It takes huge brav­ery to hit the brakes now

Hir­ing Ling was a risk worth tak­ing

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Martin Ling sat be­fore the Press at the County Ground at his un­veil­ing in Novem­ber, he ad­mit­ted Swin­don had taken a risk.

Treated for de­pres­sion fol­low­ing a break­down whilst man­ager of Torquay, the 49year-old had spent two years try­ing to break back into the game.

“Men­tal health is­sues are things that scare peo­ple be­cause peo­ple don’t understand,” said the for­mer Ley­ton Ori­ent boss. “I have talked openly about it but I have not had any sign of it for two and a half years. It’s an ill­ness I had, not one I have any more.”

As Ling clears his desk cit­ing ‘health rea­sons’ just nine games and 56 days af­ter tak­ing charge, it is now clear that the gam­ble has not paid off.

It is a dread­fully sad saga, but let’s not use hind­sight to bandy blame or say ‘I told you so’. Yes, ap­point­ing a man with a history of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety to a high pres­sure post was in­her­ently risky.

But men­tal ill­ness is no bar­rier to elite per­for­mance. De­pres­sion as­sails Lawyers, politi­cians and doc­tors just as dev­as­tat­ingly as cooks and clean­ers. For the most part, you’d never know they were suf­fer­ing.

Win­ston Churchill reg­u­larly spent months so paral­ysed by de­spair that he couldn’t get out of bed to at­tend par­lia­ment.Yet the af­flic­tion he fa­mously named his ‘Black Dog’ didn’t stop him mas­ter­mind­ing vic­tory over the Nazis.

Three serv­ing Amer­i­can pres­i­dents – in­clud­ing Abra­ham Lin­coln – ran the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion whilst bat­tling psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. World­wide, some 120 mil­lion peo­ple suf­fer from de­pres­sion and the ma­jor­ity lead per­fectly func­tional lives.


Ling’s brief ten­ure il­lus­trates the point; five wins from nine games is play-off form and had res­cued the Robins from what in­creas­ingly looked like a rel­e­ga­tion scrap.

Swin­don and their chair­man Lee Power de­serve enor­mous credit for look­ing be­yond the stigma and see­ing the CV.

For them – and for so­ci­ety in gen­eral – it is a great shame their for­ward-think­ing stance was not fully vin­di­cated.Yet our great­est sym­pa­thy should un­doubt­edly be re­served for Ling him­self.

I spoke to Martin sev­eral times over the last 12 months and he gen­uinely be­lieved his own black dog had been beaten into sub­mis­sion. I can’t re­mem­ber how many times he told me his de­pres­sion had “gone”.


Yet the sad fact is that de­pres­sion is very rarely beaten. Psy­chol­o­gists talk not of cures but of cop­ing strate­gies and re­mis­sion. Of those af­flicted, over 50 per cent suf­fer some de­gree of re­lapse.

Martin knew that of course. He’d stud­ied the dis­ease ex­ten­sively. But he felt good and, even if there was a small el­e­ment of self-delu­sion, you can hardly blame a per­son for pur­su­ing the job he loves. We’d all do the same.

It must have been dev­as­tat­ing – not to men­tion em­bar­rass­ing – for him to re­alise that the old demons hadn’t ever been ban­ished. That the pres­sures of foot­ball were sim­ply too much. And it must have been tempt­ing to bat­tle on, ig­nor­ing the symp­toms, slip­ping ever deeper into the quag­mire of des­o­la­tion that once left him weep­ing by a mo­tor­way. That’s why the great­est trib­ute of all must be paid to Ling for hav­ing the brav­ery and in­tel­li­gence to hit the brakes now, long be­fore his health, fam­ily and club be­gan to suf­fer. He should be re­mem­bered not as a mis­take but as a club leg­end who per­formed su­perbly, then did the hon­ourable thing in step­ping down.

I hope, for Martin’s sake, that this is the last time we see him in man­age­ment. As his son, Sam, said in a state­ment, his health and fam­ily must come first. But given his skill as a coach and unique insight into the ef­fects of pres­sure, Ling still has much to give the game.

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