I read a huge number of footballers’ autobiographies for my Match Fit research and have to admit I wasn’t particularly expecting Craig Bellamy’s to be the standout it turned out to be. The Welshman was an aggressive player never far from controversy, meaning it is easy to assume he would fit into the macho stereotype that exists in the footballing world. You only have to read Bellamy’s prologue to realise that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are several mental health traps that professional footballers are prone to, all explored in Match Fit (release date 28th August), and it is evident from his autobiography that Bellamy experienced many of these. The early chapters tell a tale of loneliness as Bellamy first made it as a professional, moving across the UK from his hometown of Cardiff to Norwich. Now on his own for the first time, he suffered deeply from homesickness, causing an inner pain which Bellamy says shaped him for some time. Football is of course different from most professions in that players regularly move vast distances, either uprooting or leaving their families behind in the process, depending on where work is available. They are effectively rootless for the start of their adult lives. The homesickness this brings can be challenging for many, and Bellamy is honest in admitting this affected him deeply. He goes as far as saying he was much happier in his childhood than as a professional footballer, feeling lonely “behind gates and walls with fancy intercom systems with built-in cameras.”
As Bellamy’s career progressed, he was hit with a number of persistent injuries that prevented him reaching his full potential. It is a frustrating experience that many players go through, often making a player feel useless as they are unable to carry out their job. Bellamy tried to deal with this by acting as though the injuries didn’t exist – a form of avoidance coping, as clinical psychologist Dr David Blakelock puts it in the interview I conducted with him for Match Fit. Bellamy explains he was trying to avoid ‘bringing football home’ to his family by not discussing his problems with them, but ended up making the situation worse as he internalised all his worries and made himself extremely unhappy in the process. Later on in his career, when Bellamy was at Cardiff City, his marriage broke down as he continued to struggle to deal with his injury problems. Bellamy’s tale reflects the importance of removing the stigma around mental health and instead opening up about problems you are facing before they become overpowering.
The turning point in Bellamy’s mental health journey was the tragic death of friend and former teammate Gary Speed. Bellamy was particularly affected by the news when retrospectively looking for the signs that might have indicated Speed was feeling depressed. Those who knew Speed described him as prone to shutting himself off and a glass-half-empty man, traits which Bellamy recognised in himself. Worried he could find himself reaching similar lows with his mental health, Bellamy utilised the support of psychiatrist Steve Peters to help him “see things more rationally.” Bellamy’s autobiography came out in 2013, but he has continued to prioritise his mental health since then. In 2021, for example, he quit a good job at Belgian club Anderlecht, admitting he needed to be back home with his family to prevent depression from consuming him.
The honesty with which Bellamy writes about mental health makes GoodFella an excellent read. It gives a real-life example of the mental health challenges unique to the industry of football and can be used as something for the football world to learn from. It is a good read for anyone, whether you were in the love him or hate him camp during Bellamy’s playing days.
About Johnnie Lowery
Johnnie is a football writer. His first book, Six Added Minutes, was written while he was at university and published in November 2019. With strong reviews from the likes of Jeremy Vine and Jacqui Oatley, it is selling well online. His second book, Match Fit, explores mental health in football. It looks to raise mental health awareness and is inspired by Lowery’s own struggles as a teenager, when he did not understand why he was feeling down.