“Suicidal” Former Leeds Star Clarke Carlisle May Offer Hope and Help to Others – by Rob Atkinson

Former Leeds star Clarke Carlisle - back from the brink

Former Leeds star Carlisle – back from the brink

Carlisle of TV's  Countdown

Carlisle of TV’s Countdown

The revelation – or confirmation, rather – that former footballer, PFA Chairman, media pundit and TV Countdown star Clarke Carlisle was actually attempting suicide when he was hit by a lorry on the A64 just before Christmas, comes as a salutary reminder of some uncomfortable factors in any life. It’s confirmation, were any needed, of how potentially close we all are to disaster, of the flimsy veil that separates even apparently blessed people, with seemingly blessed lives, from profound despair, abandonment of hope, loss of any self-esteem and ultimate oblivion.

Carlisle LUFC

Carlisle of Leeds

Carlisle, a one-season wearer of Leeds United’s famous white shirt, is the latest in too long a line of footballing personalities who have sought escape from an existence they could no longer bear. You can conjure the names out of years and lives gone by: Gary Speed, also formerly of Leeds; Justin Fashanu, of Norwich and Nottingham Forest; Hughie Gallacher of Newcastle United and Chelsea; Dave Clement of QPR and Bolton. The difference with Clarke Carlisle is that he survived the attempt to take his own life, and has now chosen to go public with the story of the illness that so nearly finished him off.

An assured and articulate speaker, Carlisle may now have a role to play in explaining the mindset of the star – or the person in the street – moved to such drastic action. He might even, perhaps, be instrumental in helping prevent those, both inside the game and out, who are even now contemplating a drastically final end to their woes. Others, of course, have been to the brink of eternity – and have pulled back. But Carlisle is a prominent figure, an erudite man with a mastery of language that can get his message across. He is someone who epitomises how even a life stuffed with achievement and advantage can suddenly go pear-shaped. Surely he, better than most, could tell how the dream can turn into a nightmare, and thus illuminate the whole question of what prompts this descent into despair. There is an opportunity here, maybe, to learn and even to identify potential victims and actually help.

One of the main threads in the national anguish following the tragic death of Gary Speed was this baffled and hopeless question of “Why? Why??” In other cases, it was slightly easier to deduce a cause – but there is no real insight into the workings of a mind suddenly closed to every solution except one, not when it’s been annihilated forever by that awful, final step. Justin Fashanu was a probable victim of homophobic prejudice in society in general (and football in particular). Dave Clement suffered from depression, as did Hughie Gallacher, who never adjusted to the curtain falling on his career and then the untimely death of his wife. Clement took his life with weedkiller, Gallacher stepped in front of a train. There is no one common factor to link all of these sad ends; just details emerging later of the pressures and stresses the people concerned could no longer handle. But the victims of suicide themselves, of course, are sadly beyond being able to help us help others in danger of a like fate.

What is beyond doubt, after all this time, is that there will be many people out there for whom some form of self-immolation is a likely outcome – unless they can somehow be identified and helped. Various danger signs can be tentatively identified: the dicey period when a short career in the public eye comes to an end; the presence of some transgression of the law for a well-known person such as a footballer, with the possibility then of public disgrace. But these do not form an exhaustive list, and the candidates for suicide are not limited to those lately in the public gaze. The suicide rate in wider society has spiked over the past few years, especially among the poor and sick; those marginalised by what is a bleaker and more chilly, unsympathetic landscape both politically and economically.

It is Carlisle’s very celebrity, however, combined with his gift for communication, that might well now make him the ideal candidate to spearhead a crusade against the blight of self-inflicted death. If he can possibly recover from the profoundly low point which saw him hurl himself into the path of a lorry that December night, surely Clarke would have a lot to contribute in this cause – and therefore a new purpose and path for himself. As a prominent person who has sought to terminate his own existence, and yet has survived, he’s almost uniquely placed, certainly in the world of football, to cast some light on these long, dark shadows; to reach out to those who may feel there is no help for them, and who see their options dwindling down to that one, awfully final choice.

Carlisle of the PFA

Carlisle of the PFA

Such an initiative, starting within the game of professional football and probably under the auspices of the Professional Footballers’ Association, could be built on the survival of Carlisle – awareness having previously been raised, in the fairly recent past, by the tragic example of Gary Speed. Carlisle, as a former leading light in the PFA, could just be an almost divine gift where such a cause is concerned. Great oaks from little acorns grow, and any effect a PFA-led campaign might have on those within the game at risk of such an awful circumstance, could then have a multiplied impact in society at large. In the nature of these things, the message is far more effective if it originates from a high-profile and highly popular environment, football being an obvious example. In times when football’s – and football stars’ – stock is low due to the perceived greed and aloofness in the game, this could be a chance to redeem the whole thing; to give something very real and solid to the rest of us. It’s not fanciful to suggest that, properly harnessed and channelled, a crisis like that suffered by Clarke Carlisle could ultimately save many hundreds, thousands, of lives.

Clarke Carlisle has walked through his own private hell, as Speed, Fashanu, Clement, Gallacher and others must have done before him. For Carlisle, it seems to have been the winding-down of his professional life, with the loss of his playing career and then his media employment, against a background of a drink problem that had afflicted him before and has lately resulted in a charge of drink-driving. But he survived his planned exit from life, and will now presumably face up to his issues. He has already spoken frankly about the fact that he attempted to take his life; that’s a step on the way to speaking a lot more, working towards dealing with his own demons and helping others be identified before it’s too late, so that they, too, can deal with theirs. Carlisle has the opportunity now to do something very positive that would arise directly out of his lowest ebb – and to this end, surely the game of football, the PFA and the wider authorities in this country should do everything they can to encourage and help him to help those who might otherwise end up as more statistics in the tragic roll-call of suicide.

As a Leeds fan, I sympathise with an ex-player’s hard times; I’m grateful for his narrow escape and I’m hopeful for his full recovery. But, just as a human being, I hope that some good can come out of this, so that perhaps it’s less likely in the future that there will be another Gary Speed lost to us, or another Hughie Gallacher, major stars and international footballers who yet found themselves unable to carry on. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step; let someone step in now and help Clarke Carlisle be instrumental in starting that journey towards a time when people gripped by despair can look up with some hope that there is much more available to them than just that final, self-inflicted end.

It may well be too early yet for Clarke Carlisle to be thinking along these lines; he will almost certainly have more immediate priorities, pressing problems to deal with. But the willingness to speak out publicly augurs well – and it must be true that the one thing Clarke will need right now and for the future is some hope for that future; something to cling on to, something to get up in the morning for. Some good to do. He’s well-placed and uniquely equipped to do it. Good luck to him.

24 responses to ““Suicidal” Former Leeds Star Clarke Carlisle May Offer Hope and Help to Others – by Rob Atkinson

  1. AllWhiteNow

    Thanks Rob – I hadn’t heard that Clarke’s ‘accident’ was attempted suicide. Terrible for him and all his family and friends. Let’s hope that your positive and uplifting thoughts can be a way forward to shine light on this all too common taboo subject. Well done mate, really fine piece of writing.


    • I agree that this is an excellent essay and I echo the sentiments.
      However, Clarke Carlisle had apparently little thought for the Police, NHS staff and in particular the lorry driver, all of whom who had to deal with his selfish action.
      We can’t begin to understand his mental anguish at the time but such a violent suicide attempt will leave those directly involved with memories and probably flashbacks.


  2. joe wicklow

    thanks rob for a sensitive and formative article it is a thin line between sanity and depression it helped me understand it in a small way


  3. The only person i feel sorry for in this whole story is the lorry driver what that poor person must have gone though thinking he had killed someone thank god mr carlise is on the mend but how anyone could do that to someone who is just trying to make a living beggers believe hope the pair of them make a full recover

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Poor Clarke..lost one of his HIGHLY paid jobs..got fed up..got drunk..threw himself in front of a lorry..instant treatment..best help..lots of support..and now well enough to ‘cash in’ to the media with his story…poor Clarke.
    What about the lorry driver..the lorry driver who was traumatised kept bursting into tears and was an emmotional wreck…the lorry driver who couldnt face it anymore and jacked his job in last thursday..who helps him ? Who feeds his family now ? Where do all his customers go ?
    Poor hard done by Clarke .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rob, this is an unusually sensitive and well informed article. Good on you for speaking out.


  6. its a subject close to my heart rob , my brother took his own life in his 20’s, his ashes were spread in the south stand goal mouth… i saw first hand the affects on my mum and i can tell you it isnt pretty , good luck to clarke and anyone else who suffers from depression


    • Sorry to hear that Mr O. It’s a hell of a rough way to gain an insight. I do wish people didn’t look at it so simplistically, just assuming they have all the answers. It’s so easy – pat and glib.


  7. Richard powell

    Carlisle gutless,selfish, just feel so sorry for the driver of the lorry who hasn’t got the money he has and never asked for any of this. Lifelong leeds fan but Carlisle a drunk scumbag


    • Yeah, yeah. Next.


    • oldcomrade

      Maybe you have been fortunate enough not to have had anybody close to you suffer with depression, its a terrible unforgiving illness that effects the sufferers,their loved ones and people round them. You say people with depression are selfish and gutless, my sons best mate was the bravest most thoughtful young man you could wish to meet, yet depression and a feeling of worthlessness got the better of him and he took his own life in the most horrific of ways. Talk to people with depression, gain some insight about what they are battling with before you start branding them gutless and selfish, and of course everyone rightly feels sorry for the lorry driver and hopes he can get over this traumatic incident


    • radebe_raver88

      Clarke is far from a scumbag. Mental Health Issues are easy for people like you to ignore because it’s a silent killer, the signs aren’t there for anyone to see. My cousin killed himself, I was so wrapped up in guilt that I didn’t know he was suffering to help that I got drunk one night and was close to walking in front of a vehicle myself. Depression makes the brain do things you won’t ever think of doing normally. Luckily I sought help and now fundraise for Mental Health Charity Mind.

      Until you have been through an experience, don’t judge and don’t call somebody who suffers a scumbag, the only scumbags in this are people like you so ignorant about what depression does.

      Great article as always. One of the better LUFC bloggers out there. Keep it up.


  8. Sth stand white

    Good article Rob-Totally agree that hopefully something positive can come out of this but as a resident of the village adjacent to the A64 where Clarke attempted suicide, the outcome could have been catastrophic on a busy morning at rush hour. Don’t get me wrong, I hope CC makes a full recovery but I also (like some other readers) feel for the lorry driver & of course Clarke’s family.


  9. Great and thoughtful piece, again, Rob. Just a point (from a fellow, but in my case commercial, writer), can you correct the spelling of Suicidal in the headline…


  10. Erm, it was deliberate, Rob. Bit of irony/ fun on a lazy Sunday…


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