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Hunty's Column: An Interview With Andy McLaren

His career at Reading ended in controversy but what was going on beyond his footballing life was far tougher for Andy McLaren.

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Andy McLaren

A warning that this week's column deals with some sensitive issues, including substance abuse and the abuse Andy suffered as a child.

Years ago at the Madejski Stadium under Tommy Burns, we were also trying to get a play-off place and Manchester City were our visitors. On that day I saw a new Reading signing make his debut and thought he looked he OK before he ran out of steam. His name was Andy McLaren.

His career didn't go on to much with the club and I'm sure I wasn't alone in slating Andy during his time with the Royals, yet it's only when you realise what he was dealing with in his personal life at the time that you wish you could have been more forgiving & understanding.

That was 1999, this is 2017 and I hope we are on the road to accepting that having mental health issues is OK to talk about.

On a personal level, I told my boss I was struggling yesterday and took time off work but it still leaves you full of fear that it will be used against you. In nursing how sad is that? Sadly it happens in the football world as well.

I caught up with Andy recently, who had the courage to speak out about the sexual abuse he had to deal with as a child that severely affected his adult life and meant he buried himself in drink and drugs, habits which eventually led to the end of his time at Reading.

Why?

"I self medicated to cover up the abuse that happened to me around five-years-old. I used alcohol, drugs & prescribed medication to try to get away from the thoughts in my head, it was a cry for help, I thought if I got caught it will help."

"I went to Reading to escape all my problems but I couldn't escape myself."

"Tommy Burns tried to help me and after the ban I apologised to both Tommy and Alan Pardew. The PFA got me to the priory clinic and this helped save my life"

So Andy had the guts to go and be in the public eye despite suffering.

On Growing Up

"Football was an escape for me. My Dad died when I was younger, so became the man of the family, then became a dad at 17."

On Self-Medication

"Trying to get out of my head was a cry for help, I abused prescribed medication drugs and the alcohol helped to block things out.

The torment became so much that Andy attempted suicide, smashing his car into a lorry at 80mph, telling me how in the moment he felt he was dragging his family down and that maybe they'd be better off without him. Fortunately Andy survived and is still with us today and like a few others I know, he met a counsellor whom he connected with, which kick-started his recovery

Andy also spoke to me of how writing his auto-biography helped him. It's a book that's a must read to really understand his story.

So how does McLaren handle the bad times now?

"I take a week off, lie in bed, be away from people, it leaves me alone"

I asked him whether he's in a good place now?

"Some days are good or bad but I have been married 30 years and through my foundation I try to help youngsters through both good and bad experiences I've had"

Andy's trying his best to help the next generation through the charity he co-founded, Achieve More Scotland.

The former Reading winger told me,

"People are still ignorant towards Mental Health. Yet as someone who's suffered you can see it in other people, you can tell that you're 'one of them' and perhaps it takes one to know one. That's what makes us get it, nobody is alone,they just need to take that step and reach out.'

Andy continued,

"We get it, we aren't perfect, but that's what allows us to connect with people and enables them to talk to us. That for me is what makes for ideal role models in helping people, even if we are far from perfect ourselves."

"People don't have time for each other these days but I love helping people, I physically get a buzz out of it, so helping them also helps me."

On The Current Game

Andy joked that with today's soaring salaries he might have been in even worse shape.

"If I was on 70 grand a week I'd have no nostrils."

Looking Back

"Normally I'd just feel guilty. Your mates have no jobs, so what have you got to be depressed about? I'd go to training pull into the car park in tears but two minutes later I'd be laughing and joking."

Too many of us wear a mask and do our best, we deserve an Oscar at this rate.

Andy is an inspiration who makes a difference to people's lives, thanks for sharing your story mate.

You can follow Andy on twitter - @andymclaren7

While you can check out the charity mentioned above - http://aandm.org.uk/ and on twitter @AchieveMoreScot

Thanks for reading, this has taken me two weeks to write thanks to my sky high anxiety but I hope it's worth it!

Johnny