Chadwick: Why I broke my silence over TV bullies

Monday 06 December 2021 17:30

Luke Chadwick's breakthrough into Manchester United's first team as a talented teenage winger in the early 2000s brought with it some demons that were only exorcised last year, two decades later.

The Academy graduate, who actually made his senior debut just months after the Reds won the Treble in 1999, became the subject of some cruel comments on one of BBC TV's most watched programmes at the time, a comedian-led quiz show called They Think It's All Over.

"Every week they'd talk about the way I looked - the way my teeth stuck out and I had spots on my face, that sort of thing," recalls Chadwick, in his episode of UTD Podcast which is available now in the Official Manchester United App.

"It made me feel so... it was such a hard time for me. I was 19 or 20 and I was never brave enough to talk about it, to say that this was affecting me so much. Obviously this was a different era back then, when you worried about how you were perceived, and I really did suffer in silence."

UTD Podcast: Chadwick's battle with bullying Video

UTD Podcast: Chadwick's battle with bullying

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Chadwick finally broke his silence in 2020, when he spoke to the BBC about the programme's detrimental impact on his mental health, at a time when he really should have been on a high as a new player in United's gloriously successful first team.

That interview last year led to a heartfelt, retrospective apology from They Think It's All Over presenter Nick Hancock, who admitted he was horrified to hear how he'd made the young footballer feel with his quips and jibes on national TV.

"Listening to Luke is incredibly humbling," said Hancock. "I'm appalled, I'm appalled really for him and at myself. I was unaware of quite how badly this had affected him until BBC Breakfast contacted me [after Luke's interview]. Personally I feel a great deal of responsibility and shame which I have to accept and hold my hands up to."

Chadwick told UTD Podcast he was moved to speak out in 2020 when he was on the receiving end of some "terrible banter" while posting content for his football coaching company on Twitter and also because mental health became such a red-hot topic during lockdown.

"Obviously it [lockdown] was a tough time for everyone. I wanted to say something that meant something. So I spoke about when I was at United and I went through the times of getting fun poked at me on TV because of my appearance and how I never ever spoke about it back then.

"I was trying to say that when you are having tough times, the best avenue is to talk about it and open up, something I wasn't able to do."

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"Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect anything from the club," stressed Chadwick. "If I had spoken to the club, I'm 100 per cent sure I would have got full support. I just wasn't confident enough in myself to talk about it, which I don't think any other 18 or 19-year-old would have been when you're talking about your personal appearance.

"I was defenceless and in my head there was nothing I could do about it. I was desperate for it to stop but it went on week after week after week. It was a real challenging time for me. Not on the pitch, where it was always about freedom, where I'd love just running about, playing football. But off the pitch it really affected me.

"I was obsessed by it. I was obsessed that if I went out of the house, people would laugh at me or shout something to me from across the street. In reality, I was probably making it a bigger deal than it was but that's what happens when you're not prepared to talk about it."

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Even though social media has since exposed footballers to potentially greater volumes of abuse than Chadwick received on television 20 years ago, he feels the current environment is one in which it's easier for issues to be raised, discussed and hopefully resolved.

"I think there are avenues now," he said. "When we were growing up, mental health wasn't even spoken about. If you moaned about something, it was 'pull yourself together, get on with it.' Now there are much more opportunities and avenues to deal with it.

"It still takes real bravery and real emotional intelligence to talk about it, and because players get all sorts on social media, there are still challenges to overcome as there always will be. But the avenues to help with mental health are improving all the time."

Luke Chadwick's episode of UTD Podcast is available now in our Official App.

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