PFA member and QPR defender Grant Hall has spoken to football.london about returning from a career threatening injury and seeking support from the PFA on mental health.
Hall had played for Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur (which included loan spells Swindon Town, Birmingham City and Blackpool) before joining QPR in 2015.
He had settled well at Loftus Road, establishing himself as an ever present in the team under both Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Ian Holloway.
However, in April 2017, the 27-year-old was diagnosed with chronic tendonitis in his knee, an injury which jeopardised his career and resulted in him being side-lined him for almost two years.
Hall had initially tried to battle through the pain in his knee, but it became apparent that surgery was the only long-term option.
Hall explained: "It's difficult, going from playing pretty much every game in the first two seasons after I signed to then being hit with the knee injury and not really being able to play to my full potential for a year-and-a-half.
"I tried everything to avoid having an operation. I tried injections, I tried rehab, I went to see a specialist and I kept coming back and then breaking down again.
"It came to a point where I had to have the operation. I was in two minds about it because I'd read a few things and I wasn't sure.
"At one point I thought 'if this doesn't work it could be the end of my career' – there was a lot on the line.
"Thankfully the operation worked and I've had no issue with my knee whatsoever. It's taken a while but I'm in a place now where I've been mostly fit for the season so I feel good."
Research published by FIFPro the Worlds Players’ Association show that symptoms of mental health problems are more widespread in professional footballers than in the general population, in addition it found a strong correlation between severe injuries and surgeries and adverse impact on a player’s mental wellbeing.
Hall experiences seemed to reflect this finding: "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with, a lot of people in football don't see the ins and outs of what goes on with injuries and in football so it's hard for them to understand at times.
"I've only ever known football, so for that to be taken away from me and for me to have no control over what's going on, or knowing when I was going to be back, it was really difficult – to the point where there were times where I was depressed.
"I didn't really know what to do with myself and at times I had to try and stay away from football because I just couldn't be around it.
"People kept asking me 'when are you going to be back?' and I couldn't give them an answer.
"I knew the complications of the injury. Chronic tendonitis is not something that you can cure quickly. If the operation didn't go to plan then that could be it. It'd be the end of my career, I'd have to retire and I was thinking where do I go from here?
"It was all of these emotions sort of building up and I just didn't know how to deal with it."
The PFA has been working hard to increase player’s awareness of mental health and foster a more integrated approach to mental health with the game.
In 2018 the PFA held the second Injured conference at St George’s Park which gathers health-care providers from football clubs around the country to discuss how best to support players.
The PFA has a 24/7 counselling helpline for members and a national network of over 200 counsellors and to date over 1,000 current and former members have accessed mental health support via the PFA.
There have also been high-profile players willing to talk publicly about their own experiences of mental health – such as Steven Caulker, Danny Rose and Chris Kirkland.
For Hall, seeking help in the first instance was one of the hardest steps: "I'll be totally honest with you; I kept everything to myself.
"I didn't know who to discuss it with and that was the wrong thing to do.
"Everyone thought I was okay, but I wasn't and no one actually saw that within the club either, but I didn't expect them to because I acted normally, but I was in a bad place. A very, very bad place.
"I couldn't talk to my family because I didn't think they'd understand because they've not been in football, and I couldn't speak to anyone at the club.
"I felt it had to be someone outside of the club that knows how to deal with these situations and has been in these situations themselves.
"It's the sort of person I've been throughout my life. I just keep things to myself. Unless it's a serious problem which this was, I'd keep things to myself.
"I kept this to myself because I didn't know who to speak to about it."
When the defender did eventually share his feelings at training, he was surprised at how quickly he was able to get help.
"It was actually Les Ferdinand who put me on to someone from the PFA.
"It was just an insight into what he'd been through in his career and it really helped me out.
"Speaking to them was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I'd been struggling for so long.
"I'm glad that I came out and spoke about it and I'm happy to release that information now because I feel comfortable.
"I don't feel ashamed to talk about this sort of stuff and I don't think any footballer should.
"I'm really pleased that I went to speak with someone and I'm really grateful to the club and to Les Ferdinand as well who put me forward to the person I spoke to."
"It's opened my mind to the fact that it's okay to speak to people, and they'll understand.”
Getting support via the PFA…
The PFA provides members with a 24/7 counselling telephone helpline. This 'round-the-clock' support is available to all members past and present.
All services are private and confidential, PFA members (or concerned friends and family) can contact the PFA:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- PFA Members can call the 24hr Counselling Helpline: 07500 000 777