Ex-England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland says he ‘never saw a way out’ of his battle with depression which began after he left Wigan Athletic in 2012.
Kirkland, whose one England cap came in 2006 during his Latics days, saw his career hampered by injuries, after becoming the most expensive British goalkeeper in history when joining Liverpool at the age of 20.
Having moved to Wigan in 2006, Kirkland remembers “crying my eyes out” when he said his goodbyes in 2012, after falling out of favour at the DW Stadium – and eventually contemplated suicide.
Thoughts of his wife Leeona and daughter Lucy kept him going and, after quitting football in the summer of 2016, he is thankfully on the mend.
But that very nearly wasn’t the case, after years of battling the demons inside his head.
“What happened to Gary Speed was the thing that really worried me,” Kirkland acknowledged, referring to the Wales legend’s death in 2011.
“I didn’t know how far away I was from that. Hopefully, a long, long way.
“I always ask myself: ‘Would I have done something to myself? Would I have harmed myself?
“I like to think I wouldn’t have done. I certainly didn’t sit there one night, thinking, right, I’ve got to … you know.
“But you think about it. You do, yeah. Because you don’t want to wake up.
“I said to my wife, Leeona, that I couldn’t wait to go to sleep at night and just be clear.
“But then, I didn’t want to wake up in the morning because it just starts again.
“I’d never have done it because of Leeona and our daughter, Lucy.
“But I was worried how close I was to the next step. That’s why I said: ‘I need to stop playing football.’”
Kirkland says the first signs of depression began in 2012, around the time of his departure from Wigan.
Having been undisputed first choice for four years, he slipped down the pecking order following the arrival of Ali Al Habsi in 2010 and spent two years on the sidelines.
After three seasons at Sheffield Wednesday, Kirkland was on the verge of an emotional return to the DW before the deal fell through and he signed for Preston.
The following summer, he agreed a 12-month deal with Bury, but asked manager David Flitcroft to tear up the contract within weeks – on the eve of the season – after things reached a head.
“I restarted training (at Bury) but, on the third day, I was in a five-a-side game, there were shots coming in and I just wasn’t diving,” Kirkland admitted.
““I was thinking: ‘I don’t want to be here any more.’
“I walked off, I went straight up to Dave and I said: ‘I can’t do it anymore. I need you to rip my contract up.’”
In a statement, Kirkland admitted he required “time and space away from the game” in order to put his “family’s future and well-being first”.
There was no mention of the word ‘depression’, but it was clear something serious was wrong.
“I was ashamed,” Kirkland revealed in the Guardian.
“I wasn’t getting any help at that point. Nobody knew. But it was straight after that when I said to Leeona: ‘I have to do something here’.”
Things are looking up now for Kirkland, who works as a pundit for Sky Sports as well as setting up the ‘Chris Kirkland Goalkeeper Academy’.
He says counselling sessions have given him a positive outlook for the future.
“She has worked wonders,” Kirkland added.
“She’s given me coping mechanisms, such as breathing techniques, because I struggle a lot with anxiety; I still do. It’s an ongoing process but I now know that I can and will get through it.”