“Every man and his dog attempted to destroy me and my family, and getting through that was extremely difficult.”
Being named England manager was the pinnacle of his career, the “dream job” he had envisioned when he first entered management, but one that appeared a world away from the youthful Allardyce who began his football career with semi-professional club Dudley Town.
The memories of Sam Allardyce’s stint as England manager are still fresh in his mind. He claims that was the most difficult time of his life, and that it put the most burden on his mental health.
Growing up in the Black Country in the late 70s, the subject of mental health was never mentioned.
Allardyce was appointed in July 2016 on a two-year contract. He lasted just 67 days, and had one game in a charge – a 1-0 win against Slovakia in a World Cup Qualifier.
“Nobody can take that away from me,” he told me. “I got the best job in this country, which is the England manager’s job.”
He resigned after a national newspaper sting accused him of impropriety – an accusation he has always denied. But the media and public pressure which followed the story, Allardyce says was unbearable and forced him out.
“That was very difficult to get through those times with me and the family,” Allardyce says. “But we managed to go through it with the help of others, and more importantly – in the end, getting back into football and just putting that to one side and being very successful at Crystal Palace.”
I asked him how he had tried to alleviate the mental strain, when he was on the front of every newspaper, and the world’s media were camped outside his home. “I think initially you take yourself away, you try to hide away and then you’ve got to say to yourself ‘get out there and face it.’
“You have to leave the past in the past. Yes, you can dwell on it and you do have thoughts about it, but you’ve got to move on and look to the future. And I look upon the rest of my career as really just being lovely. To leave school at 15 and play football and manage football clubs.” Allardyce admits his England departure was a one-off, and pained him in a way he had never experienced before. But he says the nature of football management means there are daily, extreme, mental health pressures that people outside football simply cannot understand.
“If you really look at the dugout in a game that tells it all, body language is everything in terms of communication,” he says. “I think that tells it all – the stress levels that you go through as a manager, at all levels.” He says the media focuses on the managerial elite, but the mental health pressures for managers further down the football pyramid are often overlooked, and all the more extreme.
“And that can be much more stressful than for a manager in the Premier League. Lower down, I think the pressures might be greater, you know. “Lots of our managers that can’t find another job after they’ve had one fall into great distress and financial hardship, which may cause suicidal feelings.”
“In the lower leagues it’s about saving your livelihood, about saving your job, about saving your income to pay for your mortgage and your children and your wife’s welfare. That is why he works so closely with the League Managers Association, offering to advise and mentor coaches who are relatively new to the industry.
Check the latest Sports news section for latest updates.