Marvin Sordell is passionate about two of his core motivations: helping people and being creative. His football career took him to the likes of Fulham, Watford, Burnley and Bolton, picking up England under 21 and Team GB caps along the way. Now recently retired from the professional game, he’s as busy as ever…
In an interview with the Guardian, Marvin spoke of his struggles with depression and how poetry provides him an outlet when times get tough. Since then, he’s been using football to get people talking about mental health – not least through his new #LetsShirtTalk campaign in support of CALM. We caught up with the man himself to hear more about his journey…
You’ve spoken in the past about the ‘ruthlessness’ in football, what’s been the driving force for you to persist in your career and your love of the sport?
I wanted to be a professional footballer my whole life. Having worked so hard and having made so many sacrifices to become that throughout my younger years, once I finally achieved that dream I didn’t want to let it go. Even with all of the negative emotions and experiences that I encountered, I always just wanted to be playing football. The driving force for me persisting in this career initially came from a love for purely playing the game of football and nothing has changed since.
“Family and friends are vital to helping you escape the stresses of football. These are the people that help you to remain grounded and humble through your successful periods, whilst picking you up and helping you get through the difficult spells”
We hear you. The world of professional football must a highly pressurised environment, can you tell us about the support network you’ve created around you?
I think that having team mates that you have a good personal and working relationship with is important. In football you tend to spend a lot of time with your team mates, especially when you factor in travelling for away games, so it’s important to have people that you actually enjoy spending time with. Beyond that, your family and friends are vital to helping you escape the stresses of football. These are the people that help you to remain grounded and humble through your successful periods, whilst picking you up and helping you get through the difficult spells.
Having discussed your own personal battles publicly, what feedback have you had and have you found other sportspeople reaching out to you?
I’ve had an overwhelming amount of support and positive messages from friends, family members and also from strangers. I wasn’t expecting such a big impact and certainly not such a positive one, so it was amazing for me personally. I had many people say how brave it was and how it gave them courage to have this conversation themselves. I didn’t actually even speak about my own mental health to help anyone else or to inspire anyone. It was just me telling my story and putting it out there for the world to understand who I am. I quickly realised though, how powerful it can be to have this discussion, and not just for me but for so many others.
I also received a large number of messages from people who were currently or had previously gone through similar situations to myself and they told me how encouraging it was to have someone supposedly in the public eye talk so openly about their experiences. It certainly made me realise how much I could potentially do by using my voice and encouraging others to spread awareness.
Burton Albion’s Marvin Sordell wants to start a conversation about football and mental health. pic.twitter.com/dcRBqmxr7J
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 13, 2018
Would it have helped if more footballers had come before you and opened up about what they were going through?
Definitely so, yes! It would just make it so much easier to talk about such a difficult subject if people you know or look up to would have previously done so. In recent years a lot of current and former professionals have opened up about their mental health and I really believe that it’s going to be a snowball effect with more and more speaking out. Once the first person broke that barrier, it shows others that once you do so and get to the other side it will be okay.
“Even with all of the negative emotions and experiences I encountered, I always just wanted to play football. The driving force for me persisting in this career came from a love for purely playing the game of football and nothing has changed since”
You’ve said before “lots of emotions snowballed and became one big thing inside me”. Lots of people will empathise with that, how do you find a release?
For me it was about finding new things to do to bring enjoyment back to life. As with most football players, you find yourself in the game because of your love for playing. Where you essentially begin playing as a hobby it eventually becomes your job and once that happens, like every job out there, stressful periods arise. Normally where your release from stressful and depressing moments is to turn to your hobby, if that is the same as your job this can be an issue. I got my release through finding new hobbies via other outlets such as playing the piano and writing poetry, and this was fantastic for my mental health.
Check out one of Marvin’s poems, ‘Denis Prose’, below…
Where would you like your writing and poetry to take you?
I love to write, as for me it’s the best way to get my emotions out. I’m not naturally a great talker when it comes to these subjects, so I like to just free my mind by pouring my soul on to paper essentially. It also gives me another fun, creative outlet that I previously only had with football. I’ve just signed with the literary agency Bell Lomax Moreton, so I’m hoping to have the book I have written taken on by a publisher in the near future. It’s very exciting for me taking steps in a new world and I’m so lucky to be able to follow a second passion of mine whilst continuing in the original one.
“I got my release through finding new hobbies via other outlets such as playing the piano and writing poetry, and this was fantastic for my mental health.”
Why did you decide to get involved with CALM and what do you hope to achieve as a CALM ambassador?
For me it was all to do with CALM’s approach towards raising awareness. I see CALM as such an innovative and forward thinking charity, as well as being extremely proactive with things. I love the way CALM thinks about creative ways to tackle such a difficult subject in a unique manner. Hopefully I can work very closely with CALM and use some of my passion for creating to further add to what the organisation are already doing. It’s such an interesting way of going about things, and as Simon Gunning (CEO of CALM) mentioned when I spoke to him, ‘CALM is more than just a charity, it’s a movement’.
Into your football? Play for a team and want to make them a CALM club? Join the CALM Football Collective here.
Need support? Worried about someone? CALM’s free, anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat are open every day, 5pm-midnight. Get access here.
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