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In his own words, Marcus Maddison was in a dark place when he contemplated crashing his car on the way to a game. "It's awful to say but I literally just wanted to take a picture of my car in a ditch, just to say I couldn't make it in," he tells SPORTbible. "I just didn't want to be there."
The talented attacking midfielder was on the books of League One Peterborough United as he made his way towards London Road that day. Looking in from the outside, this professional footballer had it all. Money. Fame. Possessions. But things were far from perfect.
After joining in the summer of 2014 from fifth-tier Gateshead, he quickly became a key player under manager Darren Ferguson. In his first season, Maddison was the club's second top-scorer with eight goals from midfield, and he continued that form for a number of years.
Nobody ever doubted his ability. Throughout a six-year spell at Posh, the naturally gifted midfielder was constantly linked with a number of Championship clubs. "Every transfer window from joining in that September, they spoke about me leaving in December, and from that point, in every single window, there were rumours. But it never happened."
Despite never getting that dream move he continued to impress and score goals. A total of 62 in 249 appearances to be exact. But deep down, his passion for the game was fading. "The love for football probably hasn't been there for a long time," he admits. "It has a job for maybe three or four years. It's nice to come out of it, to be honest."
In a move that surprised many supporters earlier this month, Maddison decided to quit his full-time job as a professional footballer to join Spalding United of the Northern Premier League Midlands Division. It left many people asking why.
This open and honest chat with the former Hull City and Charlton Athletic player should give you more of an insight into exactly why.
It is a Friday afternoon and Marcus Maddison is sitting in the upstairs bedroom of his Peterborough home. Downstairs, somebody can be heard walking around.
When he completed a six-month loan move to Championship side Hull City on the final day of last year's January transfer window, he didn't expect to come back to Cambridgeshire, so Maddison generously let a friend and his family move in.
"Since making the decision to come back, I can't ask him to leave because he's got nowhere to go," he tells us over a Zoom call.
"It's a decision I've made for myself. My decision shouldn't affect him. So, this is my room. I can go wherever I want in the house, just living with people for the first time in a long time is a strange one. I'm 27 years old. I'm so used to living alone. I'll get used to it."
Unlike his former life as a professional footballer, he can wake up whenever he pleases. "This is the longest time I've had off away from football," Maddison says. "I can do what I want, when I want. I just got up at 1pm in the afternoon, because I don't need to get up for anything in particular. It's just nice not having rules and structure constantly at the minute."
Maddison sounds liberated having ditched his typical routine. He admits to hating the daily grind of a training regime, regardless of what club he was at. "I've always not enjoyed getting up and going to training. Some players love it, but really I don't want to be there.
"I don't see the point. That has never been the case for me. Saturday and Tuesday's is what I live for."
The thing is, this former Newcastle United academy graduate has never been one to adhere to the stereotypical lifestyle of a footballer. During his days at Peterborough, the midfielder used to eat an Indian takeaway on a Friday night ahead of a game.
He would tuck into a chicken tikka masala with rice and chips before cleaning off a big naan bread.
"I loved it," he laughs. "It was my favourite. And it made no difference to my performance on a Saturday."
Then on a typical match-day, Maddison would do the same thing every week. It was more of a superstition than anything, he says. He would wake up [usually with 45 minutes to spare] and on his way to the ground, would stop at Tesco to eat a £3 meal deal.
"Chicken Pasta pot, a flapjack and a Lucozade orange. That would be my pre-match meal and then I'd play," he says.
"I played better when I was happy. When you do what you want, and when you enjoy life, it shows in the performances. I always found when I tried to do everything correctly, and I did what everyone wanted me to do, my performances dipped because I was keeping everyone else happy and not myself."
Maddison certainly had an impressive goal to game ratio at Peterborough but some supporters became frustrated by his style of play. He had a reputation for trying the difficult things and, although he scored some audacious goals, his performances had a negative effect on his life off the field.
"In this city, I become a villain for no reason," he says. "My car got keyed on my drive. I've been punched on nights out for no reason - just because of the way I play football. People don't agree with it. They think I'm arrogant. People can't differentiate between the man that's a footballer and the man who is a normal person."
The attacking midfielder has always struggled with certain aspects of the game. Some more than others.
After being released by Newcastle as a teenager following seven productive years in the North East, he later made a handful of appearances for non-league Blyth Spartans before travelling up to Scotland to join St Johnstone. "I was so lost," he admits. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing."
He would go on to join Gateshead after a successful trial at the Conference Premier club and, despite a slow start to life under Gary Mills after suffering from glandular fever, he went on to become arguably the best player in non-league.
It wasn't long before League One side Peterborough came knocking.
"I was quite fortunate that I joined Peterborough with Darren Ferguson in charge," Maddison says. "He was quite relaxed on the training ground, say if you had a niggle or anything like that, he was cool with it. Because I'd just gone up the leagues, my body was a bit battered and bruised.
"I suffered a few injuries in that first season. He would give you time off - as long as you could play on a Saturday, it didn't really matter if you trained. He wasn't like that when he came back to Peterborough, I can't lie, but when I first arrived, he was really relaxed in that sense."
As the years went by, and his form continued to catch the eye of clubs in higher divisions, Maddison managed to make a number of appearances in the Championship for Hull City last year. But things never quite panned out the way he had hoped.
"I've felt hard done by in the past," he says. "I believe if I had played in the Championship earlier, I would have gone on to play for a Premier League club. I believe I've had my time. I know I'm only 27 and this is meant to be my prime, but I've tried my hardest with my ability. If you're not going up the levels, it's not for you.
"I was getting 22 assists, 13 goals. Double figures, season after season. Doing that as a midfielder, you'd think surely, year after year, somebody was going to come in but it was just constant disappointment. Eventually, I was just like: I don't care anymore."
He made just seven appearances for The Tigers, who decided against offering him a permanent deal when his contract expired with Peterborough last summer. He went on to join Charlton on a one-year deal but again, that spell didn't end the way he'd of liked.
Then there was a short spell at Bolton Wanderers earlier this year. The League Two club were looking to gain promotion after suffering relegation and the acquisition of the talented Maddison was seen as a huge coup.
Things, however, just never clicked from the beginning.
"It just felt like everything went wrong for me at Bolton," he admits. "From the minute I joined, I went to put my TV up in the bedroom and the TV fell and smashed. In my first game, I got a red card in 10 minutes. And I also crashed my car.
"Just loads of different things. It just kept going wrong and wrong and wrong. I'm away from home, in a hotel room, seven days a week. Can I be bothered with this? I wasn't playing or enjoying myself. I didn't want to be there."
Maddison would make just 10 appearances for Bolton before his loan move was cut short.
"It got to a point where I didn't care what they said. I said to my agent that I don't care whether they allow me to go or they fire me, I'm going. I've had enough. But luckily [manager] Ian Evatt and the owner were very understanding. They rang me as I was driving home. So I'm glad they understood, but I was leaving regardless."
Hours later, he would post a powerful message on Instagram detailing how the football industry had broken him.
"All the abuse, pressures and monotony of the last two years has just got to me," the 27-year-old wrote. "I've tried to fit in and be happy but if I can't be happy In a winning team fighting for promotion it's clearly something deeper. I'm returning home to think 'do I want to play football anymore' as it just doesn't bring me any joy at all."
Despite the glamorous stereotypes, the life of a professional player is far from easy. For some, football can be a lonely place. During his spell at Bolton. Maddison lived in a hotel, away from his family and friends, in a city very different from home. It had a huge effect on his mental health.
Then there is the dressing room and the different personalities that come with it.
"You've got 30 people around you daily in training but, it's still very lonely, especially if you're not a bubbly and outgoing person," he tells us. "You just keep yourself to yourself, do your job. It's very lonely at times.
"It's been the same way for such a long time. It's such a lads, lads, lads environment. You've got so many men in close proximity. If you're not an outgoing, bubbly person, you find it difficult. Most dressing rooms in the whole country are the same. I've found that going to different places.
"Football has a very specific kind of banter. And if you don't fit into that category, and you don't enjoy that sort of banter, you're not going to have many friends. I believe that was the case for me. I had a couple of people I got on with. But I don't really have any friends in football. I'm my own man."
The worrying trend of social media abuse was another damaging factor in Maddison's decision to leave the professional game. In fact, he still receives hate on a daily basis.
"I used to get abused every day. I still get messages sent to me on Instagram all the time. People being nasty," he says.
"It's something I've never really understood. I wouldn't look at a post that's somebody else has put, and think if I didn't like it, that's fair enough... that's my opinion. But to go out my way and message someone about that post? It's so vindictive and there's no need for it."
So what can the game do to help players like Marcus Maddison? Last month, a four-day social media boycott took place in response to "the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse" aimed at footballers and people within the game.
Social media companies are also clamping down on removing accounts that send abuse via direct messages.
The 27-year-old knows how difficult the football world can be. He just wants others to understand the impact and implications the game can have on an individual.
"There are loads of things people don't actually know about. That is the football world," he says. "There are so many things hidden because you're not really meant to speak about it. A lot of people don't understand it. Football is very mentally tough, in my opinion, That's the part I've always found hard.
"The football part comes easy. it's just all the stuff that goes with it."
For now, at least, Maddison has decided to step away from the professional game for the sake of his wellbeing, although he has been tempted back to football by Spalding United; a club that currently plays in the eighth tier of English football.
Spalding boss Gaby Zakuani, who played alongside Maddison at Peterborough, was a huge reason behind his latest decision.
"Gaby is a huge thing for me. He reached out to me first. It was literally that. It was like a first-come, first-served kind of thing. I know him well. He'll let me play how I kind of want to play. He'll give me free rein.
"It's part-time so it's not a huge commitment. It's everything I want from football at the minute. A relaxed atmosphere. Have a laugh, Play well and just get back to enjoying what football is actually all about."
Featured Image Credit: PA/Instagram - Marcus Maddison/Spalding United
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