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Richie Sadlier says he contemplated suicide after injuries forced him to retire at 24

“I retired in the first week of September. By December, I had contacted a solicitor. I had started writing a will.”

I just hated my life. I had absolutely no concept of how things will get better. I had no preparation for life after football. I had no concept of myself as anything other than a footballer.

RICHIE SADLIER WAS just 24 years of age when he retired from his first career as a footballer.

A hip injury that reoccurred, and reoccurred, had forced him from the game he loved. Even though much of his seven years at Millwall was plagued by injury, a final night on the pitch (in Stoke) saw him enter an even darker period of depression, with added drinking.

“I did get to a place. The worst it got for me… I retired in the first week of September. By December, I had contacted a solicitor. I had started writing a will. I lived in a house with a swimming pool in the back yard. My plan was to jump in there and not get out,” the now 38-year-old reveals in the latest Second Captains’ podcast.

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The Dubliner has spoken previously about his mental health difficulties (publicly first following the death of Gary Speed in 2011) but never the extent of his worst personal crisis.

In conversation with Niall Quinn during his show, The Player’s Chair, Sadlier talks about how he was ‘drowning in alcohol to numb the pain’.

A tumultuous career had seen him sidelined not only with the hip, but with a broken arm and a complicated hernia. Once talked about as The Next Big Thing, he had to figure out another option. Today, he says he couldn’t see one.

I didn’t even have a name. I was a Millwall player. It made absolute sense to me to bow out at that stage.

As Quinn also discusses the difficulties – and “rage” – he faced in retirement, Sadlier acknowledges that society now allows, even has an appetite for, sportspeople talking “about what they have gone through”.

Describing “the moment things had got really bad”, the TV pundit and psychotherapist brings listeners back to his club’s Christmas party in 2003 – mere months after his retirement.

At the time, he was living with his then-girlfriend and another friend. They did not know what was being played around in his head.

“I was even unsure whether I should go – I wasn’t part of the squad, I wasn’t a Millwall player. The lads were great, one by one, they’d give me a little pat on the back and a hug and the slanty head, ‘God love you’.

“The 12th or 14th time, I thought, ‘This isn’t fun’. And I met Tim Cahill in the jacks, and to give him credit, what he wanted to say was something along the lines of, ‘Do you know what, having seen you go through what you’ve gone through, makes me appreciate more what I’ve got and I’m going to enjoy it more, and hope you’re ok.’ What he actually said in his drunken haze was, ‘Do you know what? The fact that I can still do the one thing you can’t makes me fucking buzzing.’

“I thought I was going to start crying.

“I quickly made a beeline for the exit. By the time I got there, I was crying. It was lashing rain and pitch black. I lived about a mile and a half away and I couldn’t get a taxi because all the drivers are Millwall fans… That was the point that I thought I had no place in the world. I’m lost.”

Sadlier (‘after a few mad, coincidental things happened’) started seeing a therapist.

Today, inside and outside of football, he believes people should be open about how they deal with depression and other mental health issues.

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“I think a lot more could be said about what people do to help themselves. A lot of people can identify with feeling shite – you don’t have to be a sportsperson. OK, you’ve had that feeling. Where was the support? What were your options? Mine, I went to a therapist.”

He says he can discuss his suicidal thoughts today because it’s like “describing a different person”.

It’s not even a little part of me anymore which is why I’m quite comfortable talking about it here and now.”

During the hour-long conversation, both he and Quinn show their desire for a better system to be put in place for footballers as they head into retirement.

Calling it a “difficult time”, Quinn was grieving “for this death I had in my career”.

He “did all the wrong things”, “looked for sympathy”, “got done for drink driving” and “was horrible to live with” for about six months.

Hear the full conversation here (paywall). 

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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