Sunday 24 March 2019

Addiction issue must be tackled -- Quinn

Former striker believes the powers-that-be must prepare players for life outside game

Niall Quinn shows off his skills
Niall Quinn shows off his skills

Garry Doyle

Niall Quinn is a big, big man yet even he is dwarfed by the size of his ambition.

While a year and a half has passed since Quinn was last directly involved in soccer, the former Irish international striker and Sunderland chairman is still on a mission to save the sport from itself.

He knows it is a tall order, that his dissenting voice can get lost in the wilderness, yet as he spoke yesterday at Tiglin Rehabilitation centre in Ashford Forest, he made it clear that for all the reforms professional soccer has made, it is not out of the woods yet.

Only last month his former Arsenal team-mate Kenny Sansom came clean about his gambling addiction and how deep his problems have become. Another ex-colleague, and one of Quinn's closest friends, Tony Adams, had a similarly self-destructive streak, alcohol being his vice. And they aren't alone.

"There are many whose names and stories I can't talk about to protect their privacy," Quinn said. "Yet be in no doubt, there are deep problems in the game, both here and in England, and I think it is going to get worse.

"Young players now are so far removed from the real world in terms of the money they earn and the age they are earning it at. But the person on the street won't understand it, or won't have too much sympathy for any player who is on an incredible wage and who may be encountering some sort of addictive problem.

"But these players crash quicker and harder than most. And if they suffer from depression, they go that bit lower than the ordinary person."

Quinn does not pretend to have easy answers. He knows the business and the inherent selfishness most of its participants possess.


Yet when he reflects on his own career, charmed by the lucky breaks which made him the person he is today, he feels a duty of care to the next generation. And he also feels that the FAI, English FA and PFA could up their game when it comes to educating young players about life's perils.

"I actually believe every one of us has an addictive gene and if we let ourselves go down that channel of that addiction, we suffer," said Quinn.

"The difference is some people like me have support around us, in my case a great family. When I was young and carefree, all I could think of was the next night out and the next horse to back. Then the family came along and they put me on the right track.

"When I heard the news about Kenny recently, it came as a shock. We all used to go for a drink together when we were at Arsenal and Kenny wasn't one of your guys who studied the 'Racing Post'. When he gambled, he went for the names of horses he liked and put all his money on it.

"He is a lovely fella who hit the slippery slope and it's great that he is back on the coaching ladder with Glenn Hoddle's coaching company in Spain.

"Yet there will be more stories like his unless something is done to stop it. The PFA, and the associated bodies within the game, are having to work an awful lot harder to deal with these worrying issues.

"The first thing I'd say is they didn't see the problem coming but, to be fair to them, they seem to be getting their act together. I had a good chat with Gordon Taylor, the PFA secretary, recently and he made a reasonable point, saying there is a lot of good stuff they do that they cannot talk about because they have to protect the anonymity of the player in trouble.

"Still, some people would argue they don't do enough. I think of Tony Adams, one of my best friends ever, and think of the horrors he went through. Tony saw the problems that players are going through 10 years before I saw it.

"When it finally dawned on me that the whole world wasn't a happy place, I was looking around at so many players whose marriages had broken down, players with problems with addiction and depression.

"What struck me then was that I wished I had a longer education, that instead of going away to England at 16, that I had hung around to get a university education."

Realistically, though, only a few players will be persuaded by Quinn's argument. For so many, a pro contract is akin to a winning lottery ticket and the education system is considered a much less attractive prospect than the generosity of a footballing pay-packet.

Yet having heard so many dark stories from so many different players, Quinn has no plans to stay quiet in his retirement. His will be a voice. Football clubs and their governing bodies better get used to his agenda.


"There are issues unique to footballers," Quinn said. "In the old days, if you were any good, clubs helped you through it. If you weren't, you were cast aside and told to get on with it yourself.

"For me there is a better interaction there now between the club and the player. I saw it at Sunderland. When I left the club as a player, Kevin Kyle was the happiest kid ever. When I came back, he had a big gambling issue and within a week he came into my office and poured his heart out to me.

"These days he is superb now at getting the message out, speaking to 16, 17-year-olds, alerting them to the dangers that go with being a young footballer on big money. The bottom line is that football associations need to prepare people for the possibility that their careers will not work out.

"In this country, we have got away with that issue for years and are still churning kids out, throwing them over to England to see how they get on. I would like to see them protected. I'd like to see them educated so that they are men when they get over there as opposed to boys."

* Niall Quinn was speaking at the opening of the new football pitch at Tiglin Rehab centre in Wicklow, which provides support to people who suffer from addiction.

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