Football star’s bombshell revelations
Archie Thompson has been in the sporting limelight in Australia for over a decade.
The face of A-League club Melbourne Victory, Thompson was known for his heroics on the field, but away from the football pitch was a life nobody else knew was playing out in his final year at the top level.
"Not many people know, but in my last year of football, I was actually going through a break-up of my marriage and I was also told I wasn't going to be playing football for the club I had basically grown up with," he told Fox Football.
"All of that was happening, all at once. It was like a big tidal wave had come over the top of me."
The struggles that came with being in the public eye began to take its toll. Thompson juggled a marriage breakdown and mental health battles while coming to terms with the end of his professional career.
As his personal life began to unravel, Thompson was still required to train and play at the top level and attend appearances and other media calls that are part of professional football.
"When you talk about a facade, I had to put on a face because I was in the public eye, and I always had this sort of character that always has to be happy," he said.
"But when you go home and close those doors, suddenly, the world feels very small."
As the curtains closed on a 224-game career for the Victory that also included 54 Socceroos caps on May 16, 2016, the cheers, the chants and feelings of self-worth disappeared with it.
"Football has been part of my life since I was four years old," Thompson said.
"To be out on the pitch, that's my sanctuary. It is somewhere that I can express myself and bring joy to other people and feel good. Even still, I can say that was my inner sanctum, but there was still fear out there. A fear and anxiety about making mistakes.
"Supporters can be very fickle. One day they're chanting your name and next week, you make one little mistake and then suddenly they're talking about transfers and getting rid of you."
'I JUST HATED THE GAME'
Dealing with the end of a decorated professional sports career can differ from athlete to athlete, Thompson admits he struggled as he grappled with his career coming to a close.
"Your life has been structured from the moment you turn up to training, what you have to wear, what you need to do, so, it was always sort of set out for us. When it gets taken away from you, you don't know what to do," he said.
"Inevitably, there's always someone younger to come in, but I just don't think I was ready for it at the time, and then all of a sudden, everything that was structured for me, wasn't anymore.
"That's when the anxiety and the 'what am I going to do, am I going to be able to support my family?' kicks in."
With tears in his eyes, a visibly emotional Thompson admits he knew he was hitting rock bottom as his marriage broke down, and he was unable to see his children; he began skipping training sessions and making excuses to not come into the club.
"When you finish your career, everybody wants to go out on a high," he said.
"But over the course of those eight months, I just hated the game. I felt like football was the reason I screwed up my relationship, I couldn't see my kids, and what was my sanctum I didn't want to be a part of anymore."
"I'd go to training, and the training was always a release for me. I'd get onto the pitch and I'd just let it all out. I couldn't even do that," Thompson added, wiping away tears.
"I'd ring up the club or coach and make excuses and say 'look I'm sick, I can't come in'."
'I WAS SO CLOSE TO DOING IT'
But the damning moment came when Thompson contemplated taking his own life.
The darkness, despair and isolation that Thompson felt reached a breaking point as he opened up on his excessive drinking and dark thoughts.
"For me, dealing with it initially, I was turning to the drink. I was drinking and rocking up to training, and I couldn't even stand half the time," he revealed.
"It almost got to the point where I thought about … you know … I was so close to going and doing it so many times … jumping off the West Gate Bridge.
"It took a couple of good people to see that I was struggling; that I was at rock bottom. They realised I was in a bit of trouble and needed help.
"You try to hide it, but it takes good people to see it. And I'm lucky that I had some good people that really helped me."
Thompson credits his decision to speak to a psychologist for his turnaround and improvement, where he now feels comfortable telling his story in hope that it may help others.
"All of these things, they were just banging inside of my head," he said.
"But, just being able to talk to someone about it … I openly tell people now that I go and see a psychologist just to help deal with some of those issues, and I highly recommend it.
"For anybody going through any issue, whether they perceive it to be big or small, talking really helps. It doesn't mean you're mad. It's just a really good way of being able to deal with situations you don't know how to, and these people are obviously trained in it.
"That's why I'm such a big advocate for Movember because everyone has hit rock bottom at some stage. It's tough to get out, but if you've got good people around you that can help you talk about it, it makes it so much easier."
'THERE IS AN AVENUE TO TALK'
The much-loved sporting hero and Australian football icon is now challenging gender stereotyping, with his willingness to show emotion and break the typical view on masculinity to help others break free from early gender messaging.
"We don't have to be this big 'tough' guy anymore, or this facade that 'I can deal with everything'. It's great that we as men can now feel comfortable enough to share these stories, and talk about these issues that affect us and hopefully it helps others," he said. "We can let our guards down."
As an ambassador for Movember, Thompson knows the power of talking and opening up can have on a person mindset, professional sportsmen or not.
"Only last week I had a conversation with a group of guys, and maybe even two or three years ago you wouldn't have been able to open up as I did," he said.
"I was talking about a certain situation where I was suffering from a bit of anxiety, and straight away one of the boys said, 'I've been wanting to talk about this for some time, too'."
Thompson wants to continue to facilitate conversations around men's mental health. With a gradual cultural shift and increased education in how society views and empathises with mental health, no longer is there a need to stay silent and battle alone.
"I think what Movember means to most men, is that they're able to share what they're going through without fear. I have chats now with my dad that I wouldn't have thought were possible. And, to see him open up … it's great," he said.
"Movember is amazing, I wish it had of been around longer, but I'm glad it's here now, and it's great because it can help the youth of today who feel like they don't have that help to speak up and talk about - they have that."
Thompson, who is back in control of his life and his career post-football is grateful for the support shown by those closest to him, and credits Movember.
"Now, I feel comfortable enough to share my story," he said. "Now, I can feel comfortable enough to say that I had problems.
"Before, it used to be something I compartmentalised, and I didn't want to share. Or, more couldn't share because I felt embarrassed. Hopefully, my story helps bring those statistics down. There is an avenue to talk."
Help Archie Thompson and the Movember Foundation change the face of men's health. Donate to Archie now at mobro.co/archiethompson1
For help or information call Lifeline on 131 114