Tag Archives: PFA

“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.

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World Football Must “Do a Leeds” – and Banish the Evil of Racism – by Rob Atkinson

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Yaya Toure – racially abused

Eyebrows tend to be raised, lips are apt to be pursed and there is a general air of bemused surprise when any Leeds United fan (this blogger, for instance) condemns racism.  Those who will throw their hands up in horror – rightly so – whenever they encounter a racial stereotype, seem rather less scrupulous about imposing stereotypes of their own when their cosy perceptions about United fans are challenged.  Hang on a minute, they demur – Leeds supporters are about the most racist around, aren’t they?  Well, perhaps they were, once upon a time.  But times change and the Leeds United fan culture of today is a vastly different thing to the bleak days of the early eighties.  More of which later.

The events of last week have brought the whole foul problem back into sharp focus. During Manchester City’s away Champion’s League tie against CSKA Moscow, midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected to monkey chants from the grinning morons among the home support. It’s a real problem in many parts of Europe and the one thing that’s tolerably certain is that it’s not going to go away on its own.  What’s normally needed to remedy such matters is supporter organisation into a strong anti-racism movement – which was, not incidentally, the Leeds United experience – or tough sanctions from some higher authority with something approximating to a backbone.

Toure may not have been alone in suffering this awful, unjustifiable and humiliating abuse – some sources report that team-mate Fernandinho may also have been targeted. Toure was understandably disgusted and has demanded action.  He has even gone so far as to suggest that the 2018 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Russia, could be hit by a black players’ boycott.  I only hope that he’s serious about that, and that he can count on the support of other black players, as this would be a shattering blow to the tournament – much, much greater today than it would have been in the eighties.  A far higher proportion of the world’s best players are black today than back then, such has been the explosive development of the game in Africa, a continent where many nations are emerging as serious football powers.  A black players’ boycott of the tournament, then, could be a way to apply irresistible pressure to fans and ruling bodies alike.  A World Cup without many of its most mesmerising stars would be unthinkable; even if it went ahead it would be so devalued as to be hardly worth winning.

Jose Mourinho has a view on the issue of a possible boycott, as he does on so many issues.  He expressed “sympathy” for Toure, but said he did not support the City player’s comments afterwards.

“I respect his opinion, but I disagree,” said Mourinho. “I disagree because the history of football was made equally by many races, and the black players have fantastic contribution to what football is.

“Who is more important: the billions of people in love with the game around the world, or a few thousand that go to football stadia and have a disgraceful behaviour in relation to the black players?

“If I was a black player, I would say the other billions are much more important. Let’s fight the thousands but give to the billions what they want: the best football. Football without black players is not the best football.”

As a football man on football matters, Mourinho’s is a voice to be respected – but in the last nine words of that quote, he basically makes the case for, not against, a boycott by black players of Russia 2018.  Just imagine if you will a tournament blighted by the kind of sickening filth Toure and possibly Fernandinho had to suffer last Wednesday night. It’s too horrible to contemplate – and what message would it send out to the billions worldwide that Jose is seeking to protect from a World Cup bereft of black talent? Endemic racism is OK as long as we’re being entertained by the football? That’s not the way to go and it’s not the example to set to the world’s children.

Mourinho then is surely wrong to suggest that those billions would rather witness a tournament dragged down to gutter level by cretins whose idea of fun is to abuse a world star by making crude monkey noises.  The best thing an organised movement of black players could possibly do is to show FIFA that the situation is intolerable by refusing to have anything to do with such a toxic affair.  Perhaps then even FIFA – a body which inspires little confidence, led by a man in Sepp Blatter who is little better than a bad joke – might consider its options, faced as they would be with a sanction of such potentially seismic effect.  They certainly should consider those options, which are practically limitless.

It’s certainly pointless to wait around hoping that UEFA might put their own house in order, something they’ve proved themselves singularly incapable of doing.  Instead, FIFA should act, and act decisively.  They should advise Russia that, unless this problem can be addressed and eliminated by 2015, an alternative host nation will be found for the 2018 World Cup – it’s that serious.  They should monitor the situation, act as advised and they should then stick to their guns.  They won’t, of course, because they are truly spineless and complacent – which is why the likes of Yaya Toure and the others like him who are subjected to this evil baiting, really have no choice but to rally together and organise themselves to take their own action.  Good luck to them if that’s the path they take.

In the early eighties the experience of being a match-going, non-racist Leeds United fan was lonely and disgusting.  The atmosphere was rancid with bigotry, skin-headed, bone-headed racists sold “The Flag”, a right-wing snot-rag, outside the ground.  It was done openly, brazenly.  Dissenting voices, when raised, brought upon their owners the risk of violence.  The club was inert and complacent.  The police sat by and watched.  It was depressingly, shamefully awful.  And then, things started to change.

Civilised, intelligent Leeds United supporters, unable and unwilling to accept the evil being dispensed in the name of their beloved club, organised themselves into Leeds United Fans Against Racism & Fascism.  Fanzines were sold expounding the voice of reason against the bigoted filth being peddled by the racists.  More decent supporters woke up to what had been going on, joined the anti-racist movement, bought the fanzines, started to raise the voice of protest against the ignorance and malice of the terrace chants against visiting black players.

Even the slumbering Leeds United itself reacted positively to the changes afoot.  Black players were signed, the first since the brief but bright Leeds career of Terry Connor. Noel Blake, affectionately nicknamed “Bruno”, loved by the Kop.  Vince Hilaire, quicksilver winger reviving memories of Albert Johanneson in the sixties, the first black player to play in the Cup Final and a Leeds hero when the Revie revolution was still new.  It was a painfully long, slow job – but Leeds United finally managed to rid itself of one of the most degradingly awful reputations for racism and bigotry, and they largely did it as an institution, by the efforts of enlightened fans supplemented by the club’s more enlightened transfer policy at a time when there was still an unofficial bar observed by the likes of Everton FC.

I’m extremely proud of the way my club tackled its problems.  The Leeds United of today bears no resemblance at all to the sick club being brought to its knees 30 years ago, dying of the cancer of racism.  The whole world has moved on, though pockets of the disease still exist at home, yet far more significantly abroad.  We now live in a time when these manifestations of hate and ignorance are a palpable shock to the system – and that in itself is a massive change for the better.  Such inhuman behaviour has never ever been acceptable, but now it’s seen to be completely unacceptable, and FIFA above all must face up to the reality of this.

FIFA simply have to act, and they have to act now.  Despite CSKA Moscow’s revolting stance whereby they’re claiming this simply didn’t take place – the club’s deputy media manager, Michael Sanadze, told Sky Sports News that “nothing special happened” – they have been charged by UEFA with “racist behaviour”. UEFA though are an organisation clearly lacking in the backbone to apply sanctions and see them through, Lazio having been punished for comparable transgressions in the past, the stadium closure subsequently being reduced to a mere slap on the wrist.

The message from FIFA has to be clear and unequivocal.  Stop the racist abuse – or lose the World Cup in 2018.  Failing that, Yaya Toure and his black colleagues – and how good it would be to think that non-black players might also support such a move – should carry with them the good wishes and backing of every decent-minded person as they seek to reduce the tournament in Russia to the well-merited status of farce.  It would be no more than FIFA deserve for what would amount to tacit support of the racist minority whose venom threatens to poison the whole football world.