In the final part of our interview with Cedric Anselin, we look at how the former Bordeaux and Norwich City player has fought depression, what he does nowadays to help others with mental health issues, and how we can survive without football during lockdown!
“I always say we are born with a mouth to talk, two ears to listen and two eyes to observe.”
It might sound like simple anatomical advice, but Cedric Anselin puts things in perspective with this simple statement.
After a football career that spanned the heights of playing in a UEFA Cup final and representing league clubs in at least 5 different countries in Europe and South America, Anselin found himself trawling the non-league scene in East Anglia. He had given up on his dream, the motivation was gone, and the dark wave of depression was deeply embedded in his mind.
Norfolk was a natural home for him. He had met his wife there and had two boys who kept him going and were his true motivation. Football, whilst still a passion of Anselin’s, almost became a side-note to the orchestra inside his mind.
In 2017, Anselin was at his lowest ebb. He had thought about suicide and had planned it, he was at rock-bottom. But he reached out. Firstly to another ex-professional who has had his daemons, Clarke Carlisle. His discussion with Carlisle and the help he received from it has been much-reported in previous interviews, so instead we concentrate on his recovery, and the hope he finds even in the darkest of days.
“You need to have the courage to be brave enough to put your hands up and say ‘I’m not right” he says. “You have to re-educate yourself, learn. When you have depression, you don’t want to have those negative people around. It took me three years to get where I am today. I have built myself and I have people around me with positive energy who make me who I am today.”
I take the opportunity to tell Anselin about my own depression and anxiety that hit me at the same time, around three years ago. I tell him although I have been through it, I feel I have learnt about myself, my limits. I know that talking, both with friends and professionals helped. In my experience, I have come out the other side – it was more of a short-lived (well, 2-year long) episode. Of course, being the gentleman he is, Anselin listens.
For Cedric, he lives with it, every day. “In my experience, I don’t think there’s another side – you live with your depression on a daily basis. The key thing is having the tools to get through bad days and feel a bit low. You have to know your triggers. All our coping mechanisms are different; mine is probably different from yours. When I feel low, I tend to detach myself from people, see – I don’t always preach what I say!!! I reset the button in my mind, and I train, go outside, run a lot, eat healthily and drink a lot of water. But we need to be able to talk, you’re absolutely right.”
Football is a ‘big’ thing, a steamrolling juggernaut that takes over many people’s lives, perhaps highlighted with the current money-centric desire for football to begin again during the biggest global crisis since World War II. But whilst football is a big thing, Anselin explains that it is the little things that we maybe take for granted, which can bring the greatest pleasure.
“You must find the little things that make you happy. My biggest satisfaction was last year when I was invited by NCFC to go to the game and take my kids with me. I was very honoured and privileged. It was great that Norwich City, and Stuart Webber, gave me the ‘birthday box’ (a lounge area at NCFC awarded to someone on their birthday). I was with my kids there. I had never been able to take them to a football game, or a play park, or even do the school run because I was not well in myself. I couldn’t get out of the four walls of my house. But just that, creating memories which my kids will remember their whole life, was special. Incredible.”
It’s a positive story, and at a time when the negativity of the media (take note Piers Morgan!) can have a bad effect on our mental health and wellbeing, we are all perhaps finding those little positives from a bad situation. Let’s not forget the loss of football and sport in all this, from playing it to watching it, many people live for it. They go to work and earn their money to follow their team up and down the country, to whatever dingy hole or corporate-sponsored 60,000-seater monstrosity they’re playing in. Because for many, football is life, and means socialising with friends, having a beer and a catch-up. I ask Anselin what advice he would give people at this time of near lockdown.
“For fans who work all week and then have the release of going to a game, it is their highlight of the week. For people who are depressed and find the light of their life is going to the football, it is difficult. For football fans, it can be their life. It gives freedom and happiness. We all love different things in life, and they’ve stopped. How have I dealt with that? I sat down and made a plan so I could look ahead. I am missing things too; I commentate on Norwich games for Radio Norfolk, I am Norwich Utd manager, so I have missed the relationship with my players, that connection.”
Anselin offers some perspective on the situation, a perspective you feel he has trained himself to have and which he now inspires others with: “But you must remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel and they will be able to go to football again. Sadly, many people have died, and we need to understand that the current situation is deadly. We need to be safe and well and at some point, we will be able to get on with football again.”
Nowadays, Anselin’s biggest passion is being a mental health advocate for younger people. “We need to educate the next generation,” he says with a determination in his eyes. He takes satisfaction from knowing that he is helping people and speaking out. Just this last week he was on Sky Sports News discussing the issue. It would be fair to say Anselin keeps himself busy, he teachers over 20 students on a BTEC sports programme, manages Norwich United and commentates for Radio Norfolk on Norwich City games, but it is family which inspires him: “my boys are my priority, my strength, my force – if they can see me dealing with my issues, it will be an example for them if they face it in their life.”
There is one thing which perhaps Anselin needs to make time for: “I have no time to date anyone. It is a bit difficult in lockdown!” he quips.
As the interview draws to a conclusion, the kitchen Anselin is sitting in is getting darker and darker, he turns it around and asks how I am. Suddenly, I am the interviewee. But it is because he genuinely cares. We have a further 20-minute chat about life in general, football, our hopes for the future. By the end we agree to meet for lunch when the lockdown is over.
Perhaps then we can again use our mouths to talk, our ears to listen and our eyes to observe. Maybe even from less than 2 metres apart.
Irrelevant but fun … a light-hearted set of 10 questions with Cedric.
PU: Who is the best player you’ve ever played with?
CA: Zinedine Zidane
PU: I thought that would be the answer. Next question, what did you think of Shaun Carey’s hair?
CA: What now, or when I was playing with him?
PU: When you were playing with him.
CA: Erm (laughs) he had very long curly hair, he had a moustache as well, he looked like D’Artagnon from the Three Muskateers!
PU: What’s his hair like now, is be bald?
CA: Yeah, he has kept his hair very short.
PU: Where’s better, Paris or London?
CA: Oh, to be fair there’s a lot of French people who live in London, a massive community. I don’t know because I grew up in Paris. But I would say London.
PU: What’s your favourite place to visit in Norfolk?
CA: Holt. I love the village, a lot of antique shops, I have a lot of old-fashioned values in my life.
PU: When you were at Norwich, who was the best and worst dressed player?
CA: The best, I would say Andy Marshall. He could have put a binbag on and he would have looked gorgeous! The worst one? It was a long time ago.
PU: I saw a picture the other day of the squad back then, and you all look pretty terrible to be honest.
CA: Thinking about it I would say Phil Mulryne.
PU: Phil Mulryne? Well he’s a priest now, so he probably can’t choose what he wears.
PU: What do you think of Ipswich?
CA: (Long silence) Erm…What can I say, because I don’t really like Suffolk?PU: It has been such a bad demise…
CA: They’ve had such a bad season. What do I think? An empty stadium, they have no fan base. It won’t be any different playing behind closed doors.
PU: Can you recommend a good TV series to watch during lockdown?
CA: I don’t watch TV or have Netflix. I have been watching SAS with Anthony Middleton.
PU: Who do you think is the best current Norwich player and why?
CA: The best in the squad? Emi Buendia (no hesitation)
PU: I did an article on him a couple of weeks ago for our website.
CA: Yes, Buendia, he will go really far. If he can calm down his temper a little, he will be a top, top player.
PU: As much as I would hate him to leave, Atletico Madrid will be a great move for him.
PU: Will you laugh if Leeds don’t get promoted, again…?
CA: Yes. It will be 3 or 4 years on the bounce now. It will be a disaster for them, but a laugh for everyone else.
PU: Last question, what would you have advised me to stick my banner up on the wall with at Carrow Road (see Part 1 – http://headersandvolleys.co.uk/far-from-a-nobody)
CA: I don’t know, couldn’t you find some blu-tac?
This series of interviews has been conducted in line with Mental Health Awareness week, from 18-24 May. Visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk for more information.
Cedric Anselin is an ambassador for the ‘Get Set to Go’ initiative from mind.org.uk, which helps people find the physical, social and mental benefits of being active.