The majority of us males grow up dreaming of becoming a footballer. We go through adolescence thinking if we can start performing like a young Lionel Messi then we might just get scouted. You may have had friends that were already at clubs and had to play for their careers 24/7. We either get there or we don’t. 99% of us don’t of course. We then switch to an all out attack on booze and possibly chasing girls around, work or further education. Either way we do our best to have a good time, usually at the expense of our bodies.
We hit our 30’s and start to worry about our health a little more. Imagine if we had made it in the game we love: in our 30’s we would still been in prime physical condition looking like we were still in our 20’s. Then we would head towards retiring from playing and start looking for a new career. You would think “I’ll move into club management” – seems like an easy transition, bad job security perhaps, but it’s the obvious course to take.
Start as a coach and get promoted to gaffer, the textbook way in to that first role, learning on your feet. You start thinking “I was a good player, I understand the game and tactics, I have my coaching badges, plus no more worrying about career threatening injuries or any of that, good money … and bombs? What? No one said anything about bombs.”
Neil Lennon found out that the transition from player to coach and then ultimately to manager is not all it is cracked up to be. Recently it has been big news that a parcel bomb was sent to Lennon and two other fans. I don’t know if any other job in the world would have that amount of danger attached to it other than a soldier or bomb disposal expert. But throughout his football career Lennon has not had the easiest of times; Lennon has battled depression since 2000 and in 2008 Lennon was attacked in Glasgow. The icing on the cake was this year, pre-parcel bomb, when he was sent live bullets in the post.
The depression may not be attributed to football, but the attack, bullets and parcel bomb were a direct result of his involvement with football and enough to push any human being over the edge.
But life as a football manager in general is pretty stressful regardless of random nutters trying to harm you or kill you. Stress is the number one killer of managers and Lennon must suffer from a lot of stress with all that is going on around him and he wouldn’t be the first. There is a long history of health related problems involving football managers and it has been stated that managers are particularly susceptible to heart disease.
There is plenty of evidence to support this, perhaps the most shocking occurring back in 1985 when Jock Stein died from a heart attack during a Wales v Scotland game. Since then an alarming trend has materialised in the wellbeing of managers and the list is long and distinguished; Allardyce, Souness, Ferguson, Dario Gradi, Joe Kinnear, and Barry Fry are just some of the managers who have suffered from heart problems.
We have recently seen a reoccurrence of Gerard Houllier’s heart problems. He was rushed to hospital in 2001 whilst manager of Liverpool to undergo emergency heart surgery, an operation that took 11 hours. He has recently been given the all clear from the latest scare and has been strongly advised that for the good of his health he should cease his managerial career.
The pressure managers are put under has been commented on by medical experts in light of the Houllier situation. Dr Duncan Dymond who has worked with Chelsea was on TalkSport highlighting the dangers managers can be in:
“You only have to look at the pressure managers are under on the touchline. Their faces go red, the veins stand up in their necks, they get a bad decision and their blood pressure goes up. A lot of managers went through an assessment and their blood pressures goes up to the sky.”
What you may not know is that the League Managers Association (LMA) offer a programme to managers called ‘fit to manage’ which monitors manager health levels. There have been long term trials happening. You may remember Allardyce and Dave Bassett were monitored during a Leicester v Bolton match in 2001 and the programme has been running since then.
But maybe in this modern day game it is not enough. Houllier’s recent scare has highlighted the pressure that managers are under, but he is experiencing just the regular pressure of being a Premier League manager – Neil Lennon is a whole different kettle of fish. There is no way people in any job should have to put up with this situation, but unfortunately some people have no limits. So kids, you may think football is a great career, but think again, football can be seriously bad for your health.