FOR MARVIN SORDELL, retirement was a matter of life or death – quite literally.
A career that started at Watford in 2009 and ended in July with Burton Albion is now over, but not because of a niggling injury, nor because of a ripped-up contract.
At just 28, it was an early exit born from crippling depression, deteriorating mental health and a serious concern for his own well-being.
Having attempted suicide back in 2013, Sordell is brave enough to admit that another season of football in England’s third tier could have prompted a second attempt.
Speaking to SunSport, he said: “I was pretty much at breaking point. And for me, the breaking point is suicidal thoughts.
“Removing myself from this situation was the best thing to do regardless of the football.
“When you’re suffering from mental health and something is a big trigger then you need to do what you can to get rid of that.
“Moving on has certainly made me feel a lot happier and it has taken a big weight off my shoulders. I feel free. I can now control my own narrative.”
Sordell had been trying to retire for years; the pressures of modern day professional football and a cut-throat industry over a ten-year career taking its toll.
It reached the point where he admitted to being more afraid of success than failure.
But through a fear of the unknown and a desire not to give up on the game he loves, he would battle on.
‘I BEGAN DRINKING – I WASN’T HAPPY’
This time was different, however. Sordell was secretly omitted from Burton’s pre-season last season due to what we now know to be ‘anxiety and depression’. He simply couldn’t bring himself to turn up, let alone train.
And in the last few months of last season, after returning from a dire loan spell at Northampton, a reliance on alcohol to numb the pain really hit home.
He continued: “To be drinking 7, 8, 9 or 10 days in a row, I clearly knew I wasn’t happy.
“After a while it just eats up at you, chips away slowly, slowly, slowly. It’s the industry rather than the game.
“Everything is based on opinions. Someone’s opinion of you doesn’t match up to what you think your ability or worth is.
“And then you find yourself in a position and place worse than you could ever imagine.
“Up until two or three years ago if something happened in a game or in the changing room, I wouldn’t be able to leave the house all weekend. Emotionally I would feel so vulnerable.
“Playing the game is what I’ve loved to do, always, since I was a little boy and I still love playing and I would still want to play in some capacity.
“It’s just being a professional football player at this current moment in time, I don’t enjoy.”
Sordell was supposed to be this country’s next great talent after cruising through the Hornet’s academy and into the Championship.
An England U21 call-up came next before a chance to represent Team GB at the Olympics in 2012 under Stuart Pearce – the only coach he claims to have every fully understood him.
But somewhere along the line he became lost. The expectation. The big money move to Prem side Bolton in 2013. The scrutiny. The depression. The feeling of abandonment. The racism.
“Throughout my career I found there was a perception of black players being lazy, flash, arrogant, ungrateful and have an attitude problem,” he admits.
“Because of this, we have to do more, work harder and be less outspoken than our ethnic counterparts in order to be presented with an opportunity that is of equal standing.”
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
Yet sitting in the George IV pub in Lichfield, Staffordshire, days after announcing his retirement, what is so striking is Sordell’s lack of anger or bitterness towards those he could quite rightly claim let him down in his time of need.
He smiles: “I’m not angry. I’m disappointed in myself sometimes, I could have done more.
“At times, I thought if I didn’t think so much it would be easier but then I wouldn’t be the person I am. I wouldn’t want to ever change who I am to then have a better career.
“I’m also disappointed in football and the industry itself. Whether that’s governing bodies like the PFA and FA or players and coaches I’ve worked with.
“But I want to be able to use this to make a change. Football needs to change and fans want to see real people. Fans don’t care about all the rubbish.
“If players can show who they really are without having to worry about all these filters and other things, then it will make for a much closer knit and greater game.
“But right know everything is so split.”
OFFER TO HELP
Sordell has already been approached by current players in the EFL and Prem suffering in the same way who also want out of football, but fear a lack of education, financial security and social acceptance is holding them back.
He wants to help change that, and has already been in touch with those in high places offering his services. He is just waiting for a call back.
Sordell sighs: “They [The FA and PFA] haven’t called me. I don’t know if they will.
“It’s not frustrating for me personally, but there are so many current and former players who have been through similar circumstances.
“A lot can be done to help but it’s only if the PFA and the FA want to help. They have access to all of them.
“It’s invaluable to have the knowledge of people from inside the game. These organisations have a lot of people with experience in business management or finance or sales.
“But when you’re talking about making an impact in football, you need to understand what football looks like and feels like. Without that it’s very difficult to know.”
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For now, Sordell is keeping busy, having lent himself to several non-football projects during his career – including a production company ‘180 Productions’ and male suicide prevention campaign CALM – to ensure this transition was as smooth as possible.
And soon, along with his wife and two young children, he will move back down to Watford where it all began.
Only this time, the pressure is finally off.