Former Everton Striker Opens Up On Mental Health Struggles

Marcus Bent recalls being “on top of the world” as an Everton footballer – and, in the below interview which first appeared in our official matchday programme, details his ongoing battle to get back to that peak after hitting rock bottom following the end of his career in 2012.

Marcus Bent’s intention on retiring was to “Put on my sunglasses and love life”.

Bent cannot specify when the haze of depression began to blot his landscape.

Nor is he sure when the black dog swallowed him whole.

Perhaps, in hindsight, the distress flares tracked Bent from Brentford, through Everton, and all the way to a “payday” in Southeast Asia.

Bent sat in the passenger seat of a car on his way to join Charlton Athletic from Everton and cried his eyes out the entire way.

His world came “crashing down” when, aged 20, Crystal Palace sold him to fellow First Division [today’s Championship] team Port Vale.

“I didn’t know what anxiety was when I played football,” says Bent, “the butterflies and not being able to breathe.

“If someone had spoken to me about mental health and anxiety during my career, I’d have told them to fix up and get on with it.”

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT EVERTON IN THE COMMUNITY'S MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGN 'THE PEOPLE'S PLACE' AND HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN FUNDRAISING

And Bent took his own advice. He got on with it.

Until he couldn’t anymore.

Until he needed to “self-medicate” to bury detrimental thoughts he’d suppressed – maybe run from – during 15 years as football’s “travelling man”.

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05:00 Sat 15 Feb 2020

WATCH: FORMER EVERTON STRIKER OPENS UP ON MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES

Ex-Blues forward Marcus Bent on his battle with depression - and determination to help others "move forward".

 

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Marcus Bent was arrested on 13 September 2015.

A court was subsequently told Bent called police to report intruders in his flat.

When officers arrived, continued the prosecuting barrister, “the defendant rushed out of the flat. He was holding a knife in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other hand… and had to be Tasered as a consequence”.

Bent has not previously spoken publicly about the episode, nor detailed the overwhelming issues which rushed him towards his personal nadir.

But he is making peace with himself. Part of this process unfolded across eight weeks in an addiction rehabilitation centre.

He railed against the prospect but ultimately emerged with “the tools to get rid of these thoughts, to handle mental health issues… and to stop taking drugs, basically.”

We meet at USM Finch Farm. Bent, in awe of his surroundings – a world away from the “comforting” Bellefield training ground which housed Everton’s players during his 18 months at the Club – looks every inch a man who is in the gym at 7am every day.

Beneath the sinewy exterior, things are “still difficult”. But Bent, he insists with conviction, is “going forwards”.

He is ready to talk.

“I was under the influence and called the police,” starts Bent. “I went to the door… the police thought I was a bad person because of what was in my hand.

“It went from there: being Tasered, in a police van, later in an ambulance going to hospital.

“My Lord. I have never spoken about this.”

Bent pauses for eight seconds and exhales deeply.

He recalls seeing familiar sights from a new perspective after being led from his Esher home, where no intruders were discovered, and into that police transport.

“There are all sorts of thoughts going through your brain,” says Bent.

“Firstly, ‘How have I ended up here?’

“The reason was taking drugs.

“I thought I was going to jail. I remember looking out the window, seeing the roads I’d drive on, thinking, ‘What has this become, what have I done?’

"I’d done something I shouldn’t have. But I didn’t attack anyone or try to hurt anyone.

“I was self-medicating because of my insecurity.

“I am not a person who is scared to take my consequences.

“But I’d done nothing bad, other than taking drugs, to end up in that predicament.”


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Bent was elated to sign for Everton – ostensibly to replace Wayne Rooney in summer 2004 – and despondent about leaving.

He was “on top of the world” for most of a debut season when the combative Londoner played 37 Premier League games and was instrumental in Everton finishing fourth.

The hurt over his exit in January 2006 has not entirely subsided.

“It was the most exciting period of my life, spiritually and financially and with my daughter being born,” he says.

“Everton still feels like my home, my family.

“There was a lot of pressure after Wayne had gone to Manchester United.

“But as a confident player and person, and because of the way I was brought up, I wanted to confront that challenge.

“We worked for each other and if you didn’t bring it, you were questioned.

“I came on late in my last game, at Portsmouth. We won 1-0, I went to the fans, gave my top to a woman in the crowd and said my goodbyes.

“The boys knew I was leaving, so in the changing room it was hugs all round.

“My mate drove me to London to meet with Charlton the next day.

“I cried all the way. All the way.”

Bent resists the suggestion he did okay in his 18 months with Charlton.

“I was still thinking about Everton, ‘I want to be back with the Blues… where I was thriving’.

“I was depressed and angry and upset.

“Not being an Everton player has needled me until now.

“Still."


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Bent’s eyes narrowed when he joined Brentford following a successful trial match hosted at his secondary school.

“I wanted to get out of our estate and help my family,” he says. “I had two siblings, twins, and my mum and dad worked so hard for us.

“I wasn’t trying to take over, just become better.”

Bent made his senior debut at 17 under an uncompromising boss in former Chelsea defender Dave Webb.

“He was a very hard man,” says Bent. “At times I hated him and wanted to strangle him.

“He probably wanted to strangle me, too.”

Webb’s inherent toughness was shared by Bent’s father.

“My upbringing was hard,” starts Bent.

“My dad was amazing, he took me to every game, every athletics meeting.

“But he was hard.

“If I scored a hat-trick he would concentrate on any negatives.

“He came from Jamaica, he is a good man, a plasterer but a man who can do anything, fix cars, build houses.

“He taught me a lot.”

Bent’s dad stores paper cuttings recording his son’s exploits.

They detail Bent’s move to Palace aged 19 in January 1998 and the five Premier League goals he scored in his first half season.

The summer ‘98 call to play for England Under-21s in Toulon and how he came home to be marginalised by new manager Terry Venables.

“Leaving Palace was a massive blow, I’d played for England, I was reaching new heights and striving to achieve my dream but then it came crashing down,” says Bent.

There will be nothing in that old newsprint about Bent’s mental decline at Port Vale. He didn’t talk about it, barely acknowledged to himself he was spiralling.

Certainly didn’t voice his unhappiness to family.

“With my dad’s upbringing, and mine, you didn’t have that communication,” says Bent.

“It was the hard way or no way.

“At times in my career, I might have needed an arm round my shoulder but I’d have shrugged it off.

“I love Port Vale and am glad they took me.

“But I didn’t have any friends or family around me. Life was depressing.

“I was the big player with a lot of expectation on me and I wasn’t doing it.

“I was still so driven to do well for myself and my family.

“It was heartbreaking and soul destroying at times.”


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Bent was deployed against type by Everton manager David Moyes.

After leaving Port Vale he’d scored goals as a bustling, express striker for Sheffield United, Blackburn Rovers, Ipswich Town and, on loan, Leicester City.

He began “moving forwards” in the Steel City, a process which survived Bent’s fleeting fury at being sold by the “loyal and honest” Graeme Souness following Blackburn’s promotion.

At Everton, Bent was asked to run his legs off as a lone forward but his status was reduced by the January 2005 arrival of James Beattie.

He sensed the end was nigh following Everton’s controversial Champions League qualifying defeat by Villarreal in August 2005, when Duncan Ferguson had a ‘goal’ scrubbed off because Bent was judged to be impeding keeper Mariano Barbosa.

“I didn’t touch him,” says Bent.

“It was hard to come to terms with losing my place and I wasn’t playing much by then, so that disappointment really hit me.

“It wasn’t the same for me at Everton after that.

“Running about and chasing down the ball was alien to me. But I enjoyed it and that was how we had our success.”


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Five months after his September 2015 arrest, Bent was found guilty of affray and possession of Class A drugs. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to undertake 200 hours unpaid work.

“I worked in a charity shop and it was amazing,” says Bent.

“At times, my ego got away with me, ‘Are people going to recognise me working here?’

“But I got down to it and really enjoyed it.

“After the time served, I went back.

“There were older women having to carry heavy stuff upstairs.

“I wanted to help.”

It is indicative of Bent’s more robust mental health that being declared bankrupt 12 months ago was a hurdle he cleared without artificial assistance.

“It is daunting, it is scary, but hopefully it will be over soon,” says Bent.

“That is not going to define me.

“Bankruptcy two years ago would have made me do the things I was doing.

“But now I am stronger. I am winning.

“Money is not a big thing to me.

“My family and friends, my children and girlfriend, are the most important things.”


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Bent made a flying start on loan with Wigan Athletic from Charlton in 2007/08.

“Then it got a little bit dull,” he says.

“This is the story: it reaches the point of, ‘What did I do wrong?’

“I work hard, I train hard.

“I go out hard.

“But I promise you, I give my all.”

Bent continued living in Manchester with then girlfriend, former Hollyoaks actress Gemma Atkinson, after signing for Birmingham City in 2008 and his focus, he concedes, was “starting to drift”.

By the time he was loaned to Middlesbrough the following year, Bent was “questioning what I was doing”.

“I had gone so far north,” he ponders aloud. He reels off the issues which accompanied him up and down the country.

“Being a kid with a lot of money, cars, houses, women, so many clubs and managers, travelling, football.

“Problems.”


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Marcus Bent finished his eight-week in-patient treatment declaring, “Everyone needs this”.

“We had counselling, gym, we’d go on bike rides and runs,” says Bent.

“We laughed and cried.

“I was in denial and felt I didn’t need to be there.

“I had been taught to man up, look after everyone else.

“It is probably within the past two years I accepted something was wrong.

“The first time I admitted it was in rehab.

“You go to a meeting and have to say, ‘My name is Marcus… these are my issues’.

“I told the counsellors, ‘I am not going to these meetings, I am all right, let’s do it privately’.

“I thought people would think badly of me.

“But these were people who have been through it – are going through it – and are trying to be better and help each other.

“They are not judging you.”


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Bent appreciates now he was “tapping out” of football when he spun a yarn about declining an offer from AFC Wimbledon to leave the field open for the club’s young players.

“I had lost my drive and passion,” he says.

He agreed to play for Mitra Kukar in Indonesia nonetheless.

“It was a payday and sometimes you just have to get what you can,” says Bent.

“They treated me like a king.

“I’d have killed it out there 10 years earlier but, at my age, with my back and hamstrings, I couldn’t do it.”

Bent quit his Asian escapade halfway through a two-year contract in 2012, countering the “smack in the face” supplied by football finishing with visions of sunlit uplands.

The gym didn’t factor in his one-long-holiday plans but now he swipes in for his workout daily.

Bent is returning order to his life.

“I woke up this morning with anxiety… knowing I was coming to Everton’s training ground to speak to you,” he says.

“I am a confident person but that anxiety takes over at times.

“I wouldn’t say to you, right now, I am doing amazing stuff.

“I am trying to get to the point where I can do amazing stuff.

“I am glad I have the resolve to talk to people going through similar situations.

“But that’s where I can be better, I have to reach the stage where I have the confidence to help those people.

“I want to give back, not take.”

The light is steadily returning to Marcus Bent’s world.

We should wish him well.

Everton in the Community is currently fundraising for The People’s Place, a proposed purpose-built mental health facility in the shadows of Goodison Park that will promote positive mental health and wellbeing to the local community. It will serve as a delivery site for the charity’s existing mental health programmes, as well as enabling signposting to other services. To find out more - and discover how you can become a permanent part of The People's Place by purchasing an engraved commemorative brick - click here.