THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

wsc301 A stalwart defender has made a startling confession to the Norwegian press about how retirement affected him, writes Lars Sivertsen

"Depression and the emptiness after the end of my career was probably the main reason. I was 35 years old and an injury deprived me of a life on the top shelf overnight. My status disappeared." Such confessions are becoming sadly familiar.

Another retired footballer explaining why his life descended into chaos and substance abuse after he hung up his boots. But these are not the words of a fallen superstar – they come from former Southampton defender Claus Lundekvam. The Norwegian's relative obscurity only makes his story all the more chilling. It suggests the problem could be far more widespread than previously assumed.

It is difficult for the average person to appreciate what giving up a life in the spotlight really entails. For the real stars of the game there is lingering popularity to fill some of the void. There are still autographs to be signed, free drinks to be drunk, media appearances and after dinner speaking to stroke the ego and gradually wean you off the drug of attention. But really, after he has won his last header and booted his last clearance into the stands, who remembers an unshowy centre-back?

"I had prepared myself for it for a long time, but when the day came when I was no longer going in for training, I just had this feeling that I no longer mattered." Lundekvam, now 38, recently spoke candidly to the Norwegian media about his struggles after injury forced him to retire back in 2008. He told the newspaper Dagbladet about how the high life he was introduced to as a player led to his downfall after he retired.

"The footballing culture, maybe especially in England, involves a lot of partying and alcohol. That's how it is always going to be," he explains. But it did not stop with alcohol: "In today's football and society, cocaine has become a part of the party scene. The availability, the acceptance, it's a fashion. Especially in the circles you hang out in as a Premier League player."

As an active player he had to moderate himself in order to do his job, but as an ex-player there were no such hindrances. At one point, Lundekvam now recalls, he took up to ten grams of cocaine and drank two bottles of spirits every day.

"I quickly came into a cycle where I would go out, drink and do cocaine. At the same time I tried to handle everyday life and be in sync with my family and my two young daughters, who were in school. When I came home at 8am I had to counter with valium and sleeping pills. I'd often take ten of each." His attempt to mix the constant partying with being a family man failed. After six months, his long-standing girlfriend Nina moved out, taking their two daughters with her.

With his family gone, Lundekvam lost the final thing holding him back and his life went off the rails entirely. He was almost constantly high, drunk or both. When he was down and sober paranoia set in. "I was convinced the whole world was watching me. It's incredible that I didn't hurt myself more badly than I did. I jumped out of windows and crawled around in the garden with a huge knife because I thought the trees were full of paparazzi. I removed all the indoor spotlights from my house because I thought they were cameras."

The madness reached its peak one night when Lundekvam had a friend book him a one way flight to Rio de Janeiro the next morning. "My plan was to take what money I had left and have fun as long as I could. I was going to drink myself to death. It wouldn't have taken long. Thankfully I overslept that morning and didn't make the flight."

The turning point was provided by the Sporting Chance Clinic. On May 17, 2010, he checked himself in. A few months later he was declared well enough to return to his family. For the last 18 months he has worked as a pundit on Norwegian television, covering Premier League broadcasts and offering genuine insight into the game. He may have won the battle, but the rest of his life is set to be a protracted war
against addiction.

From WSC 301 March 2012

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