out and ask for help - and that the club was willing to offer it to him. The chairman becoming personally involved in ensuring support is given is heartening, and something I'm not sure would have happened in the past.

As fans, we pay our money and believe that gives us a right to voice our opinions. "They're being paid a fortune to live the dream, why shouldn't I be able to say what I think about the performance?"

But we must remember there's a person behind the player. The game is just 90 minutes of their week and in Marcus' case, spending the rest of that week in a hotel room away from your family was understandably difficult.

You never know what other people are going through, of course, but even when the club released their statement revealing Marcus' troubles, he was butchered in the comments.

Just a week on from the tragic passing of Yeovil captain Lee Collins, many seem to have forgotten that footballers are not immune to personal hardship.

Our own captain was hounded off Twitter after just one game. Elsewhere, two different Tottenham players faced racial abuse in consecutive matches. The problem is endemic across football.

And indeed football is not alone. While working at a radio station I faced abuse after a rare on-air appearance discussing the environment ("why don't you kill yourself then if you want to save oyxgen").

It's clear that too often we forget that there are real people on the other end of the keyboard. You might think a cheeky "thank God for that" under the announcement is a bit of a laugh. But multiply that a hundred times over and think what Marcus would feel if he saw it.

We were all shocked to hear of Arsenal Fan TV's Claude Callegari’s passing last month and social media users were quick to find a recent tweet of his responding to an abuser, telling them "don't worry I will disappear soon."

Do you want to be the person who pushes someone to the edge? That anonymous abuser will have to live with the knowledge of what he's done forever.

We would do well to remember that money is not medicine for mental health issues. Every one of our players has struggled this year, I'm sure. They are in a pandemic too.

Campaigns from organisations like MIND have helped open up a conversation about mental health in recent years.

It's clear from the club's actions that at least some people in football are beginning to treat it with the seriousness that it requires.

So I say well done to Ian and Sharon for putting football and finances aside to make the right, human decision. And I hope all Wanderers fans can wish Marcus the best for the future.

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