Monday 14 September 2020, 06:57

The former Scotland striker tackling mental health

  • Kris Boyd retired last year after a goal-laden playing career

  • He now co-hosts a star-studded podcast highlighting mental health issues

  • Boyd’s brother’s suicide prompted him to set up a mental health charity

Kris Boyd and Henrik Larsson were goalscorers par excellence. The former spent much of his career with Kilmarnock and Rangers aiming for, and ultimately surpassing, the Scottish Premier League scoring record set by Celtic’s Swedish icon.

But besides goals, glory and adulation on either side of Glasgow’s green-and-blue divide, the prolific pair had something else in common: the pain of having lost a younger brother.

Boyd only discovered that shared history while interviewing Larsson for ‘The Lockdown Tactics’, a podcast he hosts with West Ham United’s Robert Snodgrass, a former Scotland team-mate. The revelation left the Sky Sports pundit, who set up a mental health charity following his brother’s suicide, reflecting on “a bond that means more than all of our goals put together”.

As Boyd told “The podcast was set up to help the public, and it’s doing that, but it’s definitely helped me too. I’ve opened up, got a few things off my chest, and feel better for it.

“Hearing other people share their problems, like Henrik speaking about how he dealt with losing his brother, had also really made me look at myself, what I’m doing, and how I’m dealing with things.”

The openness with which Larsson and Boyd spoke about the lowest points in their lives, and the toll tragedy took on their own mental health, has been a feature of The Lockdown Tactics. The likes of John Terry, Andy Robertson, Steph Houghton and world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury have also offered poignant and, at times, inspirational insights into the process of coping with inner struggles.

“The openness is what’s brought so many people in, I think,” Boyd reflected. “People look at top footballers, or champion boxers, and think, ‘What have they got to worry about?’ But mental health can impact anyone and, when it does, all the money, the cars, the fame means nothing.

“I’d known Snoddy (Snodgrass) for a while and knew he was passionate about mental health issues and making a difference, so the podcast came from chatting about that. With so many people feeling that they’re at rock bottom, especially during this pandemic, the timing just seemed right. We felt that having famous sportspeople, people’s heroes, speaking about their problems and how they’ve dealt with them could make a difference. And we're already hearing that it’s helping a lot of people.”

Though the guests are all elite sportsmen and women, their experiences range widely. Some, like Fury and Paul Merson, admitted to considering or attempting suicide, while England left-back Danny Rose spoke of not shaving or cutting his hair for a year as he battled depression. Others, such as Robertson, reflected on having sought help to prevent budding problems from spiralling.

Yet without exception, and regardless of their background, all stress the same message: if you’re suffering, don’t suffer in silence.

“That message – about finding someone to talk to – is something that comes through from everyone, and it’s so important,” said Boyd. “But listening is vital too. With mental illnesses, so often it’s something that you can’t see – it’s a hidden illness. So it’s important to educate people on what to look out for, and what best to do when one of their friends or loved ones is struggling.”

Kris Boyd in action for Scotland against Croatia.

For the former Scotland striker, this podcast is just the latest way in which he has set about tackling the stigma around mental health. The Kris Boyd Charity has raised over £200,000 to date and, in July, earned a prestigious international award for a #PassingPositivity campaign on which it partnered with a local college.

And while there isn’t a day that passes without Boyd thinking of his brother, the motivation of positively impacting the next generation has proved just as compelling.

“The thing I always come back to is that I don’t want any other family to go through what mine went through,” he said. “But even before what happened with my little brother, I always felt there was something missing in football in terms of looking after people – particularly youngsters who’re promised the world, have great hopes and are then released at 16, 17, 18, when they’re fragile and have nothing to fall back on. What happened to my brother just took things in a different direction.

“I am proud of the work the charity does, and I definitely feel it’s having an impact. It will be a few years down the line before we can see the extent of it, in terms of what we’re doing with kids and young people. But we’re hearing some great stories and feedback about what it’s meaning on a personal level. And we’ve always said that if what we’re doing can help save one life, it will all have been worth it.”