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Paul McGee’s football career began like a dream, but ended with a nightmare.

McGee’s league debut caught all the headlines. It was 17 May 1989, his 21st birthday, and his team, Wimbledon, was visiting the soon-to-be champions Arsenal at a sold-out Highbury. McGee silenced the home crowd by scoring a late equalizer (2-2). “That is the highlight in my career.”

There could have been more highlights, but McGee’s career took a severe hit when he broke his ankle in 1992 during training. It would take him nearly two years to recover, although he never returned to his highest level.

It was a cruel incident. On that same day he had expected to seal his transfer to Coventry City. The clubs already had agreed on a transfer fee, and his teammates had congratulated him. One day later he received a letter with his first call-up for the Irish national team. Both the transfer and the Ireland debut never happened.

He ended his active career in 2003.

Then the nightmare began.

“I did not know exactly what was happening”, McGee remembers. “I was missing the game, missing the day-to-day activity on the field, missing the banter with my teammates. Those were all gone.”

“I had much more time to think and I was very emotional, crying constantly.”

“I had started working as a self-employed man. That brought added pressure, because you have to take care of everything yourself: taxes, insurances et cetera.”

“Working for myself also meant I was on my own a lot, which even gave me more time to think.”

“I realised something was wrong, but I had no idea what it was or what to do.”

“I was afraid to tell anyone. I did not know what to talk about. It is really difficult. I used to be an outgoing fellow. But all of a sudden I was someone different. I wasn’t myself and I wasn’t happy.”

McGee’s situation seriously worsened. Until one day in 2010, he decided to commit suicide.

“I could not deal with it anymore. It was horrific, the most awful point of my life.”

Fortunately a very good friend stopped McGee at the last moment, literally.

“He looked me in the eyes and said, I am going to bring you to a place where they can help you. He brought me to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed me heavily depressed after talking with me and seeing me cry.”

Paul McGee 250 455It was the turning point of Paul’s life. He would be using medication for the next two and a half years, would see counsellors and doctors week after week. “It was difficult to talk about all those things, about my life. But now I am glad that I went.”

“I had carried this disease for six years. It was a very tough battle.”

McGee won this battle.

“There will always be one or two bad days, but I recognise the signs when they are coming and have tools to protect me. Then I just keep myself going: I read books or try to be with my sons, who are a big part of my life. With these mechanisms I can help manage it.”

McGee now has a job as a driver for a courier company. “It is a good job, but I would rather be involved in football.”

He is actually back to playing football, and even represents his country as a member of the Republic of Ireland Masters team. It is an initiative designed for former national team players to stay longer in the game and sustain a healthy lifestyle. It also aims to raise awareness of physical and mental health issues.

“It is a great project involving a lot of players who’ve just finished their careers. It has helped me a lot and many other guys also benefitted from it.”

“I am back playing the game that I love and I am enjoying it.”

 

Also read:     Football can't ignore mental health issues
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