LONDON: Aaron Lennon featured in two England World Cup finals squads and played alongside Luka Modric and Gareth Bale at Tottenham Hotspur but now retired his goal is to help footballers suffering from mental health issues.
The 35-year-old former winger told The Times on Saturday “this is a big passion for me” and a personal one too after he was detained in April 2017 by police over fears for his welfare and was hospitalised.
Lennon was at Everton at the time and staying with his brother but was unnerved when a mental health worker visited the house.
“I said, ‘I’m just going to the shop.’ Even my brother was wary. ‘No, I’m fine, don’t worry.’ I played it cool. I put on a mask for a long period of time,“ said Lennon, who retired from football in November last year.
“I ended up trying to make my way back to my apartment but couldn’t grasp which way to go.
“There were reports I was on the motorway in bare feet. I wasn’t. I was in my trainers. I panicked.”
Lennon, who was a member of the England side that lost to Portugal in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final on penalties, said he was at his lowest ebb.
“The next day I was in the Priory (a specialist hospital for mental health issues).
“I was scared, suicidal, I was hearing voices.
“Psychosis. I’d fully gone, fully suicidal, lowest you could be, didn’t want to be here.
“I remember being in the room, I just really wanted it to end.
Lennon -- who regrets leaving in 2005 his beloved Leeds United for whom he made his professional debut in the Premier League aged just 16 (2003) -- said he reached his nadir due to a mixture of footballing and personal problems.
“I had other stuff going on, stuff in my family, I was in and out of bad relationships,“ he said.
“I should have left Tottenham earlier. I wasn’t in a great place. That depression was creeping in.
“I was sleep deprived. Some days (I’d get) no sleep.
“My head would be racing. That was a spiral. My mind was not functioning properly, really badly out of control.”
Lennon credits then Burnley manager Sean Dyche for being especially sensitive to his travails when he moved there in January 2018, a few months after his being hospitalised.
“Sean Dyche was great for me,“ he said.
“Amazing man-manager. There were still times when I was having bad days when I worked at Burnley, many low days, and he gave me that freedom.
“Sean really understood. He’d call me in to the office and actually asked me how I was.”
Lennon -- who spent 10 years at Spurs and credits Modric, Bale and “that great man-manager” Harry Redknapp as being his inspirations -- says he has taken the first tentative steps in funnelling his experience into helping professional footballers.
“This is a big passion for me where I can help people now,“ he said.
“Part of my character is to help people. I’ve had early conversations with people in football (about how to help).”
Lennon has developed a routine to prevent himself slipping back into the bad times -- meditating for 15 minutes every morning, hot and cold showers, and writing down daily how he is feeling.
He says due to their high profile footballers will be especially susceptible to suffering from mental health issues.
“It’s a societal issue, but it’s a massive issue in football, especially with social media,“ he said.
“People forget football’s up and down, you score on the weekend and you’re a legend, you miss a chance on the Tuesday and you’re hated again, bombarded with all these messages: ‘Get out of the club’.” - AFP