‘I started to drink when I was 13’ - Norwich City defender Timm Klose opens up on mental health battle
PUBLISHED: 13:13 10 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:14 10 October 2019
Norwich City defender Timm Klose has opened up about a battle with mental health which saw him turn to drink aged just 13 and break down after matches.
To mark World Mental Health Day, Klose, young midfielder Tom Scully, former player Cedric Anselin and the Community Sports Foundation's Dudley Garner hosted the hard-hitting debate.
Swiss international Klose, who is currently recovering from a knee injury, said despite coming from a "healthy family background, where money isn't really an issue" he struggled with feelings of not knowing what to do with his life.
"So I ended up in alcohol," he said, "I started to drink when I was 13 I think... My friends were all bit a older than me so they were drinking, they were smoking, all sorts of things."
He said: "I always wanted to become a footballer but I was in the youth team at FC Basel... and at the end of the year I struggled in school, I got kicked out of three schools and I was drunk most of the time, during breaks in schools I went to smoke. I was just in that world of dreams always, I was not really there."
He told his coach he was stepping back from football.
"I thought 'now I'm free', but soon afterwards I felt 'well I'm going to fall back in that hole', so I started to drink again, started to smoke even more.
"I had one night where I almost had a heart attack where I ended up on a park bench somewhere close to a lake, I don't know where it was, I was alone and I woke up in the morning all by myself, a bit wasted still, and then I was like 'okay now I need to wake up actually'."
He said after meeting his wife aged around 16, the pair worked through difficult times together, but he said he was still the person who "never wanted to talk about my problems".
While in his early 20s his football career took him to Germany, where he struggled with criticism on social media and eventually "shut down completely", not talking to his wife or family, fearful that opening up would make him look weak.
Instead, he said, he found himself in a routine of going to training, then returning home and playing Fifa until the early hours of the morning, grabbing a couple of hours sleep and going back to train.
Eventually, he found a coach to support his mental health and wellbeing, who he said he still speaks to regularly.
"It's good to talk to a neutral person," he said, "who is completely neutral, who won't judge you, who won't give you that 'everything's going to be okay'."
Today, Klose said he is happy to talk about his problems, but is not free of challenging times.
"When the thing happened with my knee, that kicked me back into so many bad memories," he said. "I started to think 'I'm 31 now' and you see how many young players come up and you think 'is it over?'"
Klose, who no longer smokes or drinks, reflected on one particularly difficult memory of a Norwich City loss.
"I made a mistake in the 90th minute and we lost the game 2-1," he said. "I remember walking off the pitch and thinking 'hold it together, as soon as you're alone you can burst into tears'.
"I held it together and then I saw my father, standing on the stand, just waiting for me."
He said he tried to brush off requests for interviews, agreeing to only do so if he could see his father first.
"As I walked to my dad I kept it together so much and I felt so strong, and my dad said nothing and gave me a hug and I started to cry so much.
"I was like 'why is this happening to me? I have done nothing wrong, I treat everyone as my friends, I think positive you know'. Now even more so than back then."
His struggles were echoed by Anselin, who has spoken openly in the past about previous suicide attempts and his long battle with depression.
"The men's view of mental health is we just brush it aside and try to be machos in some capacity," he said.
He said at the beginning of his football career he did not have an understanding of the world, or the right people around him.
"I thought everyone was my friend, but we all know in football you don't have friends, you can't really trust anyone, the only person you can trust is yourself and try to find your own path," he said.
He said he too turned to drink to cope.
"That was the way I was coping with everything, and a few times I used to drink in the car park and I was bursting into tears. I was coming through the doors, worried and petrified everyone would find out something was not right with me, locking myself in the bathroom before games."
He said he has made three previous attempts to take his life, and spent two months at Hellesdon Hospital in Norwich.
It was a doctor at the hospital who encouraged him to speak out, to help both himself and others. Their advice has seen him become an ambassador for mental health.
"It's very important if someone reaches out to you to not judge, but also to listen - I think listening is important. You don't have to say anything sometimes, just let that person talk," he said.
For under 23s midfielder Scully, mental health problems "crept up on [him]".
"It wasn't football-related, there wasn't a certain thing that started it, but I could see it coming," he said.
He said problems came to a head during an away match, after which he told his coach he would have to step back for a while, spending two weeks back in Liverpool, during which time he spoke to a counsellor.
"I sat outside the building for half an hour for the first time," he said.
"After the first hour, you know each other and it was very comfortable... You had nothing to worry about."
For Mr Garner, an accident just over 10 years ago was the catalyst for mental health problems.
While out in Norwich, a teenage driver lost control of their car, mounted the pavement and hit Mr Garner.
"I woke up a couple of days later in the N&N," he said. "When I woke up I tried to discharge myself, but I didn't know who my parents were, didn't know who my girlfriend was and as I sort of got a bit confused with everything I found out I'd fractured my skull, smashed my eye socket and broke my neck.
"Over the next 18 months I kind of didn't really know who I was."
He said, years later, his wife's decision to buy him a pair of trainers and sign him to up to a 10-kilometre race marked the start of a new chapter, in which a love of running helped brought him to his current career as a wellbeing coach.
If you are feeling low, or struggling to cope, call the Samaritans' 24/7 free helpline on 116 123.
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