Clarke Carlisle talks to Grannt Woodward about Leeds United, booze and Countdown.
YOU wouldn’t know it to talk to him, but Clarke Carlisle still has to take the “happy pills”.
“That’s what I initially thought they were, but what they really do is balance out the chemicals in your brain,” he says. “They don’t take the problems away, but they at least allow you to have a balanced perspective on things.”
Articulate, honest and self-effacing, former Leeds star Carlisle is the antithesis of everything the modern footballer is meant to be. But he’s not without his demons.
In his new autobiography, You Don’t Know Me But..., he lays bare the depression and drinking problems during a career that took in stints at QPR, Burnley, Watford and York, as well as Elland Road.
The depression was only properly diagnosed a few years ago, but he realises the warning signs were always there.
At the age of 21, sidelined with an injury that threatened to end his career, one night he washed down 56 co-proxamols with a can of Carling.
He says it was partly done out of guilt. He had blown most of the money from his move to QPR on booze and gambling. And there was other stuff too.
“I had walked out on my fiancée when I moved to QPR. It was a relationship I didn’t want to be in, but in doing so I had virtually abandoned my 18-month-old daughter.
“Basically, I was a coward. I thought that the best way to deal with my problems was to run away from them. It seemed the easiest way. It’s a typical addict’s mindset.”
He credits Ian Holloway, his then manager, for saving his life. Thrown off the team coach for still being drunk on the morning of a game, he headed to the pub, drank a bottle of wine through a straw, then sat and watched Soccer Saturday to see how his team was doing.
“They say that every recovering alcoholic has one, their rock bottom,” he says in his book. “Well, this was mine.”
He rang Holloway, who was ready to sack him, and begged for help. He ended up at the Sporting Chance clinic, emerging with “a very different approach to life”, his recovery being aided by wife Gemma, who’s from Oakwood, and kids Marley and Honey Mae.
Having retired last year, the 34-year-old now looks back on his season with Leeds as one of the highlights of his career, despite a bust-up with then manager Kevin Blackwell – detailed in the book – that ensured it was short-lived.
“I think I’ve only ever fallen out with one manager – it’s just a shame it happened at Leeds.
“I don’t feel he was the right man for that job at that time You’re not only contending with the stature of the club and the players but you’ve also got the monumental task of getting that club back in the Premier League.
“People underestimate how hard that is. For everyone who came to Elland Road, it was the biggest game of their season.
“I remember a game away at Rotherham. The clubs are poles apart, but when we stepped out we were in an absolute battle and ended up losing 1-0.
“But I still thoroughly enjoyed my time at Leeds, running out at Elland Road was just phenomenal and so was the passion of the supporters – even if I did used to get loads of stick over Sunday dinner from my wife’s family because they’re all Leeds fans.”
Now living near York, Carlisle combines his role as PFA chairman with pundit work for ITV. He’s been signed up for their Champions League coverage and the World Cup.
But you know you’re not dealing with your average ex-pro when he says one of his proudest achievements is appearing on word and numbers game Countdown.
“It was always one of my life’s ambitions, I used to watch it sitting on my dad’s knee as a kid. I’m incredibly proud to have a Countdown winner’s teapot in my cupboard and I’m not ashamed to say it.
“One of the biggest regrets of my life was losing that third show. I should never have tried to pluralise that mass noun.”
TEAM-MATE: “Aaron Lennon at Leeds. His acceleration was just awesome.”
OPPONENT: “Didier Drogba, he has every attribute a striker needs.”
MANAGER: “Aidy Boothroyd. Meticulous, great knowledge of the game.”
MOMENT: “Winning the play-off final with Burnley to get to the Premier League.”
Clarke Carlisle is holding a Q&A at Waterstones in Leeds on Sept 17. Call 0113 2444588 for further details. You Don’t Know Me But... A Footballer’s Life is out now.