Footballers are human. We often forget that.
From a young we idolise players, they are our idols, they are Gods. Put on a pedestal it is almost like they are mythical characters. invincible.
As we grow old, they become less of idols and often more of a punching bag. Someone to shout and scream out to release the tensions of a bad week. Someone to take your frustrations out. They also give us joy – occasionally.
With high wages and the growing distance between fans and players, it is very easy to treat players like robots instead of humans. We see it on Twitter. People sending vile messages to players that they would simply not send to a “normal” person.
Abuse becomes part of the job.
None of us would go to work to be shouted at and abused all day. Yet for footballers it is part and parcel, with the justification being that they are very well paid.
A few weeks ago we lost Jose Reyes. It was a reminder to all that footballers are human and life is fragile.
This week we have two Arsenal related story that act as a stark reminder that footballers are human too – and no matter what they earn they are still affected by the horrors of life like the rest of us.
n a revealing documentary by Athlete’s Stance, Jack Wilshere talks about how he almost gave up football because of the stress of caring for his young son, who suffered epileptic seizures.
For the first time the West Ham United midfielder revealed that his long absences were not always spent purely in rehab and that Arsène Wenger, his former manager at Arsenal, allowed him more time away from the game to be with his family.
His son, Archie, suffering from seizures and causing Wilshere sleepless nights. During the 2015-16 season, Wilshere was out for eight months with a fractured fibula.
“It was tough to take because I was making my way…
During the time a lot of people were getting on Wilshere’s back. Labelling him “Jack Wheelchair” and accusing him of having a substance abuse problem.
Speaking in the candid documentary with Athlete’s Stance, he said: ‘I’ve had different types of injuries and types of injuries that have affected me different mentally.
‘I always think about one injury and it always plays in my head. It was in 2016, maybe 2015, and I picked up an injury in training. It was tough to take because I was making my way back to where I wanted to be and all of a sudden my four-year-old son was having seizures on the floor.
‘It happened time and time and time again, every day for maybe three or four months and there were times when in the middle of the night I’d be rushing to hospital.
‘Me and my wife would sit up most nights because most of the seizures were happening at night. So we’d put him to bed but most of the time we couldn’t sleep because we didn’t know what was happening with him, so we’d just sit up.’
Wilshere was a 23-year-old dad with a son having unexplained seizures.
Yes, he has the wealth and support that enabled him to not have to worry about the bills, but that becomes secondary to your thoughts when you see a loved one in pain and you can do nothing to help.
In an emotional interview on French television, former Arsenal full back Emmanuel Eboue about his battle with depression and said he had even considered suicide.
The 36-year-old revealed his problems started when he was suspended by Fifa from all football-related activity for one year.
The ban, a result of failing to pay money owed to a former agent, led to the termination of his short-term contract at then Premier League side Sunderland in March 2016.
Without a professional club and shattered financially after a bitter and acrimonious divorce case, he said he had suicidal thoughts.
“Sometimes I would lock myself in my room for three or four days. Just thinking and asking ‘what’s left?’,” Eboue told RMC Sport’s Le Vestiaire (The Locker Room) in France.
“Even today, I still take antidepressants to help me because it is still a long road for me. But here I am hoping others would learn from this.”
“Being away from a competitive football pitch for a year was heartbreaking,” he added.
“I had to train by myself, and I was really ashamed because people looked at me differently.
“Some would say ‘look it’s Eboue, a Uefa Champions League finalist with Arsenal in 2006’, to them it was surprising or shocking.
“Personally, I prefer to train in the morning, but there were people who were training at that time. They’d come to take a picture and post it all over [social media]. So I left to train at night.”
As things got worse he began to lie to his family.
“I couldn’t train during the day and was too embarrassed to stay at home,” he admitted.
“My children always asked me when I was going to return to the field, so whenever I stepped out in the morning, I pretended to go to work.
“Unbeknown to my children I was staying outside and returning home when they were already in bed. I didn’t want them to ask me why they didn’t see me play on television.”
Depression is a real problem faced by footballers.
The Secret Footballer talks about how following a defeat, he would often not go out for days bar going training for fear of abuse from fans. Players end up isolated. Hiding away in a mansion, training in the morning with little to do in the afternoon.
It often becomes even worse when they retire. Having been in the game for decades and with enough money to not work another day in their life in the bank account, they find themselves at 35-years-old without a reason to live.
Suddenly they go from being extremely relevant to completely irrelevant. with friends still working 9-5 and no longer having the routine of training and the dressing room, they find themselves alone with nothing to do.
Being a footballer does not stop a loved one getting ill or dying. It does not stop the dark cloud of depression from floating over.
The stories of Wilshere and Eboue are a reminder that footballers are human. The recent deaths of Jose Reyes and Justin Edinburgh further reminders.
North of the border, Rangers legend Fernando Ricksen has been suffering from has been suffering from motor neurone disease. He is losing his battle with the terminal illness and reports are he is living the last days of his life.
Reyes was 35. Edinburgh 49. Ricksen is 42.
Whatever you’re going through, call the Samaritans free any time, from any phone, on 116 123