WASHED-UP and at rock-bottom by the age of 33, Drewe Broughton’s story is the antithesis of the glossy brochure depicting life as a footballer.
A sense of worthlessness which had plagued his nomadic 17-year, 22-club career and long since spiralled into crippling self-doubt saw him check into the Sporting Chance clinic to conquer his demons in 2011 .
Homeless and with his family life in tatters, the former Rotherham United striker recalls those dark days in a searingly-honest account of his life as a journeyman in his autobiography And Then What?
It chronicles the story of a teenager seemingly destined for a glittering and rewarding career, having made his debut for Norwich City and being named in England’s Under-20s World Cup at the age of 16 – and landing a three-year deal with Adidas.
It was a career that would end in turmoil, with Broughton escaping the ‘noises in his head’ by way of addictions which would lead him to Sporting Chance, a specialist addiction and recovery facility for athletes founded by former England captain Tony Adams.
Thankfully, Broughton found redemption and is now a successful performance coach and motivational speaker who works with not only footballers but also business figures.
But the memories of those hard times will never fade.
Broughton told The Yorkshire Post: “My career was riddled by self-doubt. When I was at it, I was a natural leader and set the tempo. Managers would say: ‘big man, you have got to get training going this morning.’
“I had that about me, but could not manage it inside myself as these voices were constantly going: ‘you are not good enough, you have got to be better and get 25 goals this season.’ It was relentless.
“Often, those who are blessed with the natural drive find that it is too strong for them and then the escapisms come in such as the alcoholism and gambling – whatever. You need to escape the noise in your head.
“It ended at Lincoln City when I was at rock-bottom. My wife had kicked me out and my career was done at 33 after captaining Lincoln when we got relegated from the Football League.
“I was on my knees during that period and could not get the energy even to train. I was having to try and go out with the number nine on my back and captain as the highest-paid player and front up that I was okay. I was in bits and the managers were destroying me and tried every tactic. They thought: ‘well, he is a big bear, let’s prod him with a stick and he will react’.
“Luckily, I went to Sporting Chance. I was homeless and sleeping in my car or on my brother’s sofa. It changed my life.”
Footballing happiness was fleeting for Broughton, but he briefly found it during a spell with the Millers in 2008-09 when he and the club claimed Cup kudos in the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. It is a time that he will always cherish.
On that journeyman tag, Broughton, 40, acknowledged; “When I was playing, I have to admit it offended me as I used to think: ‘Does that mean I am cr*p?’. I remember going to the Sporting Chance rehab clinic at 33 and Clarke Carlisle saying to me: ‘Have you ever thought that 22 managers signed you and looked to the positives of that?’.
“At every club, I used to have a purple patch. When I first went to Rotherham, I had one of 12 or 13 games maximum. It was actually a record for me.
“I had been at rock-bottom, having left MK Dons and my contract being up and went on trial at Rotherham. I put too much pressure on myself as I needed the deal.
“I did not play badly or great. Mark Robins decided to sign Reuben Reid instead. But two weeks later, he rang and offered me a short-term deal.
“They offered me £250 a week and I was on £1,800 quid at Milton Keynes. I was 28 and had a family. But what was amazing was that I found a place where I just did not care any more.
“I remember my agent ringing me and saying: ‘Drewe, I do not know how to say this, mate – but they have offered you £250 quid a week.’ I said: ‘Sign it.’ I was so grateful, even though they were effectively paying me petrol money.
“To be given a chance to play football again was amazing and I trained with that attitude.
“But, unfortunately, the wheels came off again. I could never hang onto it.”
Broughton’s second career in football is one that sees him impart his knowledge to guide footballers on the right path and help them mentally.
The perception is that football is more enlightened in its awareness of the importance of players’ well-being and mental health these days, but Broughton still sees failings.
He said: “I think it is a bit of a myth that it is changing.
“One of my young clients is playing in the Championship and when I started working with him, he was at a top Premier League academy.
“I got a call from his father and he was really struggling mentally at home and did not want to tell the club as he was afraid he would be seen as weak.
“The club had a go at him telling him to have more confidence, but no-one was helping him do it.
“I look at Warney (former team-mate and Rotherham manager Paul Warne) and he talks about the human element and I can imagine if you were a player under Warney that you would be comfortable enough to knock on his door and say: ‘look gaffer, I am struggling a bit’ and not feel misunderstood.
“The minute you do, that is it. Most managers will get scared and think: ‘well, I cannot manage him, he is a bit crazy.’ Then, all of a sudden, you are in the reserves.
“I spoke to a mate of mine recently and he is 34 and has played nine years in the Premier League and is just dropping down for the last few years of his career and is struggling mentally.
“He was saying he went into see the boss and he said: ‘Are you OK? What is going on, you are not playing well. I have invested all this money in you.’ He said: ‘I am struggling’ and the boss said: ‘Struggling with what?’ It was almost like his manager couldn’t understand what he was saying.”