After a career spanning 17 years and taking in spells at 22 clubs, when Drewe Broughton checked into the Sporting Chance Clinic he was a broken man.
Addiction had seen him lose his house, his family and be declared bankrupt, and the only thing he had known since leaving home as a 15-year-old was over. He was no longer a footballer.
As a player, Broughton was the archetypal target man, physically dominant and with an eye for goal, he had come through the ranks at Norwich City with the likes of Craig Bellamy and had been tipped for a bright future.
He achieved his dream of making in the professional game.
In a career that saw plenty of loan spells, Broughton did enjoy some successful spells with the likes of Peterborough United, Kidderminster Harriers and Rushden & Diamonds, and it had been financially a success, too.
But for much of his career Broughton, who played for Chester City during the 2006/2007 season, was plagued with self doubt.
A fierce willingness to succeed saw him place a heavy burden on his shoulders, and when his form dipped and the criticism rained down from both fans and managers, it sent him on a downward spiral.
Here he was, 33 years old and sleeping in his car. His personal demons had put paid to his career, his home and his family life. He was at rock bottom.
“The career had finished. I was 32 and Lincoln had just been relegated,” said Broughton, speaking to the Chronicle.
“I was struggling mentally. All the pressure over the years, the pressure from managers and from the stands, it had all got to me. I was so competitive. I never met anybody during my career who had more desire or who had more of will to win than me.
“Football was my drug, my addiction. I put it above everything else.
“When I checked in to Sporting Chance I was broken, I had no job, I had nothing. I wasn’t a footballer anymore, I didn’t have that. Was I a family man? No. I had blown that, too.
“When I was in there I went back to basics. All the stuff that had gone on, I had to go back to the 10-year-old me, what he wanted from life, what his dreams were and the person he wanted to be.
“At 33 it was the scariest thing I had ever done. My dream was over and I was a shadow of the man I was and everything I had held myself up to be was finished.
“I was riddled with self doubt but had to keep walking out there week after week, season after season to be shamed and judged, to be told I wasn’t good enough. It had finally taken its toll. Twenty two clubs in 17 years, could you imagine having taken that to an employer in any other line of work? I had nothing left to give.”
Financially, football had been kind to Broughton, but having been single for a large part of his career, he had little responsibility until he married and became a father in his late 20s.
And while some footballers may have toiled with gambling or drink addictions, Broughton had other vices, vices that, combined with the mental struggle he faced in taking to the football pitch week in, week out, would bring him to his knees.
“It wasn’t drink or anything, I had never had a problem with that, but I used to be addicted to spending money,” admitted Broughton.
“I used to go out and spend a £1,000 and not think about it. I used to use it as a crutch, as a way to feel better.
“Then there was women. I was a married man but I would be sleeping around, paying money for hookers. It sounds so awful, so seedy, but to me it was an addiction, something that I used to forget about the pressure of football.
“The whole Tiger Woods thing, I kind of understood all that because he was battling with demons himself and it ended up costing him his marriage and at the expense of his family life.
“It cost me my marriage and when I came to check into Sporting Chance I was bankrupt, I had lost my house, was sleeping in my car and on my brother’s sofa and had lost everything. I had paid the price.
“My personal life mirrored my professional life - complete inconsistency. My ex-wife saw glimpses of the real me, but they were all too brief. I had never wanted to lie and cheat, I never wanted to hurt those close to me. Looking back me and my ex-wife were never meant to be, we were two broken people. But I always wanted to do right, I am a good man and a giving man, but I couldn’t deal with my addictions and it was the only way I could cope. I never wanted to inflict that pain and misery on another human being.”
Broughton arrived at Chester in the summer of 2006.
Signed by then manager Mark Wright, his arrival had been the physical presence up front that Wright had been yearning for.
And he was in good company that season, too, with would-be Everton and Belgium manager Roberto Martinez and now Premier League marksman Jon Walters among his teammates.
But despite scoring the opening goal of the 2006/2007 season for the Blues in a home win over Accrington Stanley, his time at Chester was not a happy one.
“My time at Chester was torture for me,” he admitted.
“There had been rumours during the summer about me going to the Championship after a great season at Rushden & Diamonds but that never materialised. It got later and later and there was no interest until Mark Wright rang me.
“Chester were paying well at the time and we had some good players like Roberto Martinez and Jon Walters.
“As soon as I went in there I was putting myself under pressure to play well, to make a mark. I was thinking I would score 20 goals and then move up again. But I couldn’t cope and the demons were in my head.
“Mark Wright and Graham Barrow even pulled me in and asked what was wrong, why was I struggling the way I was? They suggested it might be to do with my fitness, but I had always been a fit guy.
“We agreed I would come in and do some tests to gauge my fitness. I smashed them all and my fitness was through the roof but when it came to the night before a game I was terrified, I couldn’t sleep a wink and I turned up tired. Obviously that means you are never in the right frame of mind to play football. To the fans it would have looked like I was lazy, like I wasn’t trying - I could hardly jump! The truth is I was trying so hard but couldn’t cope with the mental side of things.”
His departure from Chester would see him continue on the football ‘hamster wheel’, unable to get off. He had gone from in-demand frontman to lower league journeyman. It was another blow.
Said Broughton: “I ended up scratching round for reserve games and looking for any chance I could to prove myself. But I was ashamed every time I didn’t deliver. In a full season I would get maybe only seven or eight games where I was my true self, where I was happy.
“After Lincoln got relegated I got a lot of stick. I was one of the club’s top earners and at that time they were paying pretty well, so I was the person who people wanted to vent their anger at, and I understood that.
“After that I was a broken man, I needed help. I had been on the football hamster wheel so long it had finally taken its toll.
“Football had always been my drug but I had addictions that I had used to cope with football, to take me away from it and make me block out all the negative stuff.”
But after calling time on his career in 2011 after Lincoln’s relegation from the Football League, Broughton’s decision to seek help would be a turning point in a life that was threatening to spiral out of control.
And having checked in to Sporting Chance bankrupt and beaten, Broughton is now the best version of himself, something he hasn’t been for more than half his life, running thriving businesses that help elite athletes with both the physical and emotional aspects of their sporting life.
“I left Sporting Chance in October 2011 and I had finally found some peace,” said Broughton.
“For the first time since I was a child, for as long as I could remember, I could look forward to the future with renewed belief and it made me reconnect with my potential, with who I truly was as a man.
“I now run three businesses, working with world class footballers, golfers and tennis players. I’ve worked one on one with the likes of Harry Kane and other top pros. What I have learned over my years in the professional game and through my studies after I finished in the game means I try to offer them solutions, both physically and emotionally.
“We don’t do enough for our younger players to help them cope with what is to come, the pressure that they will be placed under.
“I’ve worked with young players who wanted to quit the game at 19. Players who have been told they have no heart or desire or don’t give enough yet they do 300 push ups every night before crying themselves to sleep sick with worry that they won’t ever make it at the top level.
“Being a footballer doesn’t make you superhuman or somehow immune to criticism. When things are great it is euphoric, but when things are bad and you have thousands of people telling you are worthless, you are s**t and have no value, that isn’t something you can simply ignore and carry on with regardless.
“Football creates trauma. If you think about a player receiving abuse from the stands constantly, that is a traumatic event. You don’t get so publicly dressed down in your day-to-day life at work yet for footballers it is seen as some kind of occupational hazard.
“I know players now, because of the prevalence of social media, who don’t switch on their phones until Sunday because of the abuse and the hate they will read about themselves after a bad game.
“I truly believe that anyone who does their Uefa badges now should have to have therapy, to speak about their own experiences and how it affected them.
“Coaches and managers have forgotten their own experiences, how tough it was for them. Shame is the worst human emotion you can feel yet it is used in football as a way of trying to illicit a response, to somehow make a player respond positively. Players can be dehumanised by managers and coaches who forget their own experiences and who think it is mental weakness when players can’t cope.
“I spoke to a manager recently who was saying his striker had lost confidence, how he couldn’t score. They were trying this and that in training to try and get him sharp again but he had lost it. He asked what he should do to help him. ‘Give him a cuddle’, I said. He hasn’t lost the ability to put the ball in the back of the net, he has been doing it since he was a kid. It’s a mental thing, he’s under pressure and has the fear. The only way to manage these things is to treat footballers like human beings, because that is what they are and we need to remember they can be as emotionally fragile as anyone else.”
And what of the future?
Broughton’s journey, however difficult, has not stifled his drive, ambiton and determination to succeed.
And having married again, enjoying a successful work life and a flourishing relationship with his daughter, he is a man who appreciates his lot and who wants to help bring about some change in the way football approaches mental health and the pressure players are put under.
“My life has gone full circle,” he said.
“I’m still the ambitious, driven man I always was and I still hold myself to high standards and work tremendously hard, but I am also able to put things into context.
“I’ve recently got married again and I am going into it this time with my eyes open and being in touch with my true self again. I feel like me, travelling on my own path and in control of my own destiny again. Myself and my daughter have a great relationship and I am the family man I wanted to be.
“It has been a long road to get here but I wasn’t alone in my struggle. Others have struggled in similar circumstances and the only way to bring about change is to open up and share our experiences.”