Ex-Orient defender Clark opens up in new blog

PUBLISHED: 10:30 22 August 2019

Michael Clark is kissed by a Leyton Orient fan as he leaves the pitch following the 2-1 win over Hartlepool United in the 2016/17 season (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Michael Clark is kissed by a Leyton Orient fan as he leaves the pitch following the 2-1 win over Hartlepool United in the 2016/17 season (pic: Simon O'Connor).

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The O’s academy graduate, who is now playing for Braintree Town, has discussed the mental pressure players put on themselves

Michael Clark in action for Leyton Orient away to Crewe Alexandra - the day they suffered relegation from League Two on April 22 2017 (pic: Simon O'Connor).Michael Clark in action for Leyton Orient away to Crewe Alexandra - the day they suffered relegation from League Two on April 22 2017 (pic: Simon O'Connor).

One-time Leyton Orient defender Michael Clark has spoken about the challenges footballers face when trying to forge a career in the professional game.

The centre back spent 11 years at the O's working his way through various age groups and eventually into the first-team during the 2016/17 campaign.

A lot of hard work and sacrifice went into making his senior bow, but a combination of injuries, a loss of form and the performances of others saw him released by the club in March 2018.

Clark made 12 appearances in total for Orient and has opened up in his blog titled 'Football On The Mental' about the pressure he would put on himself and the issues he and many youngsters face when looking to make a mark.

He wrote: "It's taken me ages to figure out where to start my story because I'm not too sure when I began to suffer mentally.

"I've always been nervous before games, which is a good thing; it means you're doing something important. However, not so long ago, these nerves turned to irrational thoughts.

"Think of these irrational thoughts as little grains of sand filling up your head. You won't notice 1 or 2 grains. But eventually, with persistent negative thinking, your head will soon be clogged up and unable to function properly. This is what happened to me.

"At my worst, I was so negative about absolutely everything. There was nothing good in the world. I'd get down about being down because football wasn't going to plan, which would make me train worse and get even more down.

"And then because I'd be performing poorly in training, I wouldn't get picked for the match-day squad and would feel even worse again. This process went on for around 6 months and I was slowly spiralling out of control in my own head.

Michael Clark playing for East Thurrock United on loan during the 2017/18 campaign (pic: Leigh Page).Michael Clark playing for East Thurrock United on loan during the 2017/18 campaign (pic: Leigh Page).

"I looked ill and was deteriorating physically as well as mentally. My depression and anxiety was affecting my relationship with my girlfriend, my family and social life. I had no motivation to do anything.

"Nothing was going right for me. 'Is this it?' I used to think. My Mum and Dad had given up so much time and money during my childhood to drive me to and from football - 'and this is how I repay them?'

"'I've let everyone down. I'm a failure.' I would punish myself in my own mind, beat myself up mentally and would often bring myself to tears. I was a mess.

"To me at the time, the only way to end this mental suffering was to put an end to everything - quite literally.

"As sportsmen, why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we add to the pressure that already exists? Pressure to impress, perform and be successful whether that's individually or within a team.

"I challenge you to start accepting failure. Take it in your stride! An error only becomes a mistake when it keeps happening. We should embrace our errors - making them is the best way to learn and move forward."

Clark, in a string of honest blog posts, writes about "the trouble with bottling up our feelings."

He adds: "Money can't buy you a sound mind. And if not looked after, our minds can be extremely detrimental to our health."

The young centre back, who was highly thought of by many at O's, felt writing his thoughts down aided his turnaround from negative and depressed feelings back to his usual rational thinking.

Michael Clark of Leyton Orient and Stevenage's Matthew Godden (pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo).Michael Clark of Leyton Orient and Stevenage's Matthew Godden (pic: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo).

In a post titled 'Man Up' - a common phrase heard in the football industry from years gone by and still now - Clark explains how real courage comes from speaking out.

He said: "The easiest way to 'man up' would be to talk about how you're feeling with someone close to you.

"This shows strength and courage more than anything else and will be the start of your return to a positive mental well-being."

Orient's one-time under-18 captain also reflected on the dangers of drinking as an 'escape' and added: "my mind would often be clouded by irrational thoughts.

"Drinking alcohol would only increase the clouds and fogginess in my head - the more you drink, the more damage you'll do to your mind. You can escape the irrational thoughts that haunt you! I would recommend meditation to achieve this.

"Sit quietly, let the body relax and focus on your breathing. Clear your head. This will put you in a much better frame of mind to continue battling your enemy that got you feeling this way to begin with, your mind."

The former St Albans City defender also discussed the times when footballers can get down like the drive home after a game or Sunday mornings.

He touched upon the effect of social media too, Clark said: "It's likely that whilst you're wishing you had the new trainers or new car that someone has posted a photo of online, someone is looking at your page and wishing they had a life like yours."

A message on Clark's page under his 'My Story' column reads 'telling my story and helping others within sport'.

Given the footballer born in Welwyn Garden City is only 21, there is still time for him to make more of a mark on the game in the Football League.

Yet the bigger picture here is that now he is arguably doing something far greater than simply playing in League Two or the National League.

Clark is speaking out and helping others, which can be measured by the fact several footballers in the game have publically praised and promoted his blog and privately a lot more have got in touch too.

In an age where abuse on social media can get out of control, this young centre back is using the platform to promote a positive mindset and attitude, which highlights the real importance of academy set-ups.

While clubs like Leyton Orient hope to develop the next best talent from the area, the main goal is to develop good people and in Clark they clearly have.

Check his blog here.

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