“If you talk through your problems there is a way out if you want it.”
Former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland walked away from professional football in 2016, having spent 17 seasons at clubs including Coventry City, Liverpool, Wigan and Sheffield Wednesday. He has since spoken publicly on his decision to retire from the game due to anxiety. In turn Chris has become one of the leading voices of mental health and wellbeing in football. Kirkland hasn’t altogether hung up his gloves – now coaching for Liverpool F.C Women as well as running his own academy for young goalkeepers.
We caught up with Chris to ask about his favourite save, advice for goalies under pressure, his perfect day and more.
You’ve just become the new goalkeeping coach for Liverpool Ladies, how are you getting on in your new role?
I’m loving the new role at Liverpool F.C Women. I was waiting for the right opportunity to come up and as I do a lot with Liverpool Football Club already, being a supporter and former player, this was perfect for me.
In 2001 you signed for Liverpool from Coventry City. Looking back, what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self to help stay in a good frame of mind?
When I was younger it wasn’t an issue – all I wanted to do was play football. It wasn’t until I got into my 30s that I started to struggle mentally. So, I wish there was help around back then at the clubs I was at because no doubt I would have sought professional help.
Who was your sporting idol when you were growing up?
My sporting idol was Steve Ogrizovic at Coventry City. Just seeing the way he trained and how he handled himself on and off the pitch, I learnt a lot from him and we still speak regularly to this day.
What was the most memorable save you made?
My most memorable save was against Nicolas Anelka at Chelsea for Wigan. I managed to scramble and lean back to tip a header over the bar at an important time of the game.
Goalkeepers can be highly scrutinised by fans and the media for their performances, Loris Karius being a recent example. Porto’s Iker Casillas defended the young German by uploading a highlights reel of his own mistakes in solidarity. What is the best advice you received during your playing days?
Keepers will make mistakes, always have, always will. Just forget about it and save the next one.
What would you say to any goalkeeper playing under this level of pressure?
You have to try and switch off away from football. Family life is vitally important and the most important thing is if you are happy off the pitch you are happy on it and vice-versa.
As an ex-professional footballer physical activity was obviously a big part of your daily routine. What does your exercise regime consist of today?
I’m still very active. I power walk with my dog most days for six miles, I go the gym three or four times a week, play golf, and obviously the GK training at Liverpool and my academy keeps me very active.
What are you listening to or watching at the moment?
I listen to all chart music and country music. We are watching Shooter on Netflix at the minute.
What have you learned about yourself over the past five or so years?
I’ve learnt that times can seem unbelievably hard but if you talk through your problems there is a way out if you want it enough and obviously how important my wife, daughter, friends and dog are to me.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
Perfect day would be an early morning walk with my dog, a nice bacon butty for breakfast, go out somewhere with my family, and then cook a big roast for tea.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I’m most grateful for still being here and having a great family and friends.
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