Luke Chadwick knows it might just be wishful thinking. But still he harbours the reasonable hope that things will be different once we blink our way back into the wider world.
‘Maybe we can all be a bit kinder to each other,’ he says. ‘It has been a very difficult time for everyone, this pandemic, and we have all been through it. If any good comes out the other side, maybe people will have nicer words for each other.’
It is a warm thought from a warm-natured man, and one that would benefit any corner of society, not least those where you find the boiling madness of football. It can often be a hard place and Chadwick knows its cruelties better than most, which is why he posted one particular tweet and why he has spent a chunk of the subsequent fortnight being asked to discuss it.
Luke Chadwick forgives the TV celebrities who tormented him about his looks as a footballer
Stars from ‘They Think It’s All Over’ recently apologised to Chadwick for taunting his looks
The subject, of course, is the taunts. The taunts directed by football fans at a Manchester United winger barely out of his teens, ripping into him about his appearance.
The taunts echoed by the stars of They Think It’s All Over, making a figure of fun out of a young lad who, unknown to them, soon found himself hiding away at home so people couldn’t see him.
His story has gained traction across the past couple of weeks, to the point that folk from that popular television show, including Nick Hancock and Gary Lineker, apologised on Monday.
It says everything about Chadwick — with whom Sportsmail initially spoke the day after his tweet — that he has found some of the attention a little ‘awkward’.
Indeed, as he told us in a further conversation on Monday: ‘Of course I accept their apologies. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of anything — I just wanted to share my experiences.’
It is the broader message of those experiences that rings so loudly in Mental Health Awareness Week as much as any other time. It is about the nature of a nastiness that lives in plain sight in football and other sports and that shouldn’t be OK.
For Chadwick, a 39-year-old community coach and retired after 500-plus games across 10 clubs, the starting point came during the 2000-01 season. It marked both his breakthrough at United and his peak.
He made 16 appearances as an academy graduate in Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield in that campaign, which got him a title medal, but also put a naturally reserved lad under one of the brightest lights in world sport.
Chadwick is now a 39-year-old community coach after breaking through at United in 2000
Nick Hancock said he was ‘appalled’ at himself for the taunts he made on the show
Hancock said he is ‘full of admiration for the present Luke Chadwick’ on BBC Breakfast
Gary Lineker, who was also part of the show, apologised to Chadwick recently on Twitter
‘With everything going on at the moment with coronavirus, I had a bit of a chance to reflect on that time of my life,’ he tells Sportsmail.
‘I wouldn’t say I was extremely unhappy back then, when the abuse was coming in, or that it was a depression, because that wouldn’t be true. But looking back I can see it was a problem and it is quite sad really, because the fact is it affected my mental health and I recognise that more clearly now when I go over the details.
‘I was always a bit aloof anyway back then. I was from a tiny place, a village near Cambridge, and I’m suddenly playing for United and people are making comments about the way I looked.
‘I remember it got bad in those early days with They Think It’s All Over. I had a text from somebody one day saying, “You have just been on that and they were taking the p*** out of you”.
‘That was hard because I never wanted fame. But then I had this attention and I ended up being mentioned on the show quite often. I would try to shut it out but that’s hard.
Chadwick revealed he hid away in his house to not be seen but accepted apologies since
Chadwick said the abuse followed him around after the TV show mocked his appearance
‘Obviously it was childish stuff about my appearance. I think I had spots on my face, teeth that stuck out.
‘But because it was a really popular show, everyone sort of got on the back of it and the abuse got worse. I would get comments when I was walking to the team bus or from the crowd and that’s not nice, is it?’
While Chadwick reiterates the issue was never severe in the scheme of mental health issues, he does say he went through a period of concealing himself at home.
‘The way it made me feel was that I would just go training and go home,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t really want to do anything else a lot of the time because I just didn’t want to think people were looking at me. I’ll say again, I was a quiet lad back then anyway, but maybe all that stunted my development as a person a little further because I was that bit worried about people judging me on how I looked rather than my personality or how I played football. I wouldn’t want others to go through that.’
Chadwick recalled former United captain Roy Keane helping him with contracts and training
Chadwick reflects now from a position of happiness. While his days as a United winger were numbered from a pace-sapping groin injury in his second first-team season, he did go on to survive long in the game from Premier League to the Conference Premier League, stopping at every step in between. ‘I loved my career,’ he says.
Of United, he recalls Roy Keane in more dimensions than some. ‘There is this idea of him that is only partially true,’ he says.
‘The other side is that he used to pick me up for training if I needed it, or he would give you help with your contracts. Great man.’
He has a fun story about Ferguson. ‘One Christmas I got sucked into going on a Christmas night out,’ he says. ‘I had specifically been told by the manager not to go because I had a reserve game coming up but I went anyway and it got back to Sir Alex.
Chadwick also revealed the time Sir Alex Ferguson (centre) fined him for a Christmas night out
‘He fined me two weeks’ wages and he was still annoyed at the Christmas lunch. He was handing out bowls of soup to the players and he banged mine down and said, “That’s the most expensive soup you’ll ever have”.’
Nowadays Chadwick is a director at the Football Fun Factory. Pertinently, mental health is a key factor in what he does. ‘We coach kids between two and 12,’ he says. ‘It has nothing to do with the one per cent who might make it and everything to do with those who want to have fun with their football.
‘I have spoken a lot here about mental health and football — the game can also be brilliant for it. And that is what we aim for.’
For more information, visit www.thefootballfunfactory.co.uk