‘Even if you’re at the lowest of the lows, you can get through it’ – Marvin Sordell on mental health, finishing his football career at 28 and finding his happy place


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After a turbulent few years, Marvin Sordell has now found his happy place.

The former Watford and Bolton Wanderers striker has become something of a trailblazer when it comes to opening the discussion around mental health in football, having spoken publicly about his experiences with depression, which left him so low that it drove him to the point of suicide in August 2013.

Fortunately, that attempt to take his own life failed and to his immense credit, he continued his professional career, representing Coventry City, Burton Albion as well as Northampton Town, while also speaking openly about mental health through his poetry, specifically ‘Denis Prose’, an anagram for depression.

He sees poetry as being ‘like music but written down’ and got the idea to start writing when he read ‘Sex & Love & Rock & Roll’ by Tony Walsh.

Sordell was a £3million signing for Bolton in 2012

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Sordell was a £3million signing for Bolton in 2012

Now Sordell is swapping the football pitch for the director’s chair as he launches his own production company, 180 Productions, having opted to call time on his playing career, aged 28, just over two weeks ago.

For the former England Under-21 striker, though, the enjoyment from the game he once adored had waned and he now wants to use his position to raise awareness of mental health for those just starting their career in football.

Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT about his retirement from the game, Sordell said: “I didn’t enjoy being a professional football player any more for several reasons.

“Secondly, I just felt the time was right to move on as well. I’ve felt for quite some time that I wasn’t going to be one of those players that would play into their mid-to-late thirties. This time just felt right for me to move on, step aside and I’m happy doing so. I’m happy moving forward as well.

“I’m so proud (of what I’ve achieved). I literally lived my dream and there’s no other way of putting it. As a kid, I wanted to become a professional footballer and that’s all I knew. I did that and I wanted to play for England and I did that, too.

“I never knew that playing in the Olympics was ever on the cards. I remember being in school when it was announced that London was going to host the games in 2012 and being born and raised in London, it was a huge thing. Being able to do that in my home city was unbelievable.

“I’ve played in the Premier League and in every level in the Football League which for me was amazing. I had a 10-year career doing something that I loved. There is no negative I can have about what I achieved.”

Sordell respresented Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics

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Sordell respresented Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics

In the statement announcing his retirement on social media, Sordell emphasised that the ‘ugly side of the game’ had a detrimental impact on his mental health and he elaborated on that by detailing some of his own experiences during his career.

“Most people see a Saturday or Tuesday or whatever day the game is and they just see eleven players playing and don’t even think about the other players who aren’t playing,” he explained.

“I’ve been in teams where I’ve played and I’ve been in teams where I haven’t and it’s so much harder to not play than it is to play.

“One of the most difficult things can be being injured because a lot of the time you’re ignored and sometimes you don’t get the correct treatment you need. Sometimes you get told to just man up and overcome it and these can be serious physical injuries. You often get told to play through it if you can.

“You see contractual situations with players where clubs are desperately trying to get them out of the club and are sometimes public about it. Gareth Bale is a big one now and people just say look much money he is earning.

“Take that down to League 2 for example, with players who are on £1000 a week and they’re getting to the end of their career, they’ve got a year left on their contract and the club are desperately trying to get them out. Nobody cares about that player, what they’re going through and how they’re going to support their family.”

He added: “I’ve had conversations with the Premier League and the PFA but nothing concrete has come about. These are conversations I had in April/May time about what can be done moving forward to help players and player welfare in general.

“I’m hoping that I can have some impact in that space as well because that’s something I think is quite important and it’s something that is quite overlooked.”

Sordell played 14 times for England Under-21s, scoring on three occasions

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Sordell played 14 times for England Under-21s, scoring on three occasions

He continues: “Every player has a limited time span in their career and during that time, players need to make as much money and be as secure as possible beyond their career, whether that’s financially or setting themselves up career wise or education wise.

“But a lot of the time, the latter two are very much frowned upon. You see players who set up businesses or try to do different things and they’re told to concentrate on football, yet football is not going to protect you when you retire.”

For Sordell, a lot of pressure was put on his shoulders at a young age when he secured a move to the Premier League with Bolton, who shelled out £3m to secure his services in January 2012.

At the time, the striker was considered as one of the finest young talents outside of the Football League having starred for Watford after being thrown into the starting line-up by Malky Mackay against Norwich City in August 2010. He never looked back after that.

Sordell found the back of the net 27 times in 18 months for the Hornets, a period he says was the best of his career, and his status as a rising star was further reinforced when he scored a stunning goal on his full debut for England’s Under-21s in September 2011 against Israel.

Consequently, upon his arrival at Bolton, he was unveiled as the striker the Trotters so desperately needed to fire them away from relegation.

But that didn’t turn out to be the case. Chances were few and far between for Sordell in his first six months in the North West and Bolton were relegated to the Championship at the end of the season.

On top of that, as a boyhood Londoner, moving away from his home city as well as his family at the age of 20 all proved to be a step too far.

“When I moved up there, there was a lot of pressure on me straight away and I was only 20 at the time,” he said.

“Being away from home, trying to hit the ground running in a higher league, in a new team and a completely different environment, it wasn’t easy. I was up there on my own most of the time, trying to settle in, off the pitch as well as on the pitch, trying to do day-to-day things like looking for a new home, as well as going to training every day, and it added pressure of trying to be an instant impact. I just found it too difficult.”

“I got to the point where I tried to commit suicide.”

“Just because I was, at the time, the most successful I’ve been, doesn’t mean I can’t suffer from depression.”

“Even if you’re at the lowest of the lows, you can get through it.”@MarvinSordell on mental health. pic.twitter.com/pCxwMOmKGl

— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) August 12, 2019

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As well as his poetry, Sordell is an ambassador for the charity CALM and will be supporting the FA’s Heads Up campaign, which is supported by the Duke of Cambridge, to raise awareness about mental health in football.

Combined with his role as director of 180 productions, the 28-year-old wants to encourage others to speak openly about their struggles and to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health, which was very much a taboo subject until recent years.

“180 productions was born out of myself and two friends who have made creative visual content for some time now, be it short films like Denis Prose or music videos,” he said.

“Now our vision going forward is to do more of the same and make it a full-time thing.

“We are going to be doing a campaign for the charity CALM which will be going live on the 10th September which, for football fans, will be a very interesting one as we are doing a football shirt raffle.

“It’s commonly known that I got to a point where I tried to commit suicide. Fortunately, it didn’t work and I’m here today and I’ve seen all of those lows that I experienced around that time in particular and that’s helped to develop me and make me stronger.

“Now I speak about what I speak about because it’s the reality of it. At the time, just because I was the most successful that I’d been in my career doesn’t mean that I can’t suffer from depression. It’s the same for anybody else in any given profession.

“It’s about understanding you can overcome it and you can take positives from anything and my positive was my writing. I managed to find a way to release my emotions and from that, make short films and I now own a production company. That’s a big positive snowball from something that was so negative.”

As a result, what would Sordell’s advice be to anyone suffering from depression or other mental health problems at this moment in time?

He said: “I don’t place myself or put myself out there as a role model but any example people can see, even if you’re at the lowest of the lows, you can still discuss it and you can still get through it and find your way again.

“Just because the situation you’re in right now is what you’re in, it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be negative. You can always find positives from something. Our strength that we can find in our deepest moments is beyond anything else that we can imagine.”


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Chris Wright

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