Recovering by Richie Sadlier

Photo courtesy of Gill Books.

By David Prendeville

Richie Sadlier’s new autobiography is a serious-minded, unflinching and often harrowing account of his journey from childhood in Dublin, to the realisation of his dreams of playing football professionally with Millwall, to early retirement forced upon him through injury.
He goes on to talk about the difficulties this posed, his addiction problems, his crippling self-doubt and ultimately his recovery. He now works as a psychotherapist, alongside his role as an analyst for RTE.
Sadlier pulls no punches and speaks openly and honestly about his own mental health, his familial relations and the low moments he’s been in. Throughout the book he comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful man, dogged by low self-esteem and self-doubt. It is not the standard image one has of professional soccer players.
While Sadlier details his various excesses in the dark years, never does this become a story of salaciousness and celebrity scandal and nor does it become a morality tale. While Sadlier talks about how hard he was on himself when he was a younger man, by the end of the book he’s keen to point how he now is more understanding of his younger self and less quick to judge him.
The book comes across as written by a wise person, who’s still learning, and who wants to impart as much wisdom and help as many people as he can.
Sadlier started his career in Ireland before moving to Millwall at a young age. He blossomed into a very promising young striker, being the top scorer in the old Division One for much of the 2001/2002 season. This prompted a call-up to the Irish squad in the build-up to the 2002 World Cup.
Sadly, a hip injury forced him out of contention for that World Cup and ultimately forced him to retire at the age of 24. Sadlier points to a picture that was taken with him and the rest of the Ireland squad before the one friendly he played for his country, how this haunted him for years, thinking about what could have been and how he didn’t deserve to be in the picture with all the others.
He now looks back on it and remembers how much he enjoyed the day and how he let go of all those negative thoughts that used to dog his mind.
Sadlier paints a stark picture of what it’s like to lose, not only your career, but all that you’ve dreamt of from such a young age. His accounts of his own mental state and also the depiction of coming up through the ranks at Millwall, paint a different picture of what it’s like being a professional footballer.
This is, for the most part, very much a non-glamorous story and it can be quite a tough read at times. The dressing room here is painted as a place rife with toxic masculinity and poor role models. Sadlier is, however, keen to illustrate that, despite some of the negative aspects, he still loved being a footballer more than anything else.
There’s a lot of sadness and trauma in here but it’s a book that’s also infused with hope. Sadlier would eventually realise that psychotherapy was a calling every bit as fulfilling as football to him.
An important, insightful and engaging book. Highly recommended.
Recovering by Richie Sadlier published by Gill Books RRP: €22.99. Available at Books on The Green and all other bookshops.