Former Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has opened up about his battle with depression, which caused him to leave Hillsborough and then quit football not long after.
Kirkland had spent two seasons as Wednesday's number one before eventually losing his place to Keiren Westwood and at the beginning of July 2015 he took the decision to leave the club, citing a need for first team football.
The former Liverpool stopper would move to Preston and spend a year at Deepdale before then moving on to Bury. It was there that Kirkland finally decided that he could no longer play.
However, the 36 year old has admitted that anxiety and depression that he suffered in the latter stages of his career would first manifest themselves while he was at the Owls.
Kirkland was a fans' favourite at Wednesday and regularly turned in match-saving performances. In all he made almost 100 appearances for the club and was voted player of the year in his first season under Dave Jones.
In an interview with the Guardian, Kirkland admitted leaving Wigan was the catalyst for his anxiety but that the season in which he lost his place to Westwood would be “when it started to show; when I just wanted to shut down completely."
“As strange as it sounds, I managed to block it out during matches,” he said. “I don’t know how. But the anxiousness was getting the better of me – with the travelling, for example. If I had to stay over in Sheffield, I was panicking.”
Kirkland went on to say that he was about to agree a new deal, having been one of five out-of-contract players to be offered extended terms by then boss Stuart Gray.
“I was going to,” Kirkland says. “It was the first day of pre-season, I was in the gym and I was going to go up and sign my contract in the next 10 minutes. But something just said: ‘I can’t stay.’"
At the time Kirkland told fans that he was leaving to gain first team football again, stating on the day of his departure: “This has been a really tough decision and one that I have mulled over through the summer but I have decided to move on. I want a new challenge at this stage of my career. Everyone loves to play first team football and I am no different. I came back to the club this week to do things the right way, which is in person because I have a lot of friends at this football club who deserve full respect."
However, Kirkland went on to reveal what really happened.
“I went in and said that I’d got problems," he said. "I didn’t tell them what they were. I just said I needed to be nearer to home because of the anxiety of the travelling over there and being away. Would I get stuck in traffic? Would I have to stay over? They were all gobsmacked, even if they knew that something was not quite right.”
After leaving Preston Kirkland signed for Bury, where he was finally forced to quit the game and seek help.
He told manager David Flitcroft who gave him the opportunity to take a break and seek help but Kirkland attempted to carry on.
“I restarted training but, on the third day, I was in a five-a-side game, there were shots coming in and I just wasn’t diving,” he said. “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.’ That’s when the statement came out.”
The statement, released in August last year read: “I know people will find it hard to understand why someone like myself, who has been lucky enough to have spent my professional life in football and enjoyed all the benefits that comes with that, needs some time and space away from the game; however, it's a decision I've taken putting my families future and well-being first. It's been the toughest decision I've ever had to make, but I know it's the right one."
After that Kirkland contacted the PFA and set about his path to recovery.
“It’s easy for me to talk about it now because I’ve seen a way out of it,” he added. “That is the biggest thing and I want other people and other players to know that you’ve just got to talk. I never saw a way out of it until I started to talk about it. There was a fear. But as soon as you talk, that’s when you’re helping yourself and your family.”