A few years ago, Matty Turner was starring alongside Joe Cole and Michael Carrick in an England shirt, these days he’s turned his hand to rescuing footballers from deadly addictions.
At the age of 35 he has experienced the ultimate highs and soul destroying lows of professional football, the very ingredients to feed addictive personalities. Matty has set up the successful Red Umbrella organisation in a bid to prevent players from succumbing to their addictions; yes, you heard that right, “their addictions”!
It’s at this point that people need to know just how just how commonplace and widespread this epidemic really is; there are vast numbers of top level pro ballers harbouring addictions such as drink, drugs, legal highs, and gambling. It’s gotten to the point where major Premier League clubs are willing not only to acknowledge the issue, but enlist top level help from the likes of Red Umbrella. What’s also essential to understand here is that this isn’t a problem that can be tackled by sports psychologists, “they can help with the here and now but often fail to identify the root cause of addictions” said Matty.
Matty suffered with drink, drug, and gambling addiction at various times during his career and is not ashamed to admit it, he has learned to embrace his illness in order to save others from the same fate. Most people will probably roll their eyes when they hear of a highly-paid footballer with gambling or alcohol issues, but if you’ve ever experienced such an illness or have watched it debilitate a member of your own family like I have, then you’ll pay particular attention to the likes of Red Umbrella. Mr Turner currently deals with six professional football clubs, at both Championship and Premier League level and is eager to enlist many more. I asked him if it was mainly for financial gain that he created the company; “When I was at rock bottom, I’d have gone to China to get help, I was so desperate; I’m doing this because I’ve been through it”.
It was at Nottingham Forest that a young Matthew Turner came to prominence, he was part of that famous academy side, managed by Paul Hart. He played alongside Andy Reid, Jermaine Jenas, David Prutton, Michael Dawson and Co, but the player he rated above all of those mentioned has disappeared from the footballing radar altogether. Keith Foy played over forty times for the first team at Forest but was good enough for Manchester United in Matty’s eyes, sadly it was a gambling addiction that derailed his promising career in the end. There were almighty highs during Matty’s own time at Forest, like being linked with Manchester United and Inter Milan, not to mention his England caps at both, Under 16 and under 18 levels. He moved to West Brom after being disillusioned at Forest under David Platt, “I became a bad apple and began to rub everyone up the wrong way in the end, I literally forced myself out of the club”. His demons pursued him to the black country and after initial happiness, his mental health deteriorated once more. His recovery was made impossible by the fact that his reserve team manager was an alcoholic, taking training sessions whilst inebriated daily. A brief respite came in the form of his transfer to Danish club, Herfolge Boldklub (now HB Koge) before a shocking Achilles injury put a premature end to his career.
Following three operations and an ever-worsening mental state, Matty hung up his boots and was enveloped by addiction. He began to take cocaine, drink heavily and gamble his days away. It’s imperative to understand that regardless of social standing or wealth, your body is just a vessel like everyone else’s. Therefore, addictions will affect the affluent in the exact same way as the impoverished, it does not discriminate. The fact that a Premier League footballer has millions in his bank or a Bentley in his garage, it will never appease the demons in his mind. High profile sportsmen are subject to extreme adrenaline spikes, which if not addressed correctly, can cause serious mental health problems. Ricky Hatton, who attended the same rehabilitation clinic as Matty, publicly said that he struggled with life after retirement and the lack of euphoria it entailed. Issues that I for one would never have even thought about to be honest, but with the inflated wages comes high intensity and a lifestyle that cannot be emulated when the boots or gloves are finally hung up for good.
Matty couldn’t get his words out fast enough during our interview and I really got a feel for his passion and exuberance about something that he truly believes in. I was massively impressed to learn that Red Umbrella provide equal assistance for every member of staff at the clubs they deal with. So, whether you’re the star centre forward or working in the ticket office, you will receive identical support. “Confidentiality is paramount”, Matty explained as he went on to tell me that his highly-trained staff have all been affected by addictions themselves. “the only people who can actually help you properly in such a situation are ones who’ve experienced the same themselves”. Matty was adamant that if this epidemic is allowed to grow at its current rate, there will be at least one suicide as a result of addiction within the next two years.
He is currently talking to the Football Association about the possibility of covering every league club, and told me that along with the Premier league and the PFA, they’re all in agreement that there’s a big issue regarding addiction. Fortunately, Red umbrella has a terrific ambassador in the form of Alan McGee. He was the man who put Oasis on the road to fame back in the nineties and is the face of Creation Records, more importantly a man who fought alcoholism and has been dry since 1994. Another who is willing to use the darkness of his own past to enlighten those in times of real despair.
If you read the Daily Mail last week, you’ll have noted that 13 footballers had failed drug tests since 2012. Regarding the volume of cases that Mr Turner and Red Umbrella are facing, you’d be inclined to double that number and times it by ten. As Matty himself says “It’s a far bigger problem than people think”!
For information about Red Umbrella and the extensive treatments they provide, their website address is red-umbrella.co.uk