“You never talked about depression. You have heard of some people, like Winston Churchill. And he called him the Black Dog. But I’ve never seen anyone in my playing career suffer from depression because it’s a disease you can’t see, unlike a broken leg or a twisted ankle. ‘
He is therefore delighted that in today’s football clubs “the sports psychologist is as important as the physiotherapist”. So much so that it makes him wish – “if my knees weren’t in such a state” – that he could go back and be in his prime again when he played three World Cups, won the Cup. UEFA with Ipswich and three league titles with Rangers.
“Even back then I kinda liked the old psychology, trying to get into the heads of the opponents, but the managers threw it away like a mess. We would train, work hard, take a shower, come home or go to the pub, then come home the next day and do the same. It was more of a guys club.
The only speech came after a defeat. “If we lost, or if we made mistakes, we got a good shot, a full disguise, and that was it. We had to get started. You had to drive yourself. You sank or swam. You couldn’t tell anyone you were anxious.
Not even managers and coaches? He’s laughing. “If we tried to talk to our coaches, we would be vilified. It was a tough world, but the pressure on today’s players is much greater than it was for my generation.
He’s had his own little moments of anxiety, he admits. “When I was captain, I was more concerned with introducing the players to the guest of honor than making the game; I didn’t want to get their names wrong.
But he was not, he said, fundamentally an anxious person, according to a still famous image of him from 1989 with blood streaming down his face from a bandage on his forehead and on his white England shirt. He had injured his forehead at the start of a World Cup qualifier with Sweden, but the team’s physiotherapist gave him impromptu stitches so he could continue playing, including the repeated header of the ball required due to its role in the center of defense.
Yet, he reveals, the Covid lockdown has turned him into an anxious person. “My wife and I live in a very secluded place [in Suffolk, where he retains links with his old club, Ipswich], but when the opportunity arose this spring to start going out to restaurants and pubs again, we didn’t want to do that. We still haven’t been in much. Even with masks and social distancing, we still feel very anxious and nervous around people. “
He is among the five people who said in a recent survey, commissioned by Well Pharmacy, that the easing of restrictions and the challenge of re-emerging in society had made them anxious. When Butcher identified himself in the research, he agreed to speak.