Former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll believes he could have died had he not overcome an addiction to alcohol while he suffered from a bout of depression.
The coronavirus pandemic has stopped face-to-face sessions for Carroll at his RC1 goalkeeping school, though he maintains video contact with his students, and the crisis also ended his time as goalkeeping coach at Nottingham Forest’s academy.
He has now returned to Northern Ireland and has joined Dungannon Swifts at the age of 43, coming two years after his last appearance for Linfield.
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Carroll told the Daily Mail that a return to football has helped him cope with the strains of lockdown.
“Trust me, in this day and age when we're locked down, I know what people are going through,” he said.
“I'd been good for quite a long time until this. It doesn't matter how strong you are, it knocks you down.
“I would have to fight very hard sitting in the house. I was struggling with it because I didn't know what I could do, then Dungannon came in for me. I never thought I would be back playing again after being out for so long.
“I'm lucky. We watch football every night on TV and these professionals don't realise how lucky they are to still be playing. I feel sorry for the thousands of kids, men and women who can't play sport. I know how serious that is for mental health.
“You have to show a brave face for the kids when you're doing Zoom chats because each week they're getting more and more down. There's no point me saying everything is brilliant - it's not.”
Carroll’s problems with alcohol began in 2006 while he was playing for West Ham, and was out of action for a long period while dealing with a back injury.
“I'd never had a long injury before and slowly but surely I was getting into a deeper hole. I wasn't mentally prepared for it,' he recalled.
“I was just in a dark room and drinking heavily. I had no outside help. Nobody knew what was wrong with me because I never spoke about it. Everybody thought I was the happiest guy in the world but I would go home, shut the door and bang my head against the wall, have a few drinks to try and forget.
“For me, it was getting rid of the depression. You'd have loads to drink and forget about it. The next day it got worse and you're back on the drink. It doesn't work. I went into rehab because others wanted me to: my wife, my agent and my friends. I didn't see there was anything wrong with me, that was my biggest problem.”
The former Northern Ireland keeper believes that had he not been able to stop his drinking, he would have died.
“I had a lot of time on my hands, my drinking was crazy. If I hadn't stopped, I wouldn't be here today. I don't feel my body would have held up to it,” he said.
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“I was never at that stage where I would have killed myself. I was quite lucky I wasn't that far ahead. But I would have died from the drink.
"The stuff I was drinking and the way I was drinking it, I wouldn't have woken up one morning. I don't care about alcohol any more. The first four or five years were very difficult but now I don't need it. I'm mad enough without the drink!
“But the depression will come back once in a while. I'm never going to get rid of it.
“A lot of footballers will be going through it, but they don't come out and say it until they retire. They try to keep it in because it's their livelihood.”
Carroll began his recovery in 2011 after separating from his wife, though they have now reconciled, and he hopes by opening up he is able to spur others in a similar position to get the help they may need.
He said: “I'm more worried about the one person who is reading this and it might help him or her or their kids.”
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