FOOTBALL'S DARK SIDE: Former Town star Martin Ling opens up about his battle with depression

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Martin Ling Martin Ling

MARTIN Ling feels football clubs must learn to look past “coffee stains” of depression on the CVs of players and managers.

Ling, part of the Swindon Town side which won promotion to the Premier League through the play-offs in 1993, has fought the battle against mental illness twice since hanging up his boots and moving into management.

From his experiences, the former Cambridge United, Leyton Orient and Torquay United boss has come to think the sport is unaware of how depression manifests itself, how it can be overcome and how competent those who have emerged from it actually are to fulfil demanding roles in the professional game.

Ling was dismissed as manager at Torquay in May last year at the end of his contract with the Gulls, with the club citing footballing reasons for the decision. But the 47-year-old believes that his struggle with the disease caused those in charge at Plainmoor to doubt his capacity to lead when that could not have been further from the truth.

Now back in work, in four part-time roles both domestically and internationally, Ling has made the brave move to reveal all of his past demons, the inner workings of depression and their effects, as he looks to encourage fans, players, managers and chairmen to make more considered choices and judgements in the future.

Ling tells the Advertiser that, with mental illnesses as poorly understood as they are, clubs are likely to overlook candidates with such ‘blemishes’ on their records.

He says: “If there are four of us sitting in a room and the other three are on a level playing field because I’ve had depression then I feel it’s hard. I think I have a very strong CV but it has a little coffee stain on it, with the word depression, which people are going to have to look beyond to see I can still do the job.

“If one in four people suffer from it in the country, then some of the people who are making the decisions have probably gone through it. Barry Hearn (Orient chairman) said to me once ‘what did you learn in The Priory?’ and I said there are an awful lot richer people in this world than him and most are sitting in the Priory.

“The people who are running these football clubs have probably had someone suffer this around them or maybe even suffered it themselves, so they can realise that you can manage your life with depression.”

Ling’s first signs of depression came in 2010 while he was manager at Cambridge. His father David had just come through a serious, life-threatening illness.

He recounts: “We were at Rushden and Diamonds and I was a bit more anxious than I usually was. I was sweating and everything seemed a bigger decision than it ever seemed before.

“I palmed that off, took on a bit of fluid and a week later I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt no energy, no spark, no anything at all. I felt totally drained. I thought it was a virus but I spoke to the LMA through my wife and they said go and see your doctor, but they also sent me to see a stress counsellor.

“I went to see him and he said ‘you’ve got a mild form of depression’. He described the symptoms and that was how I felt. He put me on a course of therapy, CBT, which is cognitive behavioural therapy, and medication and within time it seemed to disappear.”

Ling would go on to be sacked by the non-league side within the year but soon established himself again at Torquay, where he manipulated a small budget brilliantly and reached the League Two play-offs in 2012.

It was during his second season in charge when his depression returned. This time it was much more potent.

With his team due to play live on Sky Sports the following day, Ling checked into Exeter Hospital feeling as though he was suffering from “a brain tumour”. His assistant manager, Shaun Taylor, took charge of the match and Ling set off the next day to return home to London.

“I felt like I was having a heart attack and pulled into Taunton Services,” Ling says. “That day I saw a specialist on Harley Street and by the next day I was in The Priory at Roehampton for five weeks.”

Ling is thankful to the League Manager’s Association, who picked up the tab for his stay in the rehabilitation clinic as his insurance did not cover the onset of depression, and the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Sam Allardyce, who called him with messages of support, but he was still at odds to explain why he was hit so hard.

He tells the story of lying on a hospital bed following his initial admission to Exeter Hospital, after being put through every medical examination under the sun: “While I was laying there in my hospital bed I started to rationalise it and I thought I was laying there in that hospital bed with nothing wrong with me.”

Of course that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Ling was one of the quarter of the UK population who suffer from some form of mental illness every year. But its invisibility was confusing – for him, for his family, for his employer and the fans of the club of which he was at the head.

“It’s weird because deep down you don’t want it to be depression,” he says. “You want it to be a physical ailment that someone can give you a tablet for and make it disappear. I didn’t want it to be depression because I knew how low it took me before, but the second time it hit me twice as hard.

“When I speak about it now people say ‘you were the last person I’d ever thought would get depression because you’re very outgoing, very jovial’ but it isn’t about that. I’ve had it under control for a year now and feel in a much better place this time.

“All I know is that some people’s brains are susceptible to depression and mine is or was.”

Torquay went public with the line Ling was taking time off work to recover from a stress-related illness. When his rolling contract in the summer he felt he was ready to return to work. The club did not.

“The truth of the matter was I was fit and well to go back in May but Torquay decided they wanted to go with Alan Knill and dispense of my services.

“The rumours when I left Torquay were that I had a brain tumour, that I had cancer, that I was an alcoholic. I’m not being disrespectful to any of those scenarios but if I had a brain tumour they couldn’t have and wouldn’t have sacked me, I honestly believe that.

“They honoured their contract, they paid me the year’s money but if anyone can find footballing reasons for why I was sacked from Torquay then they’re a better person than me.

“I feel I was ready then to tell this story, to explain to everybody where I’d been, to explain depression and that I was on medication to cope with it. I felt in a much better place.

“If I was working in any normal job I wouldn’t have to go public with this and no one would have needed to know where I was for the three months I was missing because, in a normal industry, they write you off ill, they write you off work and it would all be hush hush.

“At Torquay they had a daily paper and then a weekly paper and you had to be accountable. In a male-dominant sport it’s probably harder to deal with depression, particularly when you’re the head of that club.

“You can work with it. There are many people in many different industries who are working with depression.”

Having learnt to deal with his depression, Ling feels he is now able to thrive once more and he’s been able to enjoy family life with his wife Caroline, daughter Charlotte and son Samuel – who’s making waves in the Orient youth department.

He’s also using his experience to enlighten others of the very real but often unrecognised dangers of mental illness, its remarkable commonality and how it needs to be understood; with regular media appearances and work for anti-mental health discrimination charity ‘Time for Change’ at the top of his agenda.

But there is still a very pungent sense that Ling is desperate for a return to full-time management. And he feels he’s more than capable to do the job.

“I don’t see why I can’t work in football again just because I’ve had it because for a year now I’ve handled it very well and had no signs for a year,” he says. “People are always going to say ‘what if he comes back into a stressful environment? Is he likely to have depression again?’ I don’t think that’s the case now because I think I have the tools to deal with life situations.

“I want to be back at the coalface. I want that buzz of working within it. I’ve worked in it for 32 years and the only reason I’m outside looking in now is because I’ve had a bout of illness. If you look at my CV it’s a strong CV. I’ve never taken a team down, I’ve always left a team stronger than when I started with them. Cambridge maybe not so much but certainly at Orient and Torquay.

“I’d have no hesitation coming back if the right opportunity came my way.”

Comments (9)

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7:54am Thu 10 Apr 14

Wickham Red says...

Hopefully you will get back into management. Your knowledge and experience of the game should not be wasted. Good luck
Hopefully you will get back into management. Your knowledge and experience of the game should not be wasted. Good luck Wickham Red
  • Score: 9

8:19am Thu 10 Apr 14

mancrobin says...

Interesting to read of Martin's experiences.

Great player for the Town and always struck me as a very intelligent one. One of the few who could give Hoddle a run for his money on football matters.

Would love to see him back at the Club in some capacity at some time in the future.
Interesting to read of Martin's experiences. Great player for the Town and always struck me as a very intelligent one. One of the few who could give Hoddle a run for his money on football matters. Would love to see him back at the Club in some capacity at some time in the future. mancrobin
  • Score: 9

8:33am Thu 10 Apr 14

old town robin says...

Torquay could certainly do with him now, for football reasons of course.

I hope Martin does get his chance to prove himself again. As in any job you need a good team of people around you to depend on. Many years ago I suffered a mild form of stress after a bereavement in the family, made worse by a bullying manager in the work place. Once I left that company and got away from the bully I was fine again, but it taught me a valuable lesson in later life when I became a managed myself to treat people with respect and they'll respect you. Nowhere near as bad as it must be for people in the public domain of course, in fact I would say vulnerable people should try to avoid using the very public attention of the media such as twitter etc. which I imagine can be quite upsetting if comments get personal..
Torquay could certainly do with him now, for football reasons of course. I hope Martin does get his chance to prove himself again. As in any job you need a good team of people around you to depend on. Many years ago I suffered a mild form of stress after a bereavement in the family, made worse by a bullying manager in the work place. Once I left that company and got away from the bully I was fine again, but it taught me a valuable lesson in later life when I became a managed myself to treat people with respect and they'll respect you. Nowhere near as bad as it must be for people in the public domain of course, in fact I would say vulnerable people should try to avoid using the very public attention of the media such as twitter etc. which I imagine can be quite upsetting if comments get personal.. old town robin
  • Score: 2

9:43am Thu 10 Apr 14

Redgollum says...

I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.
I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen. Redgollum
  • Score: 2

4:54pm Thu 10 Apr 14

swindonurock says...

Redgollum wrote:
I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.
I'm sure many people are incorrectly diagnosed with depression, and often fobbed off with pills, etc.

Many people also often think that depression is something that the sufferer simply needs to treat by giving themselves a good kick up the backside, or "pulling themselves together", etc.

Others (also wrongly) equate it with "feeling a bit down" or sad, or simply not being grateful for what they have, etc.

Anyone who suffers, or has suffered, with depression will know that it's nothing like that at all. For many sufferers depression will make one almost unable to function properly, if at all; it locks one into an emotional prison of sorts, and there is nothing - literally "nothing" - but the feeling of greyness, and hopelessness, and wretchedness, often accompanied by at least some amount of suicidal feelings, though not always. Going on holiday? ... winning a heap of money? ... getting a new job? ...Forget about
it, they'll make not one jot of difference to the sufferer of depression.

Then, after a few days, or a week, one might wake up and the dark clouds are lifted for a while, and one feels a tendency to almost double-check something inside one's head to make sure it's not a trick of some sort.

Before too long though, as if on some random sort of schedule, one's brain will start to feel "weird" again, confused almost, and the almost tangible feel of the "depression chemicals" being mixed together inside one's head for the next battle.

Those who are fortunate may find some relief with medication; some with therapy; while others will unfortunately find sadder means to curtail their suffering. Others will live a life filled with such intermittent battles.

I hope those that have never suffered it never get to find out first-hand what it is like. Most of those that do suffer, I am sure, would agree that they'd not wish it even against their worst enemy.
[quote][p][bold]Redgollum[/bold] wrote: I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.[/p][/quote]I'm sure many people are incorrectly diagnosed with depression, and often fobbed off with pills, etc. Many people also often think [wrongly] that depression is something that the sufferer simply needs to treat by giving themselves a good kick up the backside, or "pulling themselves together", etc. Others (also wrongly) equate it with "feeling a bit down" or sad, or simply not being grateful for what they have, etc. Anyone who suffers, or has suffered, with depression will know that it's nothing like that at all. For many sufferers depression will make one almost unable to function properly, if at all; it locks one into an emotional prison of sorts, and there is nothing - literally "nothing" - but the feeling of greyness, and hopelessness, and wretchedness, often accompanied by at least some amount of suicidal feelings, though not always. Going on holiday? ... winning a heap of money? ... getting a new job? ...Forget about it, they'll make not one jot of difference to the sufferer of depression. Then, after a few days, or a week, one might wake up and the dark clouds are lifted for a while, and one feels a tendency to almost double-check something inside one's head to make sure it's not a trick of some sort. Before too long though, as if on some random sort of schedule, one's brain will start to feel "weird" again, confused almost, and the almost tangible feel of the "depression chemicals" being mixed together inside one's head for the next battle. Those who are fortunate may find some relief with medication; some with therapy; while others will unfortunately find sadder means to curtail their suffering. Others will live a life filled with such intermittent battles. I hope those that have never suffered it never get to find out first-hand what it is like. Most of those that do suffer, I am sure, would agree that they'd not wish it even against their worst enemy. swindonurock
  • Score: 4

7:14pm Thu 10 Apr 14

ellory says...

Redgollum wrote:
I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.
Depression and anxiety have high rates of co morbidity. They tend to feed into each other, too: depressed people become anxious due to their negative thoughts (for example) and anxious people can become depressed because they are unable to do certain things.
.
The most common drugs for depression, SSRIs, are relatively effective for treating both anxiety and depression, and counselling (or "talking therapies" in general) are vital for recovery in either case. I'd imagine that was the thinking in your diagnosis.
.
That said, misdiagnosis is not all that difficult particularly within mental health fields, and the more awareness we have the better things will get for sufferers. I hope you're feeling better these days :-)
[quote][p][bold]Redgollum[/bold] wrote: I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.[/p][/quote]Depression and anxiety have high rates of co morbidity. They tend to feed into each other, too: depressed people become anxious due to their negative thoughts (for example) and anxious people can become depressed because they are unable to do certain things. . The most common drugs for depression, SSRIs, are relatively effective for treating both anxiety and depression, and counselling (or "talking therapies" in general) are vital for recovery in either case. I'd imagine that was the thinking in your diagnosis. . That said, misdiagnosis is not all that difficult particularly within mental health fields, and the more awareness we have the better things will get for sufferers. I hope you're feeling better these days :-) ellory
  • Score: 3

7:25pm Thu 10 Apr 14

ellory says...

swindonurock wrote:
Redgollum wrote:
I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.
I'm sure many people are incorrectly diagnosed with depression, and often fobbed off with pills, etc.

Many people also often think that depression is something that the sufferer simply needs to treat by giving themselves a good kick up the backside, or "pulling themselves together", etc.

Others (also wrongly) equate it with "feeling a bit down" or sad, or simply not being grateful for what they have, etc.

Anyone who suffers, or has suffered, with depression will know that it's nothing like that at all. For many sufferers depression will make one almost unable to function properly, if at all; it locks one into an emotional prison of sorts, and there is nothing - literally "nothing" - but the feeling of greyness, and hopelessness, and wretchedness, often accompanied by at least some amount of suicidal feelings, though not always. Going on holiday? ... winning a heap of money? ... getting a new job? ...Forget about
it, they'll make not one jot of difference to the sufferer of depression.

Then, after a few days, or a week, one might wake up and the dark clouds are lifted for a while, and one feels a tendency to almost double-check something inside one's head to make sure it's not a trick of some sort.

Before too long though, as if on some random sort of schedule, one's brain will start to feel "weird" again, confused almost, and the almost tangible feel of the "depression chemicals" being mixed together inside one's head for the next battle.

Those who are fortunate may find some relief with medication; some with therapy; while others will unfortunately find sadder means to curtail their suffering. Others will live a life filled with such intermittent battles.

I hope those that have never suffered it never get to find out first-hand what it is like. Most of those that do suffer, I am sure, would agree that they'd not wish it even against their worst enemy.
Swindonurock, I take on board everything you say and hope this post doesn't offend you or others.
.
But depression doesn't have to be a case of being lucky with drugs, or the awful alternative - taking ways out. It's certainly not an easy process, but sometimes a different medication (if necessary) or a different counsellor/therapeut
ic approach can help enormously. In other cases, you just need to stick with it. I wish there was a miracle cure, but the reality is these things can take an awful lot of time to get easier. But they will.
.
This is what's so important about people speaking out - people need to be able to seek help.
[quote][p][bold]swindonurock[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Redgollum[/bold] wrote: I was diagnosed with depression & given tablets & counselling to cure it. But, I never actually felt depressed, more anxious. I think that the name is wrong. Anxiety attacks are scary &, in my case could happen without any real reason. That, in itself, causes more of them, worrying when they might happen.[/p][/quote]I'm sure many people are incorrectly diagnosed with depression, and often fobbed off with pills, etc. Many people also often think [wrongly] that depression is something that the sufferer simply needs to treat by giving themselves a good kick up the backside, or "pulling themselves together", etc. Others (also wrongly) equate it with "feeling a bit down" or sad, or simply not being grateful for what they have, etc. Anyone who suffers, or has suffered, with depression will know that it's nothing like that at all. For many sufferers depression will make one almost unable to function properly, if at all; it locks one into an emotional prison of sorts, and there is nothing - literally "nothing" - but the feeling of greyness, and hopelessness, and wretchedness, often accompanied by at least some amount of suicidal feelings, though not always. Going on holiday? ... winning a heap of money? ... getting a new job? ...Forget about it, they'll make not one jot of difference to the sufferer of depression. Then, after a few days, or a week, one might wake up and the dark clouds are lifted for a while, and one feels a tendency to almost double-check something inside one's head to make sure it's not a trick of some sort. Before too long though, as if on some random sort of schedule, one's brain will start to feel "weird" again, confused almost, and the almost tangible feel of the "depression chemicals" being mixed together inside one's head for the next battle. Those who are fortunate may find some relief with medication; some with therapy; while others will unfortunately find sadder means to curtail their suffering. Others will live a life filled with such intermittent battles. I hope those that have never suffered it never get to find out first-hand what it is like. Most of those that do suffer, I am sure, would agree that they'd not wish it even against their worst enemy.[/p][/quote]Swindonurock, I take on board everything you say and hope this post doesn't offend you or others. . But depression doesn't have to be a case of being lucky with drugs, or the awful alternative - taking ways out. It's certainly not an easy process, but sometimes a different medication (if necessary) or a different counsellor/therapeut ic approach can help enormously. In other cases, you just need to stick with it. I wish there was a miracle cure, but the reality is these things can take an awful lot of time to get easier. But they will. . This is what's so important about people speaking out - people need to be able to seek help. ellory
  • Score: 3

7:42pm Thu 10 Apr 14

swindonurock says...

Oh, indeed. I agree, your post is not offensive to me at all.

For many people the correct medication may be very effective, and if everyone could be so fortunate to find the right one it would be wonderful. I was really more intent on trying to describe depression from personal experience to those who may misunderstand it, or have no knowledge of it.

It is good that people, and especially high profile ones with some amount of credibility, do speak about depression. It truly can be a debilitating illness, and often made more difficult by the stigma attached to mental illness.

I hope that one day there will be no more stigma attached to suffering from depression than there is of suffering from a broken arm.

For those that do suffer though, don't give up, there are many resources that, even if not always perfect, can be very helpful in battling depression.
Oh, indeed. I agree, your post is not offensive to me at all. For many people the correct medication may be very effective, and if everyone could be so fortunate to find the right one it would be wonderful. I was really more intent on trying to describe depression from personal experience to those who may misunderstand it, or have no knowledge of it. It is good that people, and especially high profile ones with some amount of credibility, do speak about depression. It truly can be a debilitating illness, and often made more difficult by the stigma attached to mental illness. I hope that one day there will be no more stigma attached to suffering from depression than there is of suffering from a broken arm. For those that do suffer though, don't give up, there are many resources that, even if not always perfect, can be very helpful in battling depression. swindonurock
  • Score: 3

6:33pm Fri 11 Apr 14

uruguay whitey the red says...

great lad lingy,used to train us (Ferndale,wilts senior league)on the county ground extension.was always interesting training methods and a good bloke with the banter.
great lad lingy,used to train us (Ferndale,wilts senior league)on the county ground extension.was always interesting training methods and a good bloke with the banter. uruguay whitey the red
  • Score: 0

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