Former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll has faced many challenges on the field, and successfully at that. But behind the facade of fame and success is a long-standing battle with depression.
In the latest Manchester United podcast, Carroll reveals how his drinking problem exacerbated his situation and damaged his mental health and even his marriage.
The importance of discussing mental health issues has never been more clear than now, with the world forced into isolation because of the pandemic. And Carroll wants everyone to know how things got so bad.
"Let me try and explain it,” he says in the podcast.
“I was doing the same thing every day. I was getting in that little hole, and it was getting bigger and bigger. Because I was injured I wasn’t even going into training – they had told me to take two months off.
"So I was getting into a routine, waking up about 10 o’clock, half ten. Drinking when I got up, drinking at lunchtime, drinking at teatime. The wife and the kids would come in and I was depressed that I couldn’t do anything. It was such a horrible feeling.
“Let me go back a little bit. I had a lot of good friends or I thought I had good friends and that was the big problem – that’s when I was at West Ham. And then I realised who my good friends were when I did hit rock bottom.”
My problem was that I didn’t think I had a problem. That’s the big problem
Carroll went into rehab in 2006. Although, it was not entirely just his decision.
“My wife knew,” he explains. “She knew I was in a bad way. That’s why I went to rehab. Basically my agent and my wife put me into rehab. I didn’t even know how bad I was at the time. I said, ‘No, I’m not going, I don’t want to go’. I ended up going for my wife and my agent. I just wanted to say I’ll go in for them. Mentally, in my head, I was thinking, ‘I’m not coming off the drink’.
“I was only in rehab for six days, I came back out and I was off the drink for a week and I had the press and everybody waiting outside my house. After a week they went away and I just went out drinking again.”
Unfortunately, his wife left him.
“It was down to me that I went off the drink because I woke up one day, I was separated, I had moved out of the family home. I was in an apartment in Canary Wharf in London. I woke up one day and looked in the mirror and said, ‘Who the hell am I?’ I didn’t even recognise myself in the mirror. I just had to change myself and I ended up going back to my wife, begging my wife to take me back. She never took me back straightaway but I’ve stayed dry ever since. That was nine years ago and 11 months from today.
“It’s still ropey – the depression. Sometimes I’m in the house and I can feel myself getting back into that routine because I don’t do anything during the day because the kids are at school and I don’t do the coaching until after 6 o’clock so I have to keep myself active. When you have too much time on your hands, that’s when you think too much.
“I didn’t want to go in to rehab. My problem was that I didn’t think I had a problem. That’s the big problem.”
Asked whether his back injury in the 2006 season triggered the depression, he said: “I think there were a lot of things happening. It was the injury and I got into stupid financial things with apartments and houses so there were a lot of financial problems as well. It all happened, all at once in that year. I couldn’t cope. I tried to hide it from my family.
“I didn’t even recognise myself. I knew I had lost my family, I’d basically lost football as well – I’m going to lose my life because the drinking I was doing was ridiculous. I was drinking, you name it, what was in front of me I was drinking it. I didn’t care how bad it was or how horrible it tasted I was drinking it. I knew I was probably going to end up dying if I kept doing what I was doing. It was that moment [when] something clicked in my head.”
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After the long drawn battle, Carroll advocates speaking about problems.
“Me and big Pat (McGibbon) talk about mental awareness and mental health in this part of the world and it’s serious over here with suicides in Northern Ireland, it’s really, really serious,” he says.
“The ones that you need to look out for are the ones that are always talking and joking around in the changing rooms like I was. I was a character. ‘Ring Roy up, he’s a character’. I even had arguments with my wife to get out – that’s the way I was going. I didn’t like myself. I look back now, every morning I wake up and my wife is still with me – I just say how much I love her every single day because it is fantastic that she is still with me.
“People say, ‘Why did you not talk about it then?’ At the end of the day, when you are earning so much money, why would you want to come out and talk about your problems? People just look at you and laugh at you. For me now, I talk about it because I don’t care what people think about me. I just want to help – if there are a hundred people and I can help one person then I would be over the moon.
“You look at Paul Gascoigne and all those players who played back in the ‘80s. They need help, they can’t do it themselves. I was lucky, I was a little bit strong enough to pull myself away from it. I got myself in that mess but I got myself out of it. I’m still fighting it as well – the depression. I’m not going to say that I’m not depressed – I do get depressed once in a while when you are sitting in and you are thinking about things. It’s all about thinking, thinking bad thoughts. There is always someone out there to talk to and that’s what I try to say to people – don’t be shy, talk to them.”
Carroll played 45 times for Northern Ireland and was substitute when they lost 1-0 to Wales in Euro 2016.
“That’s what hit me, when we lost against Wales,” he says. “I think that’s what hit me the most after what I’d been through, what I’d put my wife through. That’s what it was, it wasn’t the football side. I know it sounds bad, but it was what I put my family through and what I put myself through. To look back and be sitting on the bench. I thank [manager] Michael O’Neill for giving me the chance to come back again. It was brilliant.”
Carroll and Manchester United
Manchester United tried nine different goalkeepers between Peter Schmeichel leaving after winning the treble in 1999 and Edwin van der Sar arriving six years later.
Fabian Barthez, with 139 games over three seasons, played by far the most. The rest were Mark Bosnich, Raimond van der Gouw, Paul Rachubka, Andy Goram, Carroll, Nick Culkin, Ricardo and Tim Howard.
Some came as understudies, others promised a little or a lot, but none convinced. With 72 appearances, Carroll played the second most games in that period.
Carroll arrived from Wigan Athletic in 2001 and would stay at United for four years, finally becoming the main goalkeeper in 2004-05, his final season before he joined West Ham in 2005.
“You had Roy Keane who fought for the club, who fought for the players,” he said of his time at United.
“You had Rio Ferdinand who came in. He was a fighter as well. I learned a lot from Manchester United. Even when I came back to Northern Ireland to play for Linfield, I was still running around like a madman trying to win five-a-side games because Roy Keane was the same. Just winning, winning, winning. Because if you don’t have that winning mentality, there is no point being a professional sportsperson.”
Carroll isn't held in the same esteem as Schmeichel and Van der Sar, but he was popular with teammates and also a Premier League winner in 2002-03 and an FA Cup winner in 2004. His performance in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal was one of his best.
He was also United’s goalkeeper in what Alex Ferguson described as the best game in Premier League history, a 4-2 win at Highbury in 2005 when the goalscorers were Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. And John O’Shea.
He’s also known for a goal line let off against Spurs at Old Trafford when he fumbled the ball which had already crossed the white line and scooped it back across the line as he tried to recover from his significant embarrassment. He wouldn’t have got away with it in the VAR era.
Carroll played for so long that he was still wearing the gloves aged 41, into 2019 when he won the title with Linfield. Carroll played for 11 clubs in six countries including Hull City, Wigan Athletic, West Ham, Rangers, Derby County, Odense BK, OFI Crete, Olympiakos and Notts County.