“I turned my back on football for many years,” says Darren Eadie. “It wasn’t because I didn’t like the game. It was because I loved it so much and I couldn’t do it anymore. Imagine your passion – whatever you get up for – and then being told overnight you can’t do it anymore. Then being told it is OK because you can still watch your mates do it. It is so difficult.”
Retirement comes to every footballer but the end for Eadie came far sooner than he could ever have imagined.
At Norwich, he had been a highly-rated winger, featuring for them in Europe while still a teenager. He was still playing when he became an inaugural member of the club’s hall of fame. But his move to Leicester was marred by knee injuries. At just 28, his career was over.
“It was more the shock than anything,” he tells Sky Sports. “I’d had injuries to my knee before and always come back from it so I always thought I would come back from the next one. So to wake up from an operation and have my wife sat there and the physio sat there and the surgeon sat there telling me my career was done at 28 was a massive shock.”
Eadie had made 251 appearances with 81 of those coming in the Premier League. He’d been tipped for stardom as a youngster but even if his injuries had ensured those heights were not going to be reached, he was anticipating a long career ahead of him. Early retirement was not the plan.
Now the plan had to change.
“It is like being chucked out of a fish tank and suddenly you are flailing around on the floor not knowing what to do. It is a completely different environment. That was the difficulty for me. It was not just that I was out of football. It was that I was actually learning how to fit into society again because it is very different to being in a football changing room.
“You have this kind of resilience to you as a footballer. If you have a bad game then you tell yourself that there is always another game just around the corner and you will have the opportunity to put it behind you. That’s how I tried to deal with it. I was just going to put it behind me and try to enjoy my retirement. But that quickly fades.
“It calls for different life skills and you have to learn that pretty quickly. I think putting it on the back-burner, in hindsight, was probably the worst thing I have ever done. I should have spoken to people right away. But I bottled everything up, put it away, covered it up and tried to put a brave face on things when I went out. After a while, that takes its toll.”
Eadie suffered from depression.
There were tears. Panic attacks. Sometimes he could not leave the house. Other times he had to call his wife to come and get him.
“It was a gradual process,” he explains. “In football, you need a bit of anxiety to play. You need nervous tension. But this was too much. I was making excuses not to see people. I was making excuses not to go out. That’s when you realise you are getting deeper and deeper.
“There was a point when I hit rock bottom and my wife was fantastic at that time. She was having to deal with a child again. I became someone who was so needy. You end up hanging on their every word. All it would take is one ‘wrong’ word and I would be down in the depths again so I think there should be more support for the families too.”
Could football do more to help?
“The problem when you finish early is that you are a commodity. As much as they might value you when you are playing for them, when you are done you are done. You can’t help them anymore. I can understand that. It is a business. But when you are dealing with human beings there is a bit more to it than that. You can’t treat people like commodities.
“Times have changed. The understanding is so much better than it was and rightly so. The way football sees it, if you are not mentally strong then a manager will quickly discard you because you are not mentally right. They will just say his head is not right to play without thinking about the reasons for it and how they can help.
“I do think the PFA needs to do more. This is the biggest sport in the world but I believe cricket and rugby are way ahead in dealing with these issues. A lot of the time in football it’s just lip service. People say what other people want to hear and then don’t go back to it.”
Life remains challenging for Eadie. Eighteen months ago he lost his mother to a sudden brain haemorrhage. But the positive for him now is that he is finding a way to cope with what life throws at him. He is in a better place. “There are always things to deal with in life but general day-to-day life doesn’t seem so bad anymore,” he says.
“You learn when you are going through a bad period. The good thing is that when you have been through an episode before you know there is an end to it. The problem is when you are going through it the first time, you are going down and down, and you think there is no end to it. That’s when, sadly, people take their own lives.
“If you have an episode and get through it, that is when you find that they become shorter, you can cope and you develop processes to deal with it. I would urge anyone who suffers those things and has those kind of thoughts to see someone as soon as possible. The longer you bottle it up, the longer you wait to see a doctor, the worse it is going to be.”
Eadie is now enjoying his job running a football programme at an independent school – in Ipswich of all places – and is involved in another exciting new venture too. Earlier this year, he helped launch a new YouTube show FC Kitchen looking at football and food in a humorous way, aiming to raise awareness of the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Norwich vs Man City
September 14, 2019, 5:00pm
“When you have kids yourself you tend to look at the bigger picture and try to be more responsible,” he says. “So it’s a tie-in in terms of veganism and eating less meat. I will probably always eat meat but it is just about providing an alternative and looking at how we can slow down our impact on the planet. We are pitching vegans against meat eaters.”
Eadie is having fun again. Pleasingly, his involvement in football is no longer limited to his work at school either. After turning his back on the game, he is watching football again. There is even some work for Norwich TV.
“It is natural to drift back to somewhere you had nice times,” he adds. “I am finding it more enjoyable watching football again now.”