‘I must have been depressed’ – Discarded footballer warns of mental health epidemic among failed players
Five years ago, George Humber was on the brink of breaking into the first-team and realising his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Within days he was working on a building site at the start of a downward spiral.
It’s taken Humber half a decade to go public with the mental health issues he experienced as a result of losing his career, admitting male ‘pride’ stopped him speaking out before this exclusive interview with talkSPORT.
“Mentally you don’t realise the effect it’s going to have until you come into the real world,” Humber says.
Humber was an in-form, 20-year-old striker who had been at Gillingham for seven years when, that fateful day, he was called into the manager’s office at the end of training
He believed he was going to be offered a place on the bench for the first-team’s next game.
“There were three of the management there,” Humber continues. “They were straight to the point.
“They said, ‘We’re going to let you go’ – and that’s that.
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“They shook my hand and I came out of the room confused and rang my Dad.”
Humber wasn’t the only one; the changing room was full of young men crying.
He got no help from Gillingham with finding a new club, and felt like a child in a lions’ den when going on trials.
Suddenly he needed an income, so took work as a labourer.
“I didn’t know at the time but I think I must have been depressed,” Humber admits, candidly. “I must have been.
“I looked at the guys who had stayed on and made a living out of what I wanted to do and it was demoralising, horrible.”
Gillingham said in a statement to talkSPORT: “If we become aware of a player, past or present, to be suffering mental health problems we will, of course, go out of our way to assist them and their families in any way possible.”
Humber fears there are thousands of discarded footballers suffering in silence the same way he did. He put on a brave face, but heartache, fear and bitterness were growing inside.
He adds: “When I did first speak to a counsellor [years later], I just broke down and couldn’t stop crying. I think I bottled it up for so long that it just hit me.
“You hear the stats now about young men killing themselves…
“As men it’s a pride thing. You’re not supposed to be upset. I’m only expressing it now because I’m starting to feel the pressure in the real world.”
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Humber, now 25, is watching on as his peers climb the career and property ladders.
“I’m six or seven years behind everybody else. I’m a 25-year-old man but I feel embarrassed because I’m stepping back into a 17-year-old’s position again.”
He also has no idea what career path to pursue because all he ever wanted was to play football.
“I want to be a somebody,” Humber goes on, “and at this time I feel like I have no opportunity.”
What Humber didn’t realise when he dropped out of school was that the odds of making it in professional football were stacked so heavily against him.
There are around 12,500 players in the English academy system, but figures reveal only 0.5 per cent of those at the Under-9 age group make it to the first-team.
Having been forced to deal with failure himself, Humber insists adults have a responsibility to prepare children for what was for him an alien concept.
“You never actually get told, ‘the chances are you’re not going to be a professional footballer’,” he finishes. “That’s what has to be drummed into kids.”
Gillingham’s statement added: “George was very well thought of during his time at Priestfield and we are very sorry to hear that he’s had some off the field issues to contend with.
“We are more than happy to speak with him if he so wishes.”
Source: SportsLatest TS