David Cotterill interview: Former Wales star open up on his harrowing battle with drink and depression

Cotterill was a Premier League player at 18, made 400-plus league appearances and reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals with his country.

But behind those highs lay a torturous and toxic mix of alcohol, anxiety and loneliness.

Now, in a heart-breaking and incredibly honest interview, Cotterill explains how he . . .

  • Downed three bottles of wine a night before using knives and corkscrews to self-harm.
  • Was saved by his sobbing wife Tanika after stabbing himself with a kitchen knife.
  • Broke his hand so badly after punching a bathroom mirror that a bone was poking out.
  • Played with Lego during Wales’ Euro glory run as therapy against his demons.
David Cotterill was part of Wales' squad of heroes at Euro 2016
Former pro midfielder David Cotterill had suicidal thoughts during his battle with depression

Cotterill, who retired in October aged just 30, admitted: “Even at my greatest heights in football I felt in a place where I wasn’t happy with myself and there were a few times I thought about suicide.

“I remember it happened when I played at both Birmingham and Doncaster — we actually got promoted that year. I scored ten goals, assisted 23 and all I wanted to do was be done with it. It’s mad.

“Depression is not something you can turn on and off like a light switch. It could be anytime. It could be in a week when I was being an idiot or after a game where I’d scored or the team had won.

“I’d go out, have a few drinks and switch. I’ve done stupid things.

“After nights out, I’d have a knife to my throat or digging it into my stomach, trying to end it.

“I’ve nicked myself before using one of those big kitchen knives with massive blades you use to cut meat.

“I’d be lying on the floor in the kitchen and my wife would come in crying. She would grab the knife off me and I’d be so drunk I would pass out. I’ve done the same with a corkscrew.

“I wanted to be away from everything. I was feeling so low, in a dark place and thought it was better to be out of the way rather than be around. I wanted attention.

“Back then, I was in a bubble and acted in a selfish way. I wouldn’t give a s**t about anything. You don’t think in the correct way.

“You don’t want to cause any more problems for your family. You think, be done with it and they can live happily. But, in essence, that is worse.

“I’m mentally stronger now. It’s still a struggle at times but I look at my wife and kids and do the right thing for them.

“I went to an event recently and the parents of a guy who took his own life were there. It showed me the aftermath of the pieces they have to put together.

“I’m just glad I did not take things a step too far before it was too late.”

Cardiff-born Cotterill’s harrowing story will touch nerves across English football as he played for eight clubs during a 14-year professional career at Bristol City, Wigan, Sheffield United, Swansea, Portsmouth, Barnsley, Doncaster and Birmingham.

He did hurt himself severely through his mad antics once, in December 2016.

Cotterill, who revealed tattoos all over his body cover up many of his mental health attacks, added: “I punched a mirror in the bathroom of a Cardiff hotel after a friend’s 30th birthday party and cut my hand.

“I woke up the next day, the bed was full of blood and my wife had been crying.

“The bone was popping out but I went into training at Birmingham wearing gloves because I thought no one would notice.

“My hand was killing me. I showed the physio, told him I’d had an accident and the doctor stitched it up. I’ve still got the scar.

“And I had to pay the hotel a few hundred quid for damaging the mirror.

“Another time I went up my ladder at home and painted my hallway. My dad David is a decorator and came round the next day with the house in a mess.

“He said: ‘Who has painted this? You need to sack them! Why didn’t you ask me to do it? I was thinking, ‘That was me on the ladder . . . ’

“I’ve cut down on my drinking because I don’t want to be back in that position again.

“For a lot of people, when alcohol touches the system it can be dangerous. It was for me.

“I believe mental health is finding the right balance to manage, control it and live a happy life.”

Six months before his hand injury, Cotterill was named in Chris Coleman’s squad for the 2016 European Championships.

The midfielder won 24 caps but did not play a minute in France. He was the social organiser as Cookie’s men reached the last four but admits that golden summer turned into a personal nightmare.

Cotterill confessed: “The Euros was my lowest point.

“I look back and it was an amazing achievement for the lads. But back in my hotel room for six-to-eight weeks it was the loneliest I’ve felt.

“If it wasn’t for my wife calling me for two hours a night I’d have been in a really s**t place. I was so low because I didn’t have the release of playing football. I felt I should have got some game time.

“There’s nothing worse for a footballer to put in the work, have a good season for your club, go away on international duty and know fully well you aren’t going to get picked.

“It’s mentally draining. Training was a grind and I found it hard to motivate myself.

“Despite the fact I didn’t play, Cookie was a great guy and a proper leader. It wasn’t personal because he picked the best team he felt would do the job.

“But I never thought about speaking to him about my problem. I didn’t want to jeopardise my place in the Wales squad. If I’d said to Cookie, I’ve got a problem mentally then there’s no way he would have taken me to the Euros for six weeks.

“The lads were on a complete high. We had qualified for the knockout stages but I went back to my room and hit rock bottom.

“I had Lego delivered by my wife just to get me through each stage. Some of the lads said: ‘You weirdo, are you going to go and build some Lego?’

“I don’t want anyone to feel guilty. They weren’t to know and it was just banter. In fact, a few of the boys came up to me during a Wales camp in the autumn after the Euros and said: ‘Now I know why you build Lego! It’s amazing. I’ve just got my kids some. I can’t stop building it. It’s like therapy’.”

Wales’ success at the Euros came less than five years after then-manager Gary Speed took his own life. Reports following his death suggested he struggled with mental health problems since he was a teenager.

Cotterill added: “I used to travel with Speedo from Manchester to Sheffield United when we were there together.

“He was an amazing guy. It was a really sad day for the whole of football when he died — he was a huge figure.

“What sticks out for me is how loving a person he was to his family. He was always on the phone to his wife and kids. He would give me advice. Sometimes you give out better advice than you take yourself.”

Cotterill is building himself up again and believes talking about his own problems might help others suffering in silence with mental health issues.

He added: “Doing talks and helping others is my way of therapy. It’s helped me a lot to explain what I’ve been through.

“I can relate to the dark and crazy things they are doing. The older I got the more I realised there was a dark cloud over me. I’m hoping this can help people.

“I was doing a talk at Birmingham and a bloke came up to me, shook my hand and said: ‘I’m so glad you saved my son’s life by responding to him on Instagram.’

“His son was the same age as me. He was thinking about committing suicide that day but because I replied to him, he went and spoke to his dad instead.

“That was nice and I’m hoping I can help more people in the future.”


“I was on loan at Bristol City from Birmingham when Harry took over and kept the club up. I had agreed with the previous manager Gianfranco Zola that I would get extra time off for holidays in the summer because I was on international duty with Wales and then I got married. But no one told Harry.

“I went on my honeymoon and then reported back.

“When I arrived I was told to train on my own for four days and I received an email saying I’d be fined a week’s wages.

“So I knocked on Harry’s office door and said ‘Gaffer, can I have a word?’ He said ‘I don’t understand why you have got married so late in the summer’.

“And I said ‘It was the only time I could because I was away with Wales, I’d got permission and the club were well aware of the situation’.

“Harry then said ‘No, no — we won’t fine you now because I know the story’.

“He put me in the team the following weekend and told me ‘I tried signing you for Spurs once’. But I started laughing because I’m sure he was telling me porkies!”


“Becoming the youngest player for Wales, beating Ryan Giggs’ record. I came on for him and he was my hero growing up.

“Lewin Nyatanga took it then, followed by about another ten players after that.

“My Premier League debut was at Wigan against Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth. I’d always wanted to be on Match of the Day.

“I scored a good goal at West Ham two days after turning 19.

“I played at Old Trafford and I’m a United fan.”


“We were at QPR and I was taking a corner and this one guy was swearing at me, ‘You call yourself George Best, you must be f****** joking’!

“It’s like me putting Ronaldo or Messi in my son’s middle name. My parents laugh about it. George was either my dad’s hero or my mum fancied him!



“The day after we got knocked out by Portugal at the last Euros we went out in Dinard. It was the quietest town in the middle of nowhere. We went to a nightclub, it had a straw roof and it went from no one in there to the players getting mobbed.

“We had swimming gear on. I had googles on — my nose is so big they didn’t fit properly. Other lads were wearing rubber rings or armbands and we sung, ‘Don’t take me home’ for two hours.

“Apart from my wedding and the birth of my kids, it was the best night of my life.”


“I missed two penalties — v Norwich and QPR — back-to-back the year Swansea got promoted from the Championship. I got dropped by Brendan Rodgers and in a few weeks I was told to train for the reserves. I never saw the pitch again.”


“Gary was the best manager I worked under. He understood and trusted me.

“We (Birmingham) beat Rotherham 4-2 and the owners thought we should have beaten them 8-0. They sacked Gary and brought in Gianfranco Zola. I think he won two in 24 games.”


“I’m involved in a football device called Player Maker. Instead of having GPS results you get more in-depth statistical data about ball control and interaction.

“You get stats for number of passes with your left foot, right foot, number of touches, dribbles, who passes to who, who loses possession, how powerful you are off each foot, time on the ball.

“It will eventually go inside a player’s boot but at the moment it is a band which goes on the outside of your boot. I go to training grounds and knock a few balls around in the drills.

“I enjoy it because I can relate to how footballers will receive this information and the data feedback in how to improve as a player.

“It’s more factual than the opinion of a coach and I think it will change sport.

“Brighton, Fulham and Southampton are already on board. We did a demo at Burnley and Stoke last week and I’m going into Wales on December 4.

“England and Man City are also scheduled to have a look at it. It will be huge.”

  • If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please phone the Samaritans free on 116123.

Source: Read Full Article