Former Portsmouth man Gavin Maguire: I pretended to be superhuman and hid my mental health issues - now I'm a different person

He was a fearsome, no-nonsense defender possessing a lengthy footballing rap sheet to disavow.
Gavin Maguire made 109 appearances for Pompey during a four-year Fratton Park stay. Picture: Neal SimpsonGavin Maguire made 109 appearances for Pompey during a four-year Fratton Park stay. Picture: Neal Simpson
Gavin Maguire made 109 appearances for Pompey during a four-year Fratton Park stay. Picture: Neal Simpson

Yet Gavin Maguire was an alter ego, a superhuman constructed to survive the potentially unforgiving dressing room environment.

A serious knee injury curtailed his career at the age of 26, following spells at QPR, Pompey and Millwall, while there were seven international appearances for Wales.

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Despite a relatively short presence in football at senior level, Maguire’s formidable reputation remains indelible, living long after the bruises and cuts he inflicted on rivals dispersed.

Yet beneath the intimidating exterior raged a battle with mental illness, which eventually saw the 52-year-old seek assistance from the PFA, who steered him towards counselling.

Nowadays, Maguire works as a hospital porter for Swindon’s Great Western Hospital, having recently quit hairdressing following almost 25 years in the profession.

And he can reflect on the footballer he no longer recognises.

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Maguire told The News: ‘I was this character who would run through brick walls, a superhuman who had to act as if nothing affected me.

‘No-one told me to do that, it was a persona which built up and I felt I had to maintain. I couldn’t show weakness.

‘We all have our weaknesses, that’s the point, but when you are in that situation and it’s public, you develop an alter ego.

‘A lot of it was down to playing professional sport. I felt people’s perception of me being a success was playing at the highest level.

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‘Once you are not doing it anymore, I felt I was failing – but I wasn’t failing at all. I just didn’t change my level of what I believed was achieving. It was always too high and I was never going to reach that.

‘My role as a player was to protect others around me and sort things out, so I’d find it difficult to settle my issues and my thoughts.

‘I’d let them build up and use alcohol to try to numb it out for a period of time, which would cause problems in my life.

‘It’s a case of really understanding you are a decent person, you don’t need to be this or not to be worthy.

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‘When anything arises in your head, deal with it, face it and talk about it, rather than to go and hide in a pub, have a few beers and feel great for a night. It doesn’t solve anything, it’s still there.’

Maguire’s comfort at speaking about his mental health experiences is testament to his journey.

Eloquent, open and approachable, he is keen to lend assistance to others who have suffered similar life difficulties.

He added: ‘Football has changed slightly.

‘We are given the support and opportunity to talk and I think now, as individuals, we recognise the signs when people may be struggling.

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‘It’s scary coming out and admitting things, but the amount of positive feedback I received, particularly through friends on Facebook, allowed me to help others – and it’s still ongoing.

‘I am a different person now, I certainly deal with things differently.’

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