FREDDIE FLINTOFF – HIDDEN SIDE OF SPORT: Wednesday 11th January, BBC1, 10.45pm
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a sports star at the peak of their game suffering from depression was laughable. “People think that because you’re so successful in your field, you automatically live in a state of emotional nirvana..” says ex British Table Tennis player and sports columnist Matthew Syed. “But that just isn’t the case.”
I personally remember Aston Villa striker revealing that he was suffering from depression – without much sympathy from the press – in the late nineties. Thankfully, little over ten years on, those attitudes are deemed archaic.
Collymore isn’t featured in this excellent documentary, presented by England cricketing legend Freddie Flintoff. Maybe he simply couldn’t fit him in, because there are no shortage of sporting mega-stars willing to come forward and talk about their own battles with mental illness. Former Snooker World No.1 Graham Dott explains how he cried into his towel during one match, football hard-man Vinny Jones recalls how he considered shooting himself and Ricky Hatton opens up about how his battle with depression ended with Manny Pacquiao dumping him on the canvass in 2009.
The uber-divisive Piers Morgan also offers some interesting perspectives on the issue by explaining the attitudes of the tabloid media to those representing their country. As Flintoff chats to him, the subject of Steve Harmison – a close friend of Flintoff and a man who suffered in silence for many years – comes up, and Flintoff tells Morgan how angry he was with the journalist back during England’s disastrous Ashes tour of 2006. No matter what you think of Morgan, listening to him explain how the media felt that sports stars were fair game certainly adds something to the debate and it’s certainly good to get an opinion from behind the newsdesk (as it were). Some might find him talking about how the papers “take such issues more seriously than they did in my day” rather ironic though.
One of the most poignant moments of the whole documentary comes in the opening stages when Harmison wells up as he and Flintoff look back at photos of their 2009 Ashes victory. “That’s my favourite” says Freddie, to which his mate responds; “for me, that’s the end.”
Attitudes towards depression have improved no end in recent years and such a programme would be a valuable no matter who the contributors, but the fact that so many world class sportsmen (no women are featured – make of that what you will) are willing to open up about it, will rightly add weight to the subject matter. The fact that sports stars might be more susceptible to such problems is touched upon here, yet the real message is that they are just as human as the rest of us. Moving stuff.