Former Bourne Town manager Jimmy McDonnell speaks out about his battle with mental health issues
A well-known footballing figurehead from Bourne has made the brave decision to speak out about his battle with mental health issues in the hope that it encourages others to come forward.
Jimmy McDonnell enjoyed a lengthy playing career with Bourne Town before going on to manage the club currently playing in the United Counties League.
He stepped down from the helm at the end of the 2018 season but is still a familiar face at the JJ Mac Stadium.
Renowned as a tough-tackling midfielder in his hey-day, the 43-year-old has been facing the biggest challenge of his life in the past three years.
Admitting he had ‘hit rock bottom’ that left him with suicidal thoughts, he is hoping that highlighting the demons which he has been battling will encourage others to get support with an illness that is becoming more prominent in today’s society.
Jimmy explained: “I want to be perfectly open and honest about what I’ve been through.
“It all started about three years ago and people have since said to me that coincided with the end of my playing career.
“You’re always trying to get to the bottom of everything all the time and you do over-think things massively.
“When I got to the end of my playing days, I was struggling with depression then. It was being treated so it wasn’t a problem, but it was just changing something from what I’d been doing for 20-plus years.
“I remember people laughing when I said that I had put a pair of jeans on for a Saturday afternoon - I couldn’t get my head around it because I had always been used to putting a club tracksuit on.
“It was strange, but I still wanted something. I took the management role on at Bourne Town to keep busy and, when that finished, all of a sudden I had a massive hole in my life.
“Things in my personal life were also happening and you start thinking that you’re becoming worthless.
“It felt it was all going wrong because of my actions and not being able to ask for help.
“I thought if I said something was wrong then I would lose everything and in the end not speaking out and getting help has cost me everything.
“You think you’re doing everything wrong and everything that you try seems to go wrong as well.
“You push away all the ones that you love, trying to protect them, and it just starts spiraling out of control.
“The scary thing is that you can put such a brave face on it. You’re the centre of attention, everyone is laughing and joking and, then when everyone leaves, there’s that emptiness. There’s a hole. You’ve just had that much fun and then within seconds you’re back down again.”
Jimmy reflects feeling like he had to put a ‘show on’ to convince people that he was fine.
“There are so many people now who have come to me and said that they knew something wasn’t right, but at the time it was easy to walk into the football club or a pub in town and fool people in there, but you couldn’t fool people who loved you.
“You put a show on, always smiling and put a few quid behind the bar and people think you’re alright.
“All of sudden within two years you’ve gone from nearly having everything to sitting there thinking that you’ve let everyone down so much that you just think that everyone is better off if you’re not there anymore.
“It’s a dark place when you’re trying to take your own life, but thankfully for some reason someone has given me a second chance.
“It’s still going to be hard, I know that, but this is where I am now and it’s just going to be one step at a time.
“There are people out there that can help you, but my biggest thing is that I had to get to rock bottom and try and take my own life before you see all this.”
And his message for people going through the same thing?
“Speak to people,” Jimmy said emphatically. “Speak to your parents, your family or your friends - don’t just bottle it up because that’s all I did. I did that for three years and it just exploded. You end up having a breakdown because of it.
“Parents with children should sit them down once a week and just speak to them to see if they’re alright.
“There should be no secrets. Until you hit that rock bottom you don’t realise just how many people suffer from this.
“Blokes tend to bury their head in the sand. You chuck more weight on your shoulders and you just don’t see it.
“I can guarantee that there is some young person out there, whether it’s at the football club or rugby club or just walking through town, who is thinking that something isn’t right.
“You just don’t know. The amount of people who have come up to me and said ‘I didn’t think it would be you’ - well I didn’t think it would be me either.”
And Jimmy says there is no timescale on recovering from a mental health problem.
“I sort of wish that I had broken my leg because within six to eight weeks you’ll be back or, even if it’s a bad one, then your recovery is 10 weeks.
“But with this no-one can give you a timescale. You feel so embarrassed when you’re going through it - especially when you’re signed off from work as well.
“When it happens it’s as if you have walked around the other side of the fence and now you’re feeling all the same things but you’re looking at it from a different way.
“You then feel embarrassed about what you’re tried to do and you don’t feel as though you can plod around town because people know you are off sick.
“My big thing now is that, if I was a young teenager, would I have been able to get through it?
“As bad and as scary as it was for me at the age of 43, I’d hate to think what it would be like for a young lad or girl.
“I’m hoping that someone will look at this and think that it can be anyone.”
Jimmy has been extremely grateful for the support of his family, friends and employers at Warners Midlands in Bourne.
He has also been reliant on the Don’t Lose Hope counselling centre which is based in North Street, Bourne.
Jimmy added: “Warners have been brilliantand fully supportive along with family and so many friends.
“I would like to thank the Green family who took me in over Christmas and made me feel very welcome in what was the hardest two weeks of my life.”
“Everyone has helped me in so many ways as well as someone very special who tried so hard to get me to talk two years ago, but unfortunately I wasn’t ready until now. I will never be able to thank them all enough.
“Don’t Lose Hope is a brilliant facility to have, but I must have walked past it 10 times before I first came in because all of a sudden I was worried about who was driving by and seeing me.
“If someone was stood nearby waiting for a bus then I felt I couldn’t go in. I was that worried about things.
“I can now see all these things going on but, when you’re going through it, you don’t see any of that.
“The biggest thing for me now is that one person reads this and realises that they feel the same and speaks to someone about it because you can’t bottle it up.
“I’ve tried to bottle it up for three years and, to be honest, that night could have gone completely differently and I might not still have been here.”
He says sharing his problems have been a “massive weight off my shoulders”.
Jimmy added: “If I had known how acceptable it would have been to speak out, from other people’s perspective, then I would have spoken two or three years
“You haven’t got to get to rock bottom and try and take your own life before you start building yourself back up because families and friends can really help you.”
Samaritans offer FREE round the clock, confidential support to anyone that wants to talk through their problems.
Call Samaritans on 116 123, calls are free from any phone, or visit www.samaritans.org to find out about the support on offer.
Bourne Town Football Club will be using their annual charity day this year to raise funds for the Don’t Lose Hope counselling centre.
The fundraising event will take place on Saturday, May 9, at the Abbey Lawn with a family-themed day.
Junior football games will be held throughout the day with a number of attractions for the whole family also taking place.
The day will culminate in a match between a Bourne Town Legends team and a side made of players who were managed by Jimmy McDonnell and his co-boss Phil Gadsby during their reign at the JJ Mac Stadium.
Chairman Steve Elger said: “Jimmy has been heavily in the club and we hope he will continue that when he’s ready. We as a football club like to give the day back to something and it’s great to have our juniors involved.
“They are a fantastic part of our club who come down with their parents and support Bourne Town on a Saturday.”
The strong link between the juniors and seniors at the Abbey Lawn club was also a big factor in Jimmy’s decision to speak out.
He continued: “I was very lucky to get the manager’s job at Bourne with Phil Gadsby and I really enjoyed it. We became this family club for the first time in many years - the seniors went to the junior events and vice-versa.
“That sort of connection means I couldn’t let one of those youngsters go through this. Hopefully this just makes one of the parents look at their children and ask if they’re alright.
“If you can just go and speak to somebody and tell them that something isn’t right because you can’t just keep it all in.
“I tried to do that for three years and it nearly exploded in me.”
Visit www.dontlosehope.co.uk to find out more about the charity.
More by this authorJames Bedford