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Sutton and Richards campaign for better mental health support

Chris Sutton and Micah Richards
Chris Sutton and Micah Richards Image credit: bbc.co.uk

Chris Sutton and Micah Richards have candidly spoken about the mental health difficulties they both went through when they played for Chelsea and Aston Villa respectively.

The former football players were being interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club following Wayne Rooney comments highlighting the struggles he faced growing up on a Liverpool council estate.

Sutton, who has played for Norwich, Blackburn and Celtic, revealed he had a very stressful time at Chelsea in 1999-2000.

"I can laugh about it now but in my time at Chelsea when I was going through a difficult phase I'd keep things to myself," he said.

"When things were going wrong and I was the laughing stock in the national press and there were caricatures. I used to behave like I didn't care but it killed me and I was too ashamed to speak to my dad about it and my wife. That had a big effect on me. Eventually I worked my way out of it.

"Looking back, now my career is finished, I know I would have handled things differently and maybe gone and spoke to my manager and coach but in the football environment I found it a very difficult thing to do, so I was on my own in many respects. It affected me massively."

Richards played for Manchester City before joining Aston Villa, he retired in 2019 following a series of injuries.

"I was going into Villa every week borderline depressed," Richards said.

"Going in there as a cheerleader and putting on a brave face because that was my role within the team, but if I actually told you the honest conversation about what used to happen when I used to go to the training ground, it got to the situation where I was being treated like a piece of meat.

"But I understood that was football and got on with it, I didn't come out and call people out and feel sorry for myself, "the football community doesn't protect people who are vulnerable".

"Now I can be my own person and that is why I am happy now. I embrace all the opportunities that football has given me but I am not going to pretend like I wasn't in a bad place and I can sympathise with Rooney," he added.

Both players are campaigning for more support for players struggling with their wellbeing.

Things are changing though, in 2020 Prince William fronted a BBC documentary titled 'Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health' to ‘kick off’ a mental health campaign and Crystal Palace has recently announced a programme aimed at protecting scholars with pressure after being released.

"The care for players is much better now," added Richards.

"We've seen what Palace are doing with the aftercare for young players and Manchester City are great with the academy there.

"It is only what should have been done a while ago. If you had such an investment in a player you would think the aftercare would be the norm but it hasn't been in the past.

"It is good to see going forward that the clubs are doing it and rightly so because they have a duty of care."

After retiring from football, Chris Sutton remained an athlete, playing cricket for Norwich Cricket Club in the EAPL.