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Gary Speed suicide anniversary: Leon McKenzie book serialisation – I raced back from training to my hotel room determined to kill myself

LEON McKENZIE BOOK EXCLUSIVE: Nothing could stop me now.
I raced back from training to my hotel room determined to kill myself… I was sick of players, coaches and fans staring at me.

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UPDATED:

15:50 GMT, 27 November 2012

On the anniversary of Gary Speed's tragic
death, Sportsmail publishes here the harrowing opening chapter of Leon
McKenzie's autobiography 'My Fight With Life'. In the first extract of
an exclusive MailOnline serialisation, the former Premier League striker
recounts the bleakest of days when he tried to take his own life.
+++ WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT +++.

I’d had enough of life, my life at least, so it was time to end it all.

Thoughts of suicide had popped in and out of my head for a while now, but for the last week they’d been pretty much permanent visitors.

A pulled hamstring towards the end of a training session pushed me over the edge. It was a relatively trivial moment for sure, and an occupational hazard for a footballer, but I’d been beating myself up mentally for months and this was the punch that knocked me down and out.

I could think of only one way to escape the misery that had enveloped my life. At that horrible time I couldn’t explain why I felt numb, empty and desolate. On the outside I had everything, but inside I was lost in a fog of uncertainty.

Dark times: Former Premier League striker Leon McKenzie, who has battled depression throughout his career, at his Northamptonshire home last year

Dark times: Former Premier League striker Leon McKenzie, who has battled depression throughout his career, at his Northamptonshire home last year

TOMORROW: PART II OF MailOnline's EXCLUSIVE SERIALISATION…
Charles Bronson and Myra Hindley – life in prison and how the PFA failed depressed footballers like meLEON McKENZIE: My Fight With Life

Published by MacAnthonyMedia, priced 7.99

Leon McKenzie: My Fight With Life

Click here to buy your copy now…

I knew deep down that suicide was selfish. I knew it would cause misery and desperation to the people I loved the most and I know now that’s what depression does to you.

You don’t think straight. Hope is abandoned. Back then logic and rational thought had left my head months before leaving just one idea swimming back and forth inside my mind.

I wanted out. No ifs, no buts, no maybes, I wanted out and I wanted out today.

I was a man with a beautiful, loving wife and three young children who meant the world to me. They were my life and yet I wanted to leave them behind to try and find a better place for me.

They’d be better off without me anyway. I wasn’t contributing much. I didn’t want my sadness to crush them.

Inexplicable thoughts (although they seemed perfectly sensible at the time) like that were running through my head day after miserable, stinking day. I was trapped in a maze of mood swings that made little sense.

I’d lost sight of what was good and positive in my life. I saw only misery and uncertainty ahead.

The people I worked with didn’t suspect a thing. I appeared normal to them. I would appear calm, in good humour, one of the lads, someone without a care in the world.

That was how it was in the world of professional football. You had to keep up appearances, join in the banter as most people at that time, in this macho, testosterone-filled world would view mental illness as a weakness rather than a problem that needed attention, a problem that demanded help.

I was good at keeping up appearances. I could be a livewire in the dressing room, laughing, shouting and bantering as loudly as anyone.

Inside I was dying though and I was gradually convincing myself that suicide was the best way to escape the torment.

I was a footballer at Charlton
Athletic coming to the end of a career that had included two spells in
the Premier League, an appearance at Wembley, a couple of promotions and
some memorable and magical moments.

But
I wasn’t really a footballer any more as I was permanently injured and
couldn’t string two games together for my latest club.

Scroll down for video…

Leon McKenzie of Norwich is foiled by Shay Given of Newcastle during the Barclays Premiership match between Norwich City and Newcastle United at Carrow Road on April 20, 2005

Boxer Clinton McKenzie, with his son Leon McKenzie, in the ring

Premier class: McKenzie is fouled by Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given (left) to win a Barclays Premier League penalty for Norwich in 2005 and in the ring with his British light welterweight champion boxer dad, Clinton (right). McKenzie's father saved his son after Leon attempted suicide at a south-east London hotel

LEON McKENZIE: Factfile…

Full name: Leon Mark McKenzie
Date of birth: May 17, 1978 (age 34)
Place of birth: Croydon
Height: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)

Club information

Current club: Corby Town
Youth career: Crystal Palace

Senior career
Apps† Gls
1995–2000 Crystal Palace 85 7
1997 → Fulham (loan) 3 0
1998 → Peterborough (loan) 14 8
2000–2003 Peterborough 90 46
2003–2006 Norwich City 79 20
2006–2009 Coventry City 62 12
2009–2010 Charlton Athletic 12 0
2010–2011 Northampton Town 27 10
2011 Kettering Town 9 2
2012- Corby Town 10 3

People, fans especially, would still envy my lifestyle. They’d assume I was collecting a few grand a week and living comfortably for doing very little, but I hated my existence.

For as long as I could remember, or at least from the time that I chose football over the family tradition of boxing, I just wanted to score goals, I wanted to play at the highest level, I wanted to be loved.

I’d achieved it all, but now it had been taken away from me by a body struggling to the point of collapse with the demands of my work. That had led to my mind falling apart as well. Now I just couldn’t face the future.

After signing me, Charlton had put me up in a Marriott Hotel in Bexleyheath. I’d been there for four months, returning to an empty room after training in the early hours of the afternoon, collecting my room key, making sure the door was locked behind me, pulling the curtains, lying on the bed and either staring into space or just bursting into tears, usually the latter, often both.

I had no energy, no drive. All through my football career I’d flogged myself to the limits in training and on the pitch, and I generally lived a hectic life, but now I couldn’t even be bothered to switch the TV on in my room, or make a drink, or visit the bathroom.

The sheer weight of this illness is hard to explain to those who have never come into contact with it.

I wasn’t mad. I didn’t feel like I’d gone crazy and there was no chance of me making trouble for anyone. I didn’t have the passion that would make me rant and rave or to fight with anyone. My head was empty apart from that persistent thought of suicide.

Some sufferers of depression never get to the suicide stage. I seemed to arrive there quickly. Anxiety had used up most of my energy, and all of my fight.
I certainly didn’t want to be with anyone on those miserable afternoons. I had no idea what the Charlton players did after lunch because I didn’t mix with them once the chore of training had been completed.

Former glories: Leon McKenzie, who has battled depression throughout his career, poses at his Northamptonshire home in front of his collection of signed shirts

Former glories: Leon McKenzie, who has battled depression throughout his career, poses at his Northamptonshire home in front of his collection of signed shirts

Fighting on: McKenzie has battled back from his suicide bid and is now playing for Corby Town in the Blue Square North (Conference)

Fighting on: McKenzie has battled back from his suicide bid and is now playing for Corby Town in the Blue Square North (Conference)

Sofia, my wife, would call. She was living in the family home with our daughter in Northampton. I’d answer, but I wasn’t really there. I knew how hard I’d worked to make myself a Premier League footballer and now I was feeling desperately sorry for myself because my entire career was coming to an end.

No-one had prepared me for the end of my playing days. As my career had taken off, it was all big promises of fame and massive earnings. I was surrounded by sycophants and well wishers telling me nothing could go wrong now I’d made it to the big time. I was set up for life.

I wasn’t prepared for the reality of a career collapsing in a heap, the prospect of future obscurity , and God only knows what else.

Powerhouse: McKenzie celebrates after scoring the second goal for Norwich in a famous 2-0 win over Manchester United in April 2005

Powerhouse: McKenzie celebrates after scoring the second goal for Norwich in a famous 2-0 win over Manchester United in April 2005

This was tough and, in my head at least, I was dealing with it all on my own.

I was sick of players, coaching staff and fans staring at me. I knew what they were thinking: ‘look at Leon, he’s injured and not able to play again.’

After leaving Coventry to join Charlton, I’d also got myself into serious debt which obviously didn’t help my state of mind so now was the time to act.

It was an unremarkable Tuesday morning when I finally decided to put my suicide plan into operation. I was training well, I felt fit for a change and then my hamstring went.

I pulled up. I couldn’t run anymore. I was jinxed so what was the point in carrying on, in football or in life.

I
could sense everyone glaring at me. There was sympathy from people at
the club, but not everyone, and to be fair I felt embarrassed and guilty
myself.

I was embarrassed
because I was desperate to show this club how good I could be. Instead
my body was breaking down and I was crying inside.

I
went to the medical room for treatment. It was a path I knew well. I
was on my own in there for a while and I just sat there on a treatment
bed and roared my eyes out.

While
I was there, I casually asked the club doctor for some sleeping pills,
explaining that I was having too many restless nights and I was
struggling to get through training as a result.

He
gave me a batch to help me but like the rest of the club staff, he had
no idea that what I was really suffering was a lot worse than a bout of
insomnia. He also couldn’t have known that I already had a separate
batch of 20 sleeping pills back at the hotel.

I
had enough now to be sure of making my exit. I also had some
anti-inflammatories and there was an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels in
my hotel room to wash everything down.

Nothing
could stop me now. I drove to the hotel car park and rang my mum. I
burst into tears, telling her that I couldn’t take any more pain, any
more anguish. I was sick of being injured and scared about what the
future held for me.

Mum
started crying. She hated how unhappy I had become. She hated the fact
that injuries had started to interrupt my career on a regular basis and
she now decided she wanted me to give up playing.

Good old mum- always practical, always caring- but she hadn’t grasped what I was planning.

I fooled myself that the mental struggles I was experiencing ran deeper than a career that was coming to an inglorious end.

I tried to convince myself that I had nothing left to prove or achieve anyway. I’d found and married my soul-mate, I’d played football at the highest level, I’d scored 100 goals, I’d fathered three beautiful children.

What else was there Especially as my body had now given way.

I look back at those days now and cringe. I realise now that my ‘Queen B’, my name for Sofia, and my children were reason enough to keep going, but I must have been in a bad, dark place that particular night, a place I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

I decided the world was now horrible and unforgiving and I’d seen enough of it. I wanted to join my sister Tracey who had taken her own life aged 23 eight years earlier.

I had no professional help from
within or from outside of football while I struggled with my thoughts.
I’d seen no doctors or medical experts on depression and I didn’t feel
able to tell anyone within my sport as there appeared little chance of
finding any understanding.

I’d even pushed my loving wife away.

Read Neil Ashton's exclusive interview with Leon McKenzie from December 2011…
Click here to read the full exclusive interview

Now
it was time to go. I was sure of that. I had the means and there was
no-one to stop me. I put the phone down on mum and raced into the hotel.
I had to do this before I could change my mind.

I
lay on the bed and chucked one pill after another into my mouth, and
after each batch of five or six tablets, I took a decent swig of
whiskey.

I was relentless. I was dedicated to death. This was serious shit now. I couldn’t stop myself and I didn’t want to.

Inside five minutes 40 sleeping tablets and several antiinflammatories were in my system along with half a bottle of whiskey.

Leon McKenzie, Norwich City, celebrates scoring against Crystal Palace in 2005

Leon McKenzie of Norwich City jumps a tackle from Kenny Cunningham of Birmingham City

Leon McKenzie celebrates his goal in the 2-0 win for Peterborough over Cardiff

Life in the spotlight: McKenzie celebrates scoring Norwich's second in their April 2005 2-0 win over Manchester United (left), jumping a tackle from Kenny Cunningham of Birmingham City (centre) and celebrating scoring against Cardiff for Peterborough (right)

I’d surely done it. I don’t recall much, there was no memory of an inner-peace, no sense of relief, no life flashing before me, just a longing to fall asleep for one last time.

But then I thought of my dad. I needed to say thank you and goodbye to my big, powerful father who had always been there for me, supporting me during every step of the way in my life.

I had followed his path into professional sport and he was one of the major reasons why I had travelled as far as I had.

Even in my semi-conscious state, I told myself I had to speak to him one last time. I don’t believe it was a sub-conscious cry for help or one last attempt to get people to see and understand my problems as for all I knew my dad could have been on the other side of the country, unable to make a difference.

I wasn’t panicking. In fact, I was
eerily calm. I told dad I’d done something stupid. I told him I’d taken
loads of pills. He freaked out, while I crashed around the room before
collapsing on the bed and passing out.

In amongst it: McKenzie (centre in Norwich kit) competes for the ball in the West Brom box during a 2004 Premier League encounter at Carrow Road

In amongst it: McKenzie (centre in Norwich kit) competes for the ball in the West Brom box during a 2004 Premier League encounter at Carrow Road

Ledley King of Spurs clashes with Leon McKenzie of Norwich

Leon McKenzie (left) of Coventry and QPR's Peter Ramage

Cut and thrust: McKenzie challenges Tottenham legend Ledley King (left) and battles it out for Coventry City against QPR in the Championship (right)

It turned out dad was close by.

I
had been drifting in and out of consciousness for what seemed like
hours when dad burst in with a couple of members of the hotel staff.
I was groggy, my eyes were heavy and shut, but I could still hear.

Leon McKenzie: My Fight With Life

My dad’s voice was faint, but full of concern: ‘Champ, wake up,’ he was repeating over and over again.

Then my world went black and silent. I assumed this was death.

I was wrong. I came round the next
morning in hospital. Sofia was there with my mum, dad, cousins, Tracey’s
mum Kim, my elder sister Rebecca, everyone I loved deeply, they were
all there.

And they were
all in tears. They were expecting, hoping, to hear some words to suggest
I’d reached rock bottom and that I’d now fight my way back up.
'It didn’t work then,' I said, finally realising I was still alive.

My mum stormed out of the room, appalled at what I had just said.

And
I wasn’t joking. I was disappointed to still be around. The nurse said
that one or two more pills would have done the job and that I was lucky,
but that was the last thing I felt.

Dad
had been 10 minutes away when I called him and he’d arrived in the nick
of time. That was also lucky, but frustrating from my illogical point
of view.
I instantly regretted not blagging some more pills from the Charlton medical staff.

I’d failed to kill myself and I was still depressed. More so because of what I’d just put those I loved the most through. My nightmare was to continue.

I was discharged that morning, so I got up, picked up my kit and went off to the football ground for treatment on my hamstring.

Life must go on even if you didn’t want it to.

LEON McKENZIE: My Fight With Life, Published by MacAnthonyMedia, priced 7.99. Click here to buy your copy now…
VIDEO: McKenzie on his new autobiography…

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London 2012 Olympics: Louis Smith interview

Rejected by the X-Factor and ditched by his girlfriend, but Smith remains confident he will be named… Louis I

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 31 March 2012

As an Olympic medallist, gymnast Louis Smith has grown accustomed to managing pain, so when he crunched a finger in training last week he did not panic.

After all, he has broken or fractured every finger before. ‘It’s an occupational hazard,’ he says.

At 22, he admits that a lifetime in gymnastics has claimed a heavy toll. ‘There are times when it’s tough to get out of bed,’ says Smith. ‘I have to do a few twists and stretches first, and hear joints
crack. But that’s the life of an athlete who has been training for 19 years.’

Hanging tough: Louis Smith hopes to banish by winning gold in London this year

Hanging tough: Louis Smith hopes to banish by winning gold in London this year

When to see Louis Smith

July 28-Aug 7 – Artistic Gymnastics

Aug 5 – Men’s pommel horse final

The North Greenwich Arena

But having returned to training on Wednesday, the day after he sustained a slight fracture on the third finger of his right hand, Smith is hopeful of competing at the Gymnastics World Cup series
event in China next weekend. And he has time enough to arrive at the Olympic Games in London in peak physical condition, with a gold medal in his sights.

Yet Smith’s disciplined regime, which enabled him to win Britain’s first Olympic medal in gymnastics for 100 years when he took bronze as a teenager in Beijing, could not prepare him for dealing
with a setback in his private life. A broken heart, he discovered, is not as easily mended as a broken finger.

Last summer, Smith reveals, his focus on the Olympics was blurred after his long-term relationship with his girlfriend, who he prefers not to name, fell apart. ‘I couldn’t eat, I felt sick all the time,’ says Smith. ‘I lost more than a stone in weight. I had looked on her as my future wife, as the woman I’d have kids with and grow old together with.

‘When we split, it almost killed me. I was on a different planet for six months; it threatened to derail me completely. I think we both had something to do with the break-up. I needed space, then things
didn’t gel afterwards.’

Don't let go: Smith on his way to winning the bronze medal in Beijing in 2008

Don't let go: Smith on his way to winning the bronze medal in Beijing in 2008

Smith began to recover only as the world championships, in Tokyo last October, approached. ‘I started knuckling down again in August,’ he says. Part of his therapy was to have two guardian
angels tattooed on either side of his back, a symbol of his need to be cared for.

‘I still have the detail to be finished on the angels — man, it’s painful! I’m going to add clouds and a sun, a stairway to heaven … it’s a work in progress.’

Smith dislikes life as a single man. But he has forbidden himself from becoming involved again until after the Olympics for fear of being emotionally destabilised again. ‘I still talk to my ex, as I like to be civil, but I have moved on,’ he explains. ‘I’d love to be in a relationship now but I am scared to be messed up again. I can’t afford to run that risk with the Olympics so close.’

His raised profile in Olympic year, combined with his obvious charisma, which encouraged him three years ago to try for television’s X-Factor and face the chastening judgment of Simon Cowell, makes Smith undeniably attractive to the opposite sex.

‘I suppose I could go out with a different girl every week, but that’s not my style,’ he explains. ‘I don’t want a reputation. When I do something, I want to do it properly. Besides, what’s meant to be will be, as my ex-girlfriend used to say.

I’ve thought about buying a puppy, or a kitten, to have something in my house when I come home. But, right now, I end up hugging my pillow at night.’

Smith is renowned for lightening the mood around the British gymnastic squad. ‘I crack a few jokes, push a few boundaries,’ he says. ‘But I don’t disrupt anyone to the point where I am stopping them from doing their work. I swear if I wasn’t in the gym the guys would have a more miserable time.

Precious metal: Smith poses with his bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

Precious metal: Smith poses with his bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

‘When you are in a competition environment, it’s stressful. If you’re relaxed, you’re more likely to do a better routine. I know the limits, though. If you’re not used to me and you see me singing and stuff, it’s perhaps hard to take. If you’ve known me for a while, hopefully you like me. I just try to make training a fun place to be.’

In his spare time, he writes reggae songs so it seemed natural to apply to be on X-Factor.

‘I used to laugh at some of the people on there and thought I could do better,’ he says. ‘But after a few rounds I understood what it meant to be nervous! I was asked by the panel what I did so I told them I was a gymnast.’

Cowell asked Smith: ‘Are you any good’ Smith replied: ‘Not bad, I have got an Olympic bronze medal.’ Cowell’s response was: ‘You’re better than good. Why are you here’ Smith told him: ‘Just for fun, to see if it’s something I could do after gym.’

His elimination followed swiftly but Smith has no regrets. ‘It was a good craic,’ he says. His singing may not have impressed but Smith’s rise to world-class status as a gymnast on the pommel horse, apparatus requiring enormous strength, dexterity and phenomenal athleticism, is beyond doubt.

His journey is a triumph of will
over adversity. Smith was brought up, along with his brother Leon, by
the unstinting devotion of his mother, Elaine, with help from his late
grandmother, Dilys Petch. An early tattoo on his back — ‘Rest in Peace,
Nan, Missing You’ — tells of his love for her and he still trains in the
same gym in Huntingdon where his mother or grandmother used to take him
from infancy.

Kitted out: Louis Smith

Kitted out: Louis Smith

‘It’s only now I can appreciate what Mum and Nan went
through for me to pursue a dream,’ he says.

‘Mum was with me in
Beijing, crying her eyes out, bless her, and she and Leon will have
tickets for London.’

He has bought his mother a car from the income
he gets from a host of sponsors, including sportswear giants adidas. He
works six days a week, training for more than 32 hours. ‘I’m still
somersaulting over little kids!’ he jokes.

Behind the humour,
though, there is a deep understanding that being a gymnast in Britain
places him at a distinct disadvantage against his rivals in China, where
they live, eat and breathe sport. ‘It’s not a level playing field,’ he
says. ‘China wiped the floor in Beijing.’

Smith’s medal-winning
performance in Beijing did, however, raise the funding for British
gymnastics by 13 per cent. The reward is already visible. ‘The Under 14
squad are doing some mad stuff,’ says Smith. ‘That makes me happy. When I was younger it was a real struggle; it just shows you the ripple
effect of one medal.’

His dedication is an inspiration to the team
and already team-mates Daniel Purvis and Daniel Keatings have won medals
at world championships. ‘Gymnastics is so demanding, one of the hardest
sports in the world to be the best at,’ says Smith. ‘When you
kick-start for the Olympics, there’s no short cut. I tried a lot of
different sports but I always wanted to be the best at something and
that proved to be gymnastics.’

Smith admits to an eagerness to
explore the boundaries; to risk all to win gold rather than end his
career wondering what might have been. In the gym, he is doing this by
striving to perfect a routine, with long-time coach Paul Hall, that no
one else is likely to dare attempt at the Olympics.

He plans to
perform a move called the triple Russian — a stamina-draining rotation,
head chasing tail, that requires 12 hand placements on one handle of the
horse. It has been given a degree of difficulty tariff of 17.1 and
Smith says: ‘I don’t think anyone will start with a score higher than
that.’

His Olympic routine lasts close to 50 seconds; a preciously small amount of time to change your life.
Smith
plans to be ready as never before. He will delete his Facebook entry
this summer and stop tweeting to minimise all distractions. Sensibly, he
ignores the hype building around him. ‘I can’t worry about the
expectation on me, I can only control what I do,’ says Smith. ‘But I do
know an Olympics in your own backyard is a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity.’

Louis Smith wears the new adidas British Team kit, designed by Stella McCartney for London 2012. Adidas are official kit provider for Team GB and Paralympics GB