'I couldn’t smile' - Leeds United academy reject opens up about mental health struggles following Elland Road exit

Sanchez Payne thought he would play football for the rest of his life before his career faded after being released by Leeds United.

By Flora Snelson
Friday, 1st October 2021, 6:00 am

Sanchez Payne made just one matchday squad for the first team in his Leeds United career.

Payne sat on the bench and admired the roar of the Elland Road crowd as the Whites beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in September 2012.

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He didn’t make it onto the pitch that day, and it turned out to be the closest Payne ever came to first team action as ten months later, aged 20, Payne was released from the club.

The midfielder then played stints at various lower-league sides in the area, including Ossett Albion and Garforth Town, but his progress was stunted by a series of injuries and setbacks.

As he realised that his career in football was not going to work out, Payne changed tack, and used a season spent working as a hotel host in Ibiza to launch a new career as a media star.

Now, aged 28, Payne has opened up about how leaving Leeds United and moving on from football affected his mental health.

Neil Warnock included Sanchez Payne in his matchday squad as Leeds hosted Nottingham Forest in September 2012. Pic: Paul Thomas/Getty

“It hit really hard because it was the only thing I wanted to do for so long,” he told the BBC in his appearance on 28 Up: Millennium Generation.

“That experience was the first time in my life that I had negativity that I couldn’t combat.”

“I couldn’t smile, I couldn’t be happy, I couldn't do anything to get me out of this mindset.”

“A voice in my head told me that there’s more to come, that there’s going to be a brighter day.”

Sanchez Payne launches BBC Radio Bradford in 2020. Pic: BBC press release.

“Whatever that was, that voice kind of just broke through and I just started gradually coming out of that shell.”

Payne now hosts a show on BBC Radio Leeds and he is a trustee of the Leeds 2023 year of culture initiative.

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Luciano Becchio celebrates with the Elland Road crowd in 2013. Pic: Tim Keeton/Getty