Accrington Stanley Community Trust, the youth team and Alcoholics Anonymous teamed up recently to provide the Under 18s squad with a workshop all about the effects of alcoholism on footballers.
Members of the Under 18 squad naturally prefer to spend their time on the training ground rather than in the classroom. But when a guest speaker at a recent session turned out to be the son of a former player, and had himself played at semi-pro level, they decided that what he had to tell them might be worth listening to.
Mark’s Dad turned out for Accrington Stanley from 1958 until the club closed and following his father’s example Mark too was beginning to make a name for himself as a player. So, when an offer came to go to Australia to play, and with it the possibility to turn professional, he jumped at it. But as Mark explained, it hadn’t been that simple. ‘I’d been making a real nuisance of myself’ he confessed. ‘Too interested in girls of course, but I was drinking a lot and getting myself into trouble’.
Once in Australia the problem only got worse. ‘I didn’t drink all the time – but when I did start, I’d go on a real bender’ says Mark. ‘And when I drank, I couldn’t train, so I couldn’t play’. With his footballing career looking increasingly unlikely Mark took up a course in Tourism Management. And it was then, he told his audience, that he got lucky. ‘I was so drunk one day that I collapsed in the street. I had to be taken to hospital – can’t really remember much about it’. A young woman on his course had seen what had happened and sat him down for a serious chat. Her husband, she told him, had died of alcoholism. ‘She suggested I go to something called Alcoholics Anonymous’ says Mark. ‘I’d never even heard of it, but I knew I had to do something – so I went’.
Mark still goes to AA meetings, although he stopped drinking nearly twenty years ago. He was able to resume playing successfully at semi–pro level and carried on when he returned to England. ‘My last game was a friendly charity match’ he says. ‘A couple of the lads in the other team are still involved with Accrington today – funny how things go around’.
Nowadays Mark often gives talks to groups like the Under 18’s. He tells them his story and explains a bit about how Alcoholics Anonymous works. ‘They’re not all going to turn out to be like me’ he says, ‘But if they meet someone with a drink problem, remember my story and mention AA, it might just help’.
All AA meetings are free, confidential, non-judgemental and there is an AA meeting every day of the week in the Hyndburn area. Details of meetings across the country and our confidential chat now service can be found at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk. There’s a helpline, manned by members of AA between 11am – 11pm daily on 0800 9177 650.