1 Dec 2019

Richie Sadlier: "I added to the wreckage of my life every day"

From Sunday Morning, 11:08 am on 1 December 2019

Former Irish professional footballer Richie Sadlier was a rising star until injury forced him to retire way too soon a decade ago. Depression and addiction took over, fuelled by demons from the past and his family life. Richie has laid the whole raw story of his life so far in his new book Recovery.

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Photo: supplied

Sadlier says that throughout writing the book he grappled with the question of whether he was being too open, even recklessly open. 

“Am I being too honest, is this going to impact my personal life and my family. Will it impact my current job and my potential to get other jobs - those are all the questions I had in my mind as I wrote it. Thankfully, so far, there’s been no major issues.”

The book is not a typical sports biography. It covers a huge range of issues from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, to his father’s alcoholism, his football career, his early retirement, his own alcoholism, and his decision to become a psychotherapist. 

Since he came out with his story, other English footballers have revealed they were abused in their earlier careers by people involved with or adjacent to their clubs. He says it took him a long time to be ‘ready’ to reveal a physiotherapist had been sexually abusing him. 

“[I asked myself] Is it just better never to repeat this to anyone ever again? I was disgusted with myself, so ashamed and so embarrassed, and I just thought if you’re ashamed of something, you keep it from everyone around you.”

Despite hardship in his early career and the regimented and gruelling training required to play football at a top level, he says he got to live out his dream. 

“I have so many moments and memories with teammates being out in the pitch or walking back into a dressing room after you’ve just done a job well and you’re sharing those moments with the people who you really have a unique bond with. Everyone’s running around behaving like teenagers, and there’s an element that’s a bit surreal, but the good days are indescribably good. I have so many good memories.

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it. It didn’t last as long as I wanted it. But, by God, the days that went well were worth all the bad days put together.”

Sadlier says that although he drank to excess from his mid-teens, his partying was curbed by the discipline of club football. When that ended with his leg injury, however, he was left to drink to his heart’s content.

“I started to realise the way I developed my pattern with drinking is once I started I didn’t know when to stop. If I had training the next day, obviously I would know I couldn’t drink then. When I had a match, I knew I couldn’t. But when I had none of those things, it was just a free for all.”

Sadlier went straight from school into football where there was always drug testing. He says this kept him from drugs throughout his professional career. 

“When I finished playing, I was drinking to excess all the time and then I would start taking drugs as well. I was heartbroken, I was devastated.”

He says he had a voice of self-pity in his head that said ‘if you’d been through what I have, you’d drink and take drugs too’. 

“The best way of getting those conversations off the table is just a pint of Guinness down your throat, take drugs, and just go into party mode. It was easier than facing up to the emotions and to actually sit with the feelings of all the stuff I was feeling.”

Sadlier says one of things that really helped him go into recovery in his early 30s was psychotherapy. That made him curious about the treatment and led him to gain a masters degree in the subject. He started off treating adults but now deals with adolescents and their parents. 

“I started to realise, personally, that the value of being a client of therapy opened up my eyes to the value of therapy itself. And then I thought it’s something I’d enjoy or maybe be good at. The more I started to learn about it, the more I learned about myself.”

He says he could've written a book which spoke only about his glorious days on the pitch and his new career in therapy, but it wouldn't have been true to his life.

"I would be completely spoofing everyone if I wrote the book like that and I didn't feel like that was something I had any interest in doing.

"My life certainly isn't one that is absent of any regrets. It's certainly not a life like that."