Andy Morrison's biggest battle
I am halfway through my interview with Andy Morrison when I notice the mass of scars on his knuckles for the first time, testimony to the scrapes he was involved in during his colourful career.
"I had too many fights to put into my book," the former Manchester City, Huddersfield, Blackpool and Plymouth centre-back tells me of some of the brutal off-pitch tales which litter his new autobiography. "So I just mentioned the ones which helped shape my career for better or worse."
An unashamed bruiser he may be, but Morrison does not glorify his violent past. In any case, his biggest battles have been psychological, not physical.
In a week during which footballers' mental health has been in the spotlight following Gary Speed's death, Morrison's story, which was published last month, makes poignant reading.
Andy Morrison battled demons during and after his playing career. Photo: Getty Images
As a player, he battled alcoholism and, at his lowest ebb in 1999, which actually coincided with some of his best times on the field with City, he considered taking his own life before vowing instead to ditch the drink.
Morrison was the inspiration behind City's promotion that year from what is now League One - a time when this week's Champions League tie with Bayern Munich would have been unthinkable for his old club and one that seems light years away from their current status as mega-rich Premier League leaders. He has been on quite a journey himself.
"It's said that when you reach the pits of despair you turn within and ask for help," Morrison reflects. "I was on my hands and knees when I looked at the sky and said 'please can you help me, I cannot take any more of this pain'. Thankfully I got the support I needed from Alcoholics Anonymous and for almost 13 years I have not touched a drop."
But that was not the end of his problems. After injury curtailed his career in 2002 at the age of 32, Morrison faced financial ruin, while the chronic depression he has battled since hanging up his boots came because he missed the buzz of matchdays that had been part of his life since he was a young teenager.
"When you retire, there is a part of you where you keep a stiff upper lip," Morrison, now assistant manager at Evo-Stik League Premier Division side Northwich Victoria, explained over coffee in a leafy Cheshire village near his home.
"I was saying 'this is the next stage of my life, I'm going to be positive. I'm going to move on and get my coaching badges' and all that sort of stuff.
"But I wasn't prepared in any way to deal with that huge void in my life. I'd been a footballer from the age of 15 and I couldn't have been more institutionalised if I had been in the army. I loved competing.
"When I finished I went through a period of desolation. I had a desperate period of absolute uselessness for anything. Your confidence is affected and it is a downward spiral from there. I had absolutely nothing to look forward to.
"It's hard for footballers because, in so many aspects of your life, you are so much better off than other people but it is where you are in your head at that time that matters. I remember Stan Collymore being ridiculed for suffering from depression. John Gregory, his manager at Aston Villa, said how could someone earning £20,000 a week have it?
"But when you are suffering from chronic depression you don't go to a hole in the wall, stick your card in, look at your balance and see you have £200,000 in the bank and go 'that's it, I feel brilliant'. It's much deeper than that.
"I think people are coming round to understanding it a bit more and hopefully there is no shame attached to it anymore.
"Thankfully for me, I dealt with my drinking problem and my addictive alcoholism before I retired. God only help me if I hadn't, because I only know for sure that I wouldn't be sat here with you talking because it would have just got darker and worse."
Morrison inspired City's promotion from League One in 1999. Photo: Getty Images
The good news for Morrison, and for those with similar problems, is that there was help out there then, and there still is now.
We do not know the reasons for Speed's death but the debate over mental health in football has been ongoing since Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke took his own life in 2009 and Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper Dale Roberts killed himself a year later.
And despite the claims of Susannah Strong - author of a booklet on handling depression which the Professional Footballers' Association sent out to ex-players in the wake of Speed's death - that "there is no attention paid whatsoever to the mental health of footballers", the reality is that there has been a support system in place for some time.
Morrison, who was a warrior of a player known for inspiring team-mates and fans alike, feels Strong was right when she spoke of his condition being a taboo subject in football but says he was not left high and dry when he did reveal it and hopes others have the strength to do the same.
"There is a lot of support out there for footballers if they want to ask for it but when you are in such a desperate place it is hard to say 'I'm really struggling with life' and lower all your barriers and let your ego go," he added. "I was the captain of every club I played for and I felt it was out of character to say I was struggling.
"When I did, I spoke to counsellors from Sporting Chance Clinic. They offered great help. I was given anti-depression tablets but there is no quick cure. For me, and I can only speak for me, there were no innate words of wisdom which were going to help me through it. It's a process and you have to be strong. You need all the help you can get.
"Anyone who suffers from it has to be brave enough to first recognise it - because that is the hardest thing - and then be willing to ask for help."
Morrison is in a better place now. Professionally, he is enjoying his job with Northwich and dreaming of coaching in the Premier League. Personally, he savours life with wife Paula and their three children.
He has still not conquered all his demons, however. "There are days when the black dog is at the bottom of the bed when I wake up," Morrison adds. "He says 'good morning, I've been waiting for you'. There is nothing I can do to stop it happening, but now I know what to do when it does."
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