Chris Ewing is, in his own words, a ‘failed footballer’ but that doesn’t even begin to tell his story.
Dividing his time between France, Malta and Scotland, Chris is owner and chairman of Caledonian Braves FC.
He’s a driving force on the board of Scotland’s Lowland League and founder of the successful EduSport Academy.
A family man and a recovering alcoholic, he wears his heart on his sleeve.
We are proud to welcome him to FC United.
I think I was 14 when I was first exposed to suicide.
Waking up in the middle of the night, there was all sorts of commotion in the house. It must have been around 1am and I remember hearing my Dad get up and get ready very quickly before rushing out the door.
I would later learn that he’d had a call from my cousin, Tommy Coyne, who was playing for Tranmere at the time, to say that his wife, Alison, had taken her own life.
She was 29 years old. A beautiful woman and a beautiful person with three wee boys. Dad immediately travelled down to be with Tommy, who had been joined by Pat Nevin. Pat was one of his team-mates and dropped everything to help.
I would later lose one of my best friends, Martin Hick, who was a team-mate in the youth ranks at Motherwell and then an ex-girlfriend.
There’s no doubt it leaves a mark. I still think about them all to this day.
Martin was only 24 and someone who, on the surface, had everything going for him. Alex McLeish signed him from Aberdeen and he’d been on the bench for the first team a few times, but he picked up a bad knee injury and couldn’t quite turn himself around.
Anyone who has had experience of suicide in their lives will have had that ‘did I miss something?’ moment, but you never really know what is going on in someone else’s head.
All you can do is be there for them and encourage them to talk.
It’s so important to destigmatise the subject that’s why I was keen to be part of FC United.
I know from personal experience that sharing is the most important step you can take in starting to climb out of that dark hole.
If you’re reading this and are in that place, please let people know that you need a bit of help.
For me, that’s something that shows you have real courage and strength. Don’t ever think it’s a sign of weakness.
I wish Martin had said more.
He was my mate. Such a good laugh. We used to go out for a beer when Archaos was the place to go in Glasgow for a night out. Rubbing shoulders with Simon Donnelly when he was the next big thing.
It’s just… I don’t know. Devastating. You never really get your head around it.
At that stage football was definitely more of an alpha male environment, and athletes already have that competitiveness ingrained in their character.
It’s about the right. There’s internal and external pressure that maybe people don’t see and I’ve never experienced anything that compares to it.
It can feel like survival of the fittest — athletically, technically and mentally. Nothing really prepares you for it. You go from being the best player in school, playing with your mates to a dog-eat-dog world where you are judged every day.
The game has definitely changed for the better as there was a real bullying culture. The strong preyed on the weak. One person’s jovial ‘banter’ would come as a real blow to someone else.
I think about all of that a lot more now. As you get older and have lived experiences of your own, the clarity maybe comes with it and it definitely helps shape the environment I want within Caledonian Braves, EduSport Academy and, I suppose, society in general.
When all that was happening I never really stopped to consider my own mental health. I can look back now and see what a traumatic impact the losses had on me. Throw in a tough upbringing around alcoholism and violence, there will be thousands of people from a working class background who can relate.
It all adds up. On top of that, in my head I was a failed footballer. I put so much pressure on myself over that, as football’s the only thing I knew coming out of school.
When I was released, I turned to alcohol and other escapisms. It will be different for everyone, but I was sober for two years when my mental health took a turn for the worse and I fell into heavy depression. I can’t pinpoint exactly what brought it on.
Your brain is such a powerful muscle. It can inspire people to do amazing things but also take you to some dark places if you allow it.
Fernando Ricksen’s battle with motor neurone disease was a trigger. I didn’t even know him. It just made me think how fragile life was.
I then convinced myself that I had a twitch in my leg, and looking that stuff up on Google does you more harm than good. I ended up really paranoid about my health and those feelings lasted for around a year.
At the time I had everything on paper — the Academy, a wife and girls I adore.
While I never tried to take my own life, I can understand why people end up in that frame of mind.
People think it’s a solution, but it’s not. You don’t stop the pain. You just pass it on.
I’m now nine years sober and — this will sound cheesy — but I’m a great believer in people and a sense of community.
When we have young boys coming over from France to join the Academy, we want them to feel valued and that our care for them extends far beyond what they do on a pitch.
I think that comes, in part, from going to AA meetings in France. That whole organisation is based on sharing, on drawing strength from each other and our similar struggles. It’s an amazing thing.
In our corner of the world, people like Neil Lennon and Dean Windass speaking out has done a power of good.
What was a taboo subject now feels like something else and we have to continue the fight to normalise the conversation around suicide.
I’m proud to be part of FC United and endorse their simple message.
The following services offer confidential support from trained staff and volunteers. You can talk about anything that is troubling you, no matter how difficult:
- Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email email@example.com. Samaritans are there to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s always free to call from any landline or mobile phone.
- Call 111 to talk to NHS 24’s mental health hub.
- Call 0800 83 85 87 to talk to Breathing Space. The service is open 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday — 6am Monday) and 6pm to 2am on weekdays (Monday — Thursday). The Breathing Space webchat is an alternative to phoning the service.
- Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, text “YM” if you are under 19.