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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Marvin Sordell shows how highs can trigger lowest lows

Marvin Sordell seemingly had it all.

Marvin Sordell of Burton Albion and Willy Boly of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)
Marvin Sordell of Burton Albion and Willy Boly of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)

He was just shy of his 21st birthday when he completed a multi-million pound transfer from Watford to the Premier League to join Bolton Wanderers. It was January 2012 and he had already been capped at England under-21 level.

That summer he would go on to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games.

If, from the outside, it appeared that a long and bright future in the game lay ahead, the reality was very different.

Just a year later Sordell had overdosed on tablets in an attempt to end the pain of depression.

“I had a conversation with my therapist, through my darkest period of the time, where she said it was very common that depression was normally triggered by a moment of success or a successful period in your life,” he reflects.

“I couldn’t understand why, because this was everything I had dreamed of; playing in the Premier League, playing for England and then going on to play in the Olympics.

“These were all my dreams coming true and not to be able to enjoy them was difficult.

“She said it was often because it leaves you with a void and makes you look inwards and, at the time, what was happening inwardly wasn’t great.”

Sordell is speaking ahead of a Guinness World Record attempt taking place at Dorking Wanderers’ Meadowbank Stadium.

The event has been organised by the mental health and suicide prevention charity, Beder, to raise awareness ahead of tomorrow’s World Mental Health Day.

Sordell has volunteered to take as many penalties as possible in the space of an hour, with 359 the number to beat.

“The majority of athletes go through extreme highs and lows in a small window of time which can be difficult to manage,” he continues.

“You can almost get stuck in that low and not feel those highs so much. It can be really difficult spending time on your own, travelling a lot, moving away from home or not having a support network around you, those things can really add to it.”

Goalkeeper Stuart Nelson was enlisted to help with the record attempt, which will be shown on Sky Soccer Saturday this afternoon.

The 40-year-old keeper, who assists the Sunflowers Suicide Support charity, lost his former Yeovil team-mate, Lee Collins, aged just 32, to suicide earlier this year.

“He was such a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, you’d never see it coming,” he says of Collins, who was born in Telford and came through the youth ranks at Wolves, and had a loan spell with Shrewsbury.

“It’s about raising awareness because we don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds.

“I used to room with him at times on away games.

“There’s always someone fighting their own struggles inside.

“Whether that be an easy struggle to deal with or a tough one.

“The situation I’ve seen first-hand, you don’t know what those troubles are until sometimes it’s too late.”

Taking the first steps to deal with depression can be hard for anyone, but especially elite sportsmen who are often painted as invincible.

Sordell is in a place now where he can see the signs and work at his mental health in the same way he does with his physical fitness, but he remembers the time when he needed to take that first step.

“I’d say try to find a way to communicate with somebody whether it’s a friend, family member, colleague, whoever it may be,” Sordell adds.

“When I say communicate I don’t necessarily mean just talk to people.

“It’s very difficult to talk. For me, how I first communicated was through writing poetry and sharing that with friends and family members.

“That was enough to start a conversation that was much more helpful, it broke the ice for me without having to be there to say it or even be there right in front of them to watch them read it.

“I sent an email and pressing send was very, very difficult.

“But it’s easier once I’ve typed something out and looked at it for a few days or a week to then press send.

“I couldn’t take that back, as opposed to setting up a conversation.

“That can be a very difficult thing and a very big hurdle to overcome, so communication can come in many different ways.”

Sordell retired from professional football at the age of 28.

He now runs a successful media production company as well as spending his time promoting the work of Beder through his role as an ambassador for the charity.

So what did he make of the charity’s challenge to take up the record attempt?

“The only thing that is going to be a bit helpful is that I can use both feet, which I’m lucky I can do.

“And also the fact that I don’t have to score!”

The official conditions for the record attempt proved to be quite testing.

Any penalty could only be taken once the ball from the previous spot-kick had been cleared from the goal and the entire penalty area.

“I thought diving after it and taking part was alright, but then they told me I’ve got to clear the box as well, otherwise the next penalty can’t be taken, so there’s going to be a bit of scrambling around doing this,” added Nelson, before he stepped into the goalmouth.

With an army of volunteers patrolling the perimeters of the box, behind the goal and in the stands, the record attempt proved to be an entertaining hour for all involved.

Tune into Soccer Saturday from 2pm this afternoon to see how Marvin got on.

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