No one thinks of footballers as people who are likely to be suffering from depression, but after the suicides of Gary Speed and Robert Enke, people are waking up to the fact that even people earning tens of thousands of pounds a week and seen as heroes can suffer from depression. Leon McKenzie is a professional footballer who never played for one of the top clubs but scored goals wherever he played. His most successful season was in the Premier League with Norwich City a few years ago, but at the age of 34 he’s now playing non league football at Corby Town. He started life at Crystal Palace before moving to Peterborough with Barry Fry, where a prolific season or two earned him a big money move to Norwich. Injuries blighted his career and he ended up spending an injury blighted season with Charlton. It was there that he tried to take his own life in the unglamorous surroundings of the Bexleyheath Marriott. Luckily his father discovered him before it was too late.
This book is his story and seeks to shed light on why an apparently successful and happy man would do this and inflict such misery on his friends and family. It’s a gripping tale, and although the book could have done with a good editor to avoid a lot of repetition, it allows the reader to really get into the mind of footballer trying to deal with his demons. A bizarre family background (his father and uncle were boxing champions), a loveless and failed marriage and the feeling that people in football didn’t quite get his talents all played their part in leading McKenzie into depression. But you get the feeling that it was also his inability to deal with fame and money which were just as important, even if neither issue is addressed head on in the book. Although McKenzie wasn’t one of the game’s top earners, at the height of his career he was on £10,000 a week, and yet he confesses he pissed it up the wall. He spent £100,000 a year on new cars, just to keep up with the Jones’s.
The failure of the PFA to help him is apparent. This is a trade union which is so rich it has money coming out of its ears. Yet its approach to the issue of depression among its members was to send out a 36 page leaflet. Too little too late, some would say.
McKenzie also discusses his three months in prison and this passage makes for gripping reading. It’s clear that he should never have been inside in the first place, but he clearly gained a lot from the experience, and certainly got to know who his friends are. Having more or less retired from football, Leon McKenzie is now looking to emulate his uncle and father and seek a career in professional boxing. I’m sure he will put his all into it and it wouldn’t surprise me if he succeeded. I hate boxing as a sport, but I really hope he succeeds.
This is an important book which will enable other footballers suffering from depression to understand that they are not alone. It deserves to do well.
* MY FIGHT WITH LIFE by Leon McKenzie is published by Macanthony Media in paperback at £7.99.