Goalkeeper Steve Harper says that his controversial move to Sunderland helped fill a “gaping chasm” in his life having been diagnosed with depression during his time at Newcastle United.
The 40-year-old goalkeeper signed a short term deal at the Stadium of Light last month, offering guidance and competition for Vito Mannone and Jordan Pickford.
After two decades at St James’ Park, many Newcastle fans were angered at the veteran goalkeeper’s decision to sign a deal at arch rivals Sunderland until the end of the season, but Harper insists that the move filled a void in his life having been in a “bad place” at one point during his time at Newcastle.
After leaving Hull last summer, Harper was disappointed that Newcastle didn’t offer him a role of some kind after talks of a move to Tottenham and QPR broke down.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Harper said: “I’ve got a PhD in Newcastle United.
“You think you’re prepared. But it just leaves a gaping hole in your life.
“It tests you mentally. I was diagnosed with depression in my early thirties at Newcastle. I spoke to good people.
“I had a mild case. Not being in the side, it got on top of me. I was in a bad place for a while.
“That experience undoubtedly helped me, because I could feel myself slipping back into that dark hole, where life feels as though it is closing in on you. I think that prevented it happening again.
“A lot of players aren’t so lucky. I was in a position to do the necessary things to stop it engulfing me, but there was a gaping chasm in my life and I needed to fill it.”
The move to Sunderland has helped fill that void but Harper knows it could again become an issue when he hangs up his gloves – a time when he hopes the Professional Footballers’ Association will do more for players like him.
“I was at a dinner recently and the PFA had a table there,” Harper said. “As a former PFA representative, I tore into them.
“I said: ‘You do a lot of fantastic work for players when they are playing, but too many people of my age, or a year or two older, are either getting divorced, going bankrupt or struggling with depression.’
“They have been in touch with me since and told me about the courses they do, but I was PFA rep and if I don’t know about them, more needs to be done to support players in that transition.”