'I had suicidal thoughts' Ex-Town keeper speaks out about mental health struggle
PUBLISHED: 19:00 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 07:18 24 September 2018
A former Ipswich Town youth player who spent years battling depression and anxiety has admitted the condition made him feel "weak and childish".
Floyd Croll played for Ipswich Town as a teenager between 2001 and 2004 but it was when he started playing in the Premier League for Wigan Athletic that he began to suffer with extreme performance anxiety and depression.
His mental health struggles spiralled and started impacting his game to such an extent that he was forced to quit paid football after he considered taking his own life.
He said: “There is always pressure, ever since I was kid playing football at the academy there was pressure, that’s where the performance anxiety comes in.
“I was always really jealous of Sunday league players, they got to play without pressure.”
Having started his career at the Ipswich academy aged 16, Croll was at first able to cope with the pressure but he struggled after the move to Wigan Athletic in 2004.
He said: “Ipswich were brilliant, their academy was advanced and the coaches were supportive but at Wigan it was very old-school, they had a northern, overly-masculine culture.
“I really struggled there and I didn’t realise that I was experiencing issues with my mental health, I just thought I was being weak or being childish.”
Croll left Wigan under a cloud in 2006 after being released, and his only real offer came from semi-professional side Needham Market FC - nine divisions below where he had been playing.
Being at this level of the football pyramid things started to get really bad for Croll.
“The drop is huge,” he said. “I kept reflecting and looking back, I went from Villa Park one September to playing in front of 10 people and my manager screaming at me.”
The move came as a real culture shock for Croll and he said: “There is no support, or transition, even a month would have helped, just someone to say: ‘It’s OK, you can still have a wonderful life and do all these things.’”
He said he struggled with the level of scrutiny he was under.
“That’s the difference between a normal job and football, in football people can scream at you and attack your character as much as your playing ability and it’s normal.”
Things got so bad for Croll that at times he couldn’t sleep over the worry that he would lose his place in the team.
He even had to move away from his family as his anxiety turned into anger and caused him to lash out at his loved ones.
Croll left Needham Market soon after signing and joined Aylesbury United where things went from bad to worse.
He said: “I couldn’t play, my performance anxiety was awful, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t be the first-team keeper there, I couldn’t be 20pc of the keeper my manager thought I was.
“The anxiety and depression hurt, it physically hurt.”
Finally, in 2012, whilst at Bury St Edmunds’ club Sporting 87, and playing as a cover goalkeeper for Needham, Croll reached breaking point and decided that he needed to seek professional help.
“I was reading a book about a German goalkeeper called Robert Enke, he killed himself and that really hit me,” he said.
“That’s when I had my breakdown and started to have suicidal thoughts, that’s when I realised: this is a serious problem.
“Enke was a goalkeeper and I think with keepers it’s worse, you’re isolated on the pitch, it’s a lonely position and if you make a mistake it’s so much worse, it’s a pressurised position to play.”
Thankfully Sporting 87 were able to help Croll and found him a therapist.
Through therapy, medication and support from the club, he was able to get on top of his performance anxiety and the 30-year-old will soon be playing for team in Milan, Italy, where he now works as a science teacher - something he re-trained for through the Open University.
He said: “I had to leave the paid game to enjoy it, I was thinking about quitting and just completely leaving the game but I love it too much.
“I still sometimes get that panic and anxiety coming back but it’s better now without the pressure.
“I would encourage anyone that needs help to get it, just do whatever you need to do.”
If you need someone to talk to someone, the Samaritans are there 24/7 for free, just call 116 123 or visit their site.