Interview: Keith Fahey: ‘I don’t like it [football] and I don’t like being around it’

In a sit down conversation with Birmingham World’s Ben Ramsdale, Keith Fahey opens up about his mental health issues over the course of his career and how he fell out of love with the sport he gave so much of his life to

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Keith Fahey and Kevin Phillips of Birmingham City celebrate victory during the Carling Cup Final between Arsenal and Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium on February 27, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Hearing stories of professionals within the sporting landscape that don’t particularly like the sport they are playing or once played is something that always fascinates me.

In the footballing world alone, former Birmingham City loanee David Bentley and Spurs defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto are two that instantly spring to mind. Both incredibly talented players who both publicly stated their dislike of the beautiful game.

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Keith Fahey is another name you can add to that mix, albeit for his own reasons.

The former Blues and Republic Of Ireland midfielder has spoken in the past about his struggles with mental health, notably anxiety and depression. These invisible illnesses really affected him, predominantly throughout his football career and this, as you can imagine, played a big role towards the attitude he finds himself with today.

Keith Fahey (Centre-Midfielder - Drogheda United): Technically excellent, Keith's long range passing was unmatched. His set pieces were like penalties, extremely quick over five yards and you could see why he went back to play in England.

Fahey rarely does interviews. Like anyone, if you’ve suffered or suffer with anxiety, being poked and prodded with questions isn’t an environment you’re going to feel the most comfortable in, “but you looked like a young lad and I wanted to help you out,” he told me. That’s what type of man he is. Very much like the player he was on the pitch - selfless.

He’d just finished up a bowl of Irish stew when we sat down together and he asked me the question, “where is it Jack Grealish has gone?”

It was the day after Grealish’s big money move to Manchester City and it really hit home how little attention the now 38-year-old gives to football.

When trying to explain how his attitude towards the game got to where it is today, Fahey said:  “The whole thing is such a strange one for me because football gave me a lifeline.

“I was very intense with how I came into football. I was so hard on myself. I was worried about my performances and the team. It affected me.

“It was just where I was at. It was very difficult being in the public spotlight. I was never one for that and having people take pictures of me when I was out and about.

“People see sports people as just that and forget about the people behind them. Being a footballer didn’t suit me.

“I did interviews because I felt I had to, not because I wanted to. I’m not comfortable with the label of being a footballer and most people still see me as that now. I’m not a footballer. I want to be viewed as a person.”

Tenacious and busy on the field, the former Republic of Ireland international is the polar opposite, off it.

Professional athletes often have to put on a facade. They do interviews when they don’t want to. They take pictures with adoring fans when they are having a rough day. They smile because they feel their richness of wealth means they have no right to be unhappy.

And that in itself is a real problem. Society is getting better with its understanding of mental health troubles but we’re not there yet.

It was this whole charade that Fahey says contributed to him falling out of love with the game he gave so much of his life to.

“I loved football when I played it. I think since I stopped it’s just not the same,” he explained.

“When I started out as a child, I just loved football. I didn’t enjoy the other stuff around it but if you give me a football on my own - I’d be happy.

“I wasn’t always like that. I was full on with football and other things that probably weren’t good for me and I didn’t have a lot of head-space for anything else.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - AUGUST 11: Keith Fahey of Republic of Ireland in action during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium on August 11, 2010 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

“I just realised since I stopped playing - I did a little bit of coaching with kids and I just don’t like the environment if I’m being honest. I don’t like it and I don’t like being around it.

“I would still like to work with kids. I’m going to college to study social care for four years in September so we’ll see where that takes me. It’s all stuff I’ve mostly had life experience with.

“My skill-set is probably going to serve me and others elsewhere. I don’t see myself in football so I just stepped away from it which was a good decision. I’m much happier now.”

If you missed part one of Keith Fahey’s interview where he discusses his favourite memories from his Birmingham City days, you can read that here.