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    5. Lenny Pidgley won the League Cup with Chelsea – three ..


    Lenny Pidgley won the League Cup with Chelsea – three years later he contemplated suicide

    Pidgley now runs his own landscaping business. Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph

    Less than three years after he was at the center of Chelsea's League Cup celebrations in 2005, Lenny Pidgley found himself locked in an Elland Road toilet, paralyzed with anxiety.

    A few weeks earlier, Pidgley, covered in a sheet and with the curtains drawn, was thinking about ending it all. But he returned to training and Millwall, the club he joined from Chelsea, was short of goalkeepers.

    Pidgley, who was 23 at the time, still can’t remember nothing about the game, including the result (Leeds United won 4-2), except for a panic attack. Looking back on that day still hurts.

    “It started in the summer, in the off-season,” Pidgley said. “I started having panic attacks and I was lying in bed, the door was locked under the covers, all the curtains were closed. Millwall sent me to Priory and I didn't play for several months.

    “I had just returned to training and the goalkeeper, who was on loan, could not play. I felt a little better and the next thing I knew was playing at Elland Road, the first game.

    “Ten minutes before kick-off I was in the toilet and had a panic attack. I was dripping with sweat, I was vomiting, my heart was pounding out of my chest, and I was trying to convince myself that my hamstring was about to snap. I thought about it so much that I felt my hamstrings tighten.

    “Then I ran out there, standing in front of 30,000 people. Three weeks ago I was thinking about killing myself, and now they're calling me a **** and everything, and I'm just thinking, “Oh my God, if you knew what's going on in my head.”

    Pidgley (left) pictured during the home defeat to Leeds in 2007, before which he suffered a panic attack. Photo: Shutterstock/Matt West

    “The panic attacks were uncontrollable to the point where I wanted to jump off the balcony,” Pidgley said. “I WAS VERY ILL. I was embarrassed, I didn't want anyone to know. I felt weak, vulnerable, as if my career was over.

    “At my first check-up at the Priory, the guy asked if I did drugs, if I smoked, if there were any deaths in the family and the answer was “no.” to all of them. I wanted there to be one where there was a “yes” so that I knew what it was. He finally told me that you may have a chemical imbalance in your brain and this can happen.

    “I would have broken every bone in my body than what I had to go through. It was terrible. I couldn't handle it and thought I couldn't live like this. All I wanted to do was sleep, but every time I woke up I felt worse. I thought that if this continues, I won’t be able to do this anymore.

    “I started taking antidepressants and that kept it under control for a while, but it happened again while I was in Newport. Justin Edinburgh, who sadly died a few years ago, was the manager and he was incredible to me. It was very scary to go back, but he gave me as much time as I needed.”

    Pidgley's situation came to a head during his third major anxiety attack at Farnborough in 2018, when the club announced his retirement and mental health problems in a message posted on social media and then deleted without his consent.

    “By then I was working part-time and wasn’t at work because I wasn’t feeling well,” Pidgley said. “The morning before the game I had anxiety and panic attacks. I called the manager and said I couldn't play, but he said, “You have to.” They didn't have a goalkeeper.

    “I told him I was quitting football, that I was depressed and it was bad for my mental health. Immediately after the game they simply announced that I had retired due to depression. They ended up removing it after I talked to them. I couldn't believe it, it was a shame. I kept quiet about it for 10 or 15 years.”

    “John Terry said, 'Go and look in your locker.'”

    It is clear that Pidgley prefers to remember the good times of his career when he played for England under-16s , up to 18, under 19 and under 20 years old. He has as many Chelsea winner's medals (2005 League Cup and Premier League title) as he has for the senior club.

    Sunday's League Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool is a repeat of the final at the Millennium Stadium. where Pidgley was on the bench 19 years ago.

    “Carlo Cudicini was suspended so I stayed on the bench,” Pidgley said. “I remember running out to warm up and thinking, 'Wow, this is great.' I was a Chelsea fan so it meant a lot to me. One of the guys told me what a win bonus was, and then it meant even more.

    “I was on peanuts at the time, relatively speaking. So for me the bonus was several thousand dollars, the equivalent of two months' salary.”

    After losing almost the entire game, Chelsea won the final in extra time and won Jose Mourinho's first trophy as manager, with Pidgley in the center celebrations.

    Pidgley (pictured behind Joe Cole's right shoulder) was at the center of Chelsea's 2005 celebrations. Photo: Getty Images/Michael Mayhew

    “To win, you need to be a big fan and invite your friends and family to the game. It was amazing,” Pidgley said. “The medals were distributed in order of squad numbers. I was number 40 and when the whole team got there there was no room left. John Terry was about to lift the trophy and I was right in front, next to the captain.”

    Mourinho and Terry also provided Pidgley with the title success that followed at the end of the same season and a winner's medal.

    p>“Petr Cech played 95 per cent of the games that season and Carlo was his number two, so I didn’t play at all before the final League game,” Pidgley said. “Jose called me the week before that game and said he was going to put me on the pitch and I played the last eight minutes of the last game of the season against Charlton.

    “I didn't think I would have gotten a Premier winner's medal -league, but JT figured it out. I remember him saying at practice, “Go look in your locker,” and there it was. I have both medals in a frame. One day I'll hang them on the wall.”

    Pidgley received Premier League winners' medal for his eight-minute cameo against Charlton. Photo: Frank Coppi: “Bosnich pinned me to the wall by the throat” At the age of 16, he had to clean the boots of the older goalkeepers of the time: Cudicini, Ed de Goey and Mark Bosnich.

    In 2019, Pidgley posted a message on social media saying: “Just saw Mark Bosnich on Sky Sports News and left so many bad memories of being his boot boy. There have been five players in my whole career that I look back on and think what the fuck, and he's the first one way ahead.”

    One particular incident involving Bosnich and his boots stuck out in Pidgley's mind. who said: “In Harlington, at the old training ground, there was one outdoor tap, so there were a lot of people around it trying to clean boots. We'd show up at 8am and the players wanted to put their boots on for training at 10am, so you're all in a mad rush.

    “One morning I was in the youth team dressing room with all the young guys. Bosnich came in and shouted to me that his boots were still wet. The next step he grabbed me by the throat and pressed me against the wall. I had probably just turned 17 and weighed about 12 stone and I was terrified. I may be wrong, but I don't think anyone really got along with him.

    “During the wash it turned out he was living his life and going through some tough times, so yes, I would say hello to him if I saw him now. I've probably done things that look back and think, 'What an idiot.' since I retired. I still can't figure it out. Who knows? Maybe if I played now it would help and maybe I wouldn't feel the need to keep it all a secret. I probably wouldn't have locked myself in that toilet at Elland Road.”

    Pidgley began drinking more frequently after retiring from the game, but unlike when he first became overwhelmed with anxiety, he brought the problem into the public eye via social media. He received support from Chris Kirkland, another former goalkeeper, who opened up about his mental health and struggles with addiction.

    “Anyway, I'm a binge drinker and I'm much more open about everything now, so I felt feeling a little upset and took to social media to open up,” Pidgley said. “It's important for me to recognize things and stay current with everything I've been through.”

    Pidgley now runs his own landscaping business and celebrated his 40th birthday this month with his wife Carla, their five-year-old daughter Everly and his two daughters, Lila and Paige, from previous relationships.

    “I have a family, a business, and at this point everything is good, touch wood,” Pidgley said. “I’m happier now, but I look back on football with fond memories. I have had both ups and downs, both in my career and in my life.”

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