Wrexham v Doncaster Rovers: How Dame Kelly Holmes has inspired defender Tom Anderson

AN affable, laid-back Lancashire lad, the idea of Tom Anderson struggling with thoughts and mental well-being would come as a surprise to many.

That is what happened periodically during two unfortunate spells out of action through injury over the few seasons, compounded by the fact that the defender, in his role as Doncaster Rovers captain in a side wrestling with form and confidence issues, felt helpless and that he was letting people down.

His problems began in the 2021-22 campaign which ended in December 2021 due to serious foot injury.

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Anderson returned to the side at the start of last season, but struggled to maintain his fitness and was latterly afflicted by a back issue which required surgery in the close season.

Doncaster Rovers' Tom Anderson. Picture: Getty Images.Doncaster Rovers' Tom Anderson. Picture: Getty Images.
Doncaster Rovers' Tom Anderson. Picture: Getty Images.

The centre-half is, thankfully, over those ailments and fully fit again.

Although not before a facial injury ruled him out for a few weeks recently after he collided with teammate Owen Bailey in the League Two game with Mansfield Town on August 15. It never rains, but pours.

The hope is that Anderson, who turns 30 at the start of this month, is now over some dark times.

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The former Burnley player, who returned from the bench and did his bit to help ten-man Rovers chisel out a hard-earned point against Swindon Town, said: “I certainly got very low and I won't go too much into detail.

“You don't show emotion and are just blank a lot of the time and struggle with your thoughts and think that's not really me. That's the brutality of sport.

"Up until my foot injury, I'd never really been injured for what you would class as a long time. It was something new for me. At first I struggled with it and got the help (from a counsellor).

"I still wasn't hunky-dory with my back, but my foot was better. It was about learning what is in my control and what's not.

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"You just have to try and stay as positive as you can. As a footballer, it's the worst thing that can happen to you.

“But it's one of those things where you can work on it in the gym and make sure you stay on top of it and try and focus on what you can control.”

An individual who Anderson knows well and is close at hand in former team-mate and Rovers legend James Coppinger is someone who has always been an advocate of the importance of mental health and well-being among footballers.

He speaks from experience, having suffered with gambling and alcohol issues during his time as a young professional with Exeter City before joining Rovers back in May, 2004.

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Coppinger’s life changed for the better when he linked up with mentor and motivational speaker Terry Gormley, who worked with Rovers in the Dave Penney era.

Mercifully these days, mental health is a subject which is no longer taboo in sport. Many footballers, for instance, read literature on the subject and listen to various podcasts.

Inspiration and perspective for Anderson arrived from one of the most revered athletes in this country in Dame Kelly Holmes.

He continued: "Even when I first came to the club (in 2018), Copps was always big on mindset.

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“It's not something I have studied, but I have read books and listened to podcasts of former world-class athletes and things.

"It's about not keeping it in and (is about) speaking about it, which helps.

"There's been quite a few on the high performance podcast which really struck home.

“There was one with Kelly Holmes when she won the (Olympics) 800m and 1500m and behind the scenes, she was really struggling with his thoughts.

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“It was mind-blowing that the best athletes go through it. You sometimes think of yourself and that the pressure is coming from elsewhere and it's not really.

"It's the pressure you put on yourself and you have to learn to master that.”

Anderson has returned to a Rovers side who are awaiting lift-off in League Two this season.

The fixture list seemingly affords them few favours this afternoon at an upwardly-mobile Wrexham, who have quickly become the talk of the division.

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Their visitors find themselves propping up the entire EFL. Early days it may be and tables don’t necessarily count in early September. Yet it’s a touch embarrassing all the same.

The former Burnley player acknowledged: “Of course, no-one wants to be bottom of League Two. At the end of the day, that's down to us to turn it around.

“We have to keep it simple, basic and doing what we are good at.

"I feel the last three performances have been very good. It's about putting the ball in one net and keeping it out of the other and it's down to us, no-one else can do it for us.

"I think the best is yet to come and once we get that first (league) win, we will go on from there.”