Main content

Ex footballer, Marvin Sordell, on how he overcame his darkest days

My name is Marvin Sordell. I’m a producer, writer and public speaker, mostly known for my career as a former professional football player. My football career spanned 10 years, covered all English professional divisions from Premier League to League Two, and included international appearances for Team GB at London 2012 and England’s youth teams.

It’s been almost a year since I made the decision which I felt was going to enable me to live a happier life; to retire from professional football, aged 28. To most, walking away from a dream job is a ludicrous thing to do, but having suffered from depression for many years, which ultimately led to a failed suicide attempt, it was without a doubt the correct decision for me to make.

The things I now love the most, blossomed from the darkest corners of my mind

When I reflect, what surprises me most is that my struggles with mental health only became apparent to me when at my most successful. Following a couple of years in the first team at then Championship minnows Watford, I was signed by then Premier League side Bolton Wanderers for £3 million. A fee which is now looked at as minuscule, was a fairly meaningful sum for most in 2012, and as I have found throughout life, when the finances in a situation increase, so too do the levels of pressure and expectancy.

The 21-year-old me found it extremely difficult to manage the weight of the transfer fee which I had suddenly begun carrying on my shoulders. In retrospect, I realised that I sought to gain validation from external sources, which is something I imagine grew from the fact my father hasn’t been in my life since I was six.

Where you have a young man with severe confidence issues, low self-esteem, that seeks approval at every turn, and you place them in a high-pressure situation where they are constantly being judged, it probably isn’t going to end well. This, amongst several other things I hadn’t been able to get a grasp with over time, led me to attempt to take my own life. At the time I was 22 years old, and after spending some months on anti-depressants and many more self-medicating through alcohol, I couldn’t see hope, or happiness beyond where I was. Fortunately, I failed.

I woke up the morning after my attempt, went in to training as normal, and carried on trudging through life without uttering a word about that experience to a single person for four years. I felt embarrassed that I would even consider doing something I saw as a selfish act, but even more so that I failed.

Over the years I was sporadically asked how I was. ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m just tired’ was almost always my response. I didn’t feel that anyone, other than my close family or friends of course, really wanted to know. I also didn’t want to tell anyone. I could never really say why I never opened up to anyone, but in hindsight I definitely should have done so.

Not knowing or understanding how to communicate my feelings, as men often don’t, I began to write all of my thoughts, emotions and feelings down as poems. This was the beginning of my journey to where I am today. The simple act of having these on paper for me to be able to look at, reflect on, and then for me to later share with my loved ones, was life changing. Self-reflection and self-development have played the most important role in my story so far, and that was the first time I had truly started to look inwards.

What I found at the time, my ego didn’t particularly like. I was vulnerable, I was struggling and needed help, but each day I would wake up, put my mask on, and pretend that I was immortal. What I showed the world every day in public was my ego putting up its defence mechanism, to protect it from harm, whereas the real me was withering in private. It was recognising this that allowed me to open up to friends and family for the first time and ask for help. The love I received showed me that it was okay to be vulnerable, and that my ego was the most damaging thing in my life, because it prevented me from being so. I felt as if opening up would show me as weak, but the support from my loved ones, and then later an array of strangers when I publicly shared my story, showed me just how okay it is to sometimes not be.

You are so much stronger than you could ever imagine

When I look back, although that period of time in my life was massively negative and by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure, I always look at it as the one that has had the biggest positive impact in my life so far. Without suffering from depression, I wouldn’t be as self-assured and happy as I am today. I would never have started writing, which has led me down an incredible path where I began film-making, and then later co-founded Oneighty Productions. I would be a lesser husband and father to my two children, as I would’ve continued to bottle my emotions and not been able to express my feelings. The things I now love and enjoy the most, blossomed into what they are today, from the darkest corners of my mind.

As many others do, I often share my story and my emotional journey through writing or public speaking, and always do so in the hope that if anybody currently struggling with their mental health is listening, watching or reading, they understand that it’s okay to feel like that. Spreading this message has become an integral part of my life, and a task I encourage others to take forward.

If you are a person that is struggling, please never feel guilty or ashamed about feeling like you are, or to share your true emotions with those who are closest to you. You are so much stronger than you could ever imagine, and although may not be able to see it right now, that dark cloud hanging over your head has a silver lining. Stay strong. Stay safe.

Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health is on BBC One and BBC iPlayer – Thursday 28th May at 8.05pm

Mental Health Resources