‘Some of the responses I got were overwhelming’ – Hawks striker Tommy Wright on going public about his mental health issues

It was February last year when Hawks striker Tommy Wright was forced to take a break from football due to spiralling mental health issues.

Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 1:28 pm
Tommy Wright celebrates after scoring on his competitive Hawks debut against Horsham in the FA Cup. Pic: Dave Haines.

The forward, then 23 and playing for Sutton United, had made his way back from an ACL injury which ruled him out of the majority of the 2018/19 season.

Wright's physical recovery from the setback had gone well but mentally he was struggling and the commute from his Southampton home to south London for training three times a week didn't help matters.

Eventually, things came to a head for Wright almost 12 months ago and he could go on no longer, informing Sutton manager Matt Gray and chairman Bruce Elliott of his decision to focus on his mental health rather than football.

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Tommy Wright is congratulated by Josh Taylor after the first of his hat-trick goals against Chelmsford. Pic: Kieron Louloudis

So, 11 months on, it's brilliant to see the progress he is making on and off the pitch - even amid the current pandemic.

Hawks’ 12-goal top scorer even received a career first earlier this week - a National League award as the South division’s player of the month for December.

Wright's return of five goals last month, which included a hat-trick against Chelmsford City in front of supporters at Westleigh Park, swung it his way.

But, more importantly, he is just pleased to be enjoying his football again.

Tommy Wright fires in a shot during Hawks' National League South win against Hungerford Town earlier this month. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

‘It was a nice surprise (winning player of the month) and something I wasn’t expecting with how well some of the other teams have been doing,' said Wright.

‘It’s the first one I’ve got at Havant - I didn’t get one at Sutton - so it’s the first one I’ve had in these leagues.

‘Obviously, I want to score as many goals as possible and scoring a hat-trick was special, especially as it was the first game back with fans, which we won’t have again by the looks of it.

‘Obviously, I’ve had my problems the last few years, but getting back to enjoying my football was the main reason for joining the Hawks and taking out the travel of driving to Sutton, as it’s a long drive on your own.

Hawks physio Natasha Nolan has regular chats with Tommy Wright regarding his mental health. Picture: Dave Haines

‘I was just happy to get that sorted and get back to enjoying football which is the main reason why you play football.'

Wright knew his next move, when deciding he wanted to get back into the game, would be a critical one.

It wasn't about money, or the level of the pyramid - rather a club where he would have time to settle and rediscover his love for the game.

Both Paul Doswell (Hawks boss) and Stuart Munro (who became Hawks CEO last summer) proved the perfect pairing, having known Wright since childhood - Munro is his godfather.

Tommy Wright in action for Hawks during their FA Cup second round loss at Marine in November. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images.

The trio's relationship extends beyond football, though, with both on hand to help arrange the professional support required after the player left Sutton.

‘I’ve known Stuart since I was about eight and Dos, personally, from the age of about 12 or 13,' said Wright, who started his adult football career in the Hampshire Premier League with the now-defunct Otterbourne. Among his team-mates was Scott Munro, Stuart’s father and now the Hawks’ performance analyst.

‘Obviously, I’m quite close with the families, I know all the Doswell family and Stuart’s family, so it was nice to get that.

‘They both helped me during the difficult times, even before I signed for Havant, they helped me sort out a private doctor.

‘They were really generous when it came to helping me out.

‘They just made sure that I put my mental health first, they didn’t push me to come back to playing football too quickly.

‘They’ve always supported me and that’s something I can’t thank them enough for.'

That support network is something that has helped Wright find himself in a place '100 per cent' better from where he was a year or so ago.

Hawks' help has even stretched as far as head physio Natasha Nolan giving up her time for regular 'check ins' with Wright to see how he is progressing mentally.

And he remains grateful to his former club Sutton for their support as well.

He added: ‘Natasha checks on me every so often and we just sit down, have a chat and she gives me advice on stuff I’m worried about and just talk it out with her.

It’s not something she’s paid to do but something she’s willing to do so it’s really nice of her.

‘I wasn’t expecting it (the support from Sutton and Hawks).

‘When you’re down in the dumps you just feel like you’re so alone.

‘But when I came out it showed that I wasn’t, it really did help and it still does to this day.'

It was Doswell who encouraged Wright to be honest with his reason for taking time out of the game rather than hiding his struggles upon his U's exit.

Wright admitted it was a 'brave step' for him to take and he didn't expect the news to attract the attention it did.

But it was a move he was glad he made, and he encouraged anyone else struggling to speak out - particularly in these difficult times amid the pandemic.

‘There’s still this persona around men that they’ll be fine which shouldn’t be talked about,' Wright explained.

‘I think the more and more people who do open up about it, it is making more and more people aware that it’s okay to talk about it.

‘It was part of the reason me and Dos spoke about putting it on Twitter and coming out with a reason instead of making up a lie as to why I wasn’t planning on playing for a few weeks.

‘Matt Gray (Sutton manager) agreed with it and the players were going to be told anyway, so if I was willing to be honest about it ... it’s easy access to my Twitter.

‘It was a brave step, I wasn’t expecting it to be as big news as it was, but, yeah, it was just nice to show people that it is okay.

'Some of the responses I got were really overwhelming and nice of people.

‘It was weird to be honest, I had a few people I knew open up about it and they said they’d never told anyone, they just did it all privately with their family and they came and spoke to me about it.

‘I was shocked that I didn’t know about it because I knew them quite well.

‘I just hope more people do talk about it to be honest.'