Ex-Professional Footballer and mental health advocate, Chris Kirkland paid a visit to the CEL offices, where he spoke to staff about his journey with addiction, his current recovery journey, and his mental health advocacy.
Originally from Barwell in Leicestershire, Chris was always extremely passionate about football, so much so that his dad and some family friends had placed bets that he would play for England before the age of thirty. Chris’ eventually earned a spot on the England team, resulting in a £10,000 pay out for each member of the group.
In an 18-year professional career, Chris played for many successful clubs including Coventry, Liverpool, and Wigan. He made over 300 league and cup appearances and won one cap for England. Eventually, Chris began coaching goalkeepers, including those at Port Vale and Liverpool FC Women.
Mental Health and Addiction
During the pinnacle of his footballing career, Chris found himself suffering with back spasms. Eager to continue playing, he resorted to taking Tramadol, a painkiller regularly prescribed to footballers. Not only did the pills alleviate his back pain, but they also eased the anxiety triggered by travelling away from his family. Regrettably, what was initially intended as a remedy for pain spiralled into a decade-long struggle with painkiller addiction.
Following his departure from Wigan Athletic, Chris started to experience the weight of depression. This, compounded with his addiction to painkillers, left him with frequent hallucinations, severe illness, and suicidal thoughts. He credits his wife and daughter’s constant support as the only thing that kept him from giving in to despair.
“I went out onto the roof […] I thought ‘I just don’t want to live anymore.’ But as I went to jump off, I felt a pull back and there was no one there, but I knew it was my wife and my daughter back home.”
At this point, Chris acknowledged that he needed help and phoned his wife to confide in her about his addiction. Opting to quit ‘cold turkey’, Chris faced many challenges, including a relapse during lockdown, a tough period for many.
Chris’ Recovery and Advocacy
Chris described his first rehab experience as a ‘bubble’, where his wife and a close friend were the only people to know about his secret addiction, making it easier for him slip back into it. He credits his successful recovery to openly admitting that he had a problem, thus holding himself more accountable.
Chris now openly discusses his battle with addiction and how he empowered himself to overcome it. His recovery has allowed him to be more present and enjoy meaningful moments with his family and friends. Additionally, in his free time, Chris also supports multiple charities, including S Foodbank, for which our staff has been collecting donations for the past few weeks.
The Impact on Staff
Chris’ vulnerability resonated deeply with our staff, with many of them engaging in further discussion after his talk and lengthy Q&A session.
“It was interesting to get insight from a professional athlete and to hear a side of football that is rarely mentioned.”
“Chris was a really honest and open speaker. It was a very emotive topic but heartfelt based on Chris sharing his personal experience. We do prioritise good mental health at CEL Solicitors, but it was eye opening to see and get a better understanding of how we might not always see what people are struggling with and going through. It’s rare we have so many questions at the end, so it clearly made a big impact and resonated with staff.”
“My biggest takeaway was learning about painkiller addiction in the UK, the new policies coming in to change this, and how popular this addiction is, especially with footballers.”
“It wasn’t until he told his wife and asked her to help that he was able to progress. Fighting by yourself doesn’t work.”