Soccer

Young players taking their life should not become a norm – Tareiq Holmes-Dennis

Tareiq Holmes-Dennis worries about players’ mental health (Richard Sellers/PA)
Tareiq Holmes-Dennis worries about players’ mental health (Richard Sellers/PA) Tareiq Holmes-Dennis worries about players’ mental health (Richard Sellers/PA)

Players could harm themselves if not given enough support during times of crisis, according to former Huddersfield youngster Tareiq Holmes-Dennis.

The defender was forced to retire in 2020, aged just 24, after a serious knee injury.

Holmes-Dennis needed counselling when his career was cut short and while he feels concern for player welfare has improved, claims there needs to be a prolonged push to aid those in need.

Huddersfield Town v Reading – Sky Bet Championship – Play Off – Final – Wembley Stadium
Huddersfield Town v Reading – Sky Bet Championship – Play Off – Final – Wembley Stadium Tareiq Holmes-Dennis was part of the Huddersfield squad promoted in 2017. (Mike Egerton/PA)

Former Manchester City youngster Jeremy Wisten took his own life in 2020 after being released following a battle with a knee injury and Holmes-Dennis worries about the mental health of others.

“When you see young boys that have taken their life because they can’t cope – coping with the stresses of being released – it should never get there,” he told the PA news agency.

“You don’t want it to become a norm. There are so many people going through situations where they are mentally struggling.

“It is starting to be highlighted a bit more. Some clubs in particular are putting time and effort into giving the resources to players and, ultimately, it’s players who make the club perform.

“Their welfare should be at the forefront but it’s relatively new, mental health and player welfare and making sure players are in a good physical and mental space.

“There is a magnifying glass on that now which is good because it is easy to look from the outside and say ‘you’re paid to do X, Y, Z’. There’s a lot more that goes into that and there’s a lot of repercussions for players off the pitch if their mental health isn’t in the right place.

“It’s clear an effort is being made to understand what players go through and what can be done to best aid them.”

The 27-year-old, now working at agency Wasserman, suffered a serious knee injury on his Portsmouth debut in 2017 while on loan at Fratton Park from Huddersfield.

He slipped on the artificial surface around the pitch and, after three years of injury battles and aborted comebacks, was forced to retire prematurely.

Other players have returned from a similar injury, including Jack Whatmough and Jack Robinson, who played with Holmes-Dennis at Pompey.

However, being forced to quit left the former England Under-18 international feeling bereft.

“I saw a counsellor to get over it. I learned speaking about it was the biggest thing. I didn’t want to hold it in,” said Holmes-Dennis, who was part of the Huddersfield squad promoted to the Premier League in 2017.

“I also didn’t want to be annoying people but I know my family loved me and understood what I was going through was difficult because they’d seen my journey.

“It was just a dark, dark time. Losing that routine, losing that drive to wake up and do something. You’re used to preparing in a certain way, being an elite athlete and living the elite lifestyle to then feeling irrelevant.”

Holmes-Dennis’ situation is not unique and left a promising young player facing up to the reality of having his career and life torn away.

After starting his career at Charlton, joining Huddersfield in 2016, Holmes-Dennis made 107 senior appearances – including 30 for Bristol Rovers – before the injury he suffered against Rochdale on August 5, 2017.

To aid players like him, the Professional Footballers’ Association has joined with a law firm, Stewarts, to offer current and former players a legal dispute management service.

The PFA already offers club workshops, a 24/7 helpline, a national network of 250 counsellors and residential support via the Sporting Chance Clinic.

Also available to members is a wellbeing network and, in 2021-22, 600 accessed the service, resulting in more than 7,000 therapy sessions.

In the last 10 months, the PFA has also appointed former Arsenal executive James King as its general counsel.

Sports disputes lawyer at Stewarts, Barrington Atkins, added: “We know player wellbeing is very much at the heart of what the PFA does, and we aim to help players tackle any issues before they start to impact their wellbeing.”

Portsmouth v AFC Bournemouth – Pre-Season Friendly – Fratton Park
Portsmouth v AFC Bournemouth – Pre-Season Friendly – Fratton Park Holmes-Dennis wants more support for players. (Daniel Hambury/PA)

Players will be provided with advice on problems relating to injuries, employment, divorce and family issues, tax disputes and media-related issues – a service which Holmes-Dennis feels is much needed.

“It’s massive because it’s a stress you wouldn’t want to take on your own,” he said. “You might not understand how to navigate the situation.

“As long as there’s an awareness and the culture is shifting to actually caring about players – physically and mentally – and not just for tonight’s game or tomorrow’s game, then there’s progress.

“Players want to play but whether they are capable, able or physically and mentally ready to do so is another thing.”

Bristol Rovers declined to comment when contacted by the PA news agency.