When the endgame becomes a matter of life or death

By Matthew Pryor
The Times, Friday 14th April 2006

The suicide rate among retired professional cricketers is alarmingly high and Richard Doughty understands why. He talks about his struggle to cope and how he turned his life around with help from the PCA and Sporting Chance

This is the story of an everyman professional cricketer. The one who strives for his county with the ambition of playing for his country but never gets close and then, when not ready to leave, is shown the door. It is the story of a man of 21 with the world at his feet, of a man of 40 on his knees and of a man of 45 who wants to help.

Cricketers do not have a monopoly on depression, but the game sometimes seems to have a monopoly on them.

The hours that the sport demands can be hard, but as nothing when the camaraderie of the dressing-room has been replaced by silence. The suicide rate among cricketers suggests that they have more problems coming to terms with this than other sports.

In 1998, David Bairstow, a gruff, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, committed suicide. Another gruff, no-nonsense Yorkshireman remembers being stunned. “Somebody like him, who always was a larger-than-life character, a very sergeant major, gruff, in your face, 100 per cent kind of a guy, that shocked me, it really shocked me,” Richard Doughty says. He knows how the spiral starts.

Followers of county cricket in the 1980s might remember Doughty, a young, fast- medium bowler and occasionally belligerent batsman. He was a cavalier and used to swing into the County Ground in Bristol in a BMW 323i convertible. To the outside world he must have seemed happy. He was.

Born in Bridlington, Doughty began his career as a wicketkeeper, but, with no chance of getting into a Yorkshire team that had Bairstow in residence, went to Lord’s. Three years on the groundstaff there led to seven years as a professional from 1981 to 1987, with Gloucestershire and Surrey.

“I finished with Surrey in 1987,” Doughty says. “They told me two weeks after the end of the season that they weren’t going to renew my contract, by which time all the other counties had finalised their squads. There was no help in finding a job. I was 26 and going through a divorce. Now the PCA [Professional Cricketers’ Association] have moved on leaps and bounds. They are putting the building blocks in place for younger cricketers, which is fantastic.”

Doughty’s words seem to be etched on his face. He is 45. He is here to talk because he believes that there are many cricketers who go through what he has and do not know that there is support available from the PCA. Last summer it even set up an anonymous helpline so that players could seek professional advice. So far, six have.

Doughty does not enjoy talking about himself. That was part of the problem after he lost his job in sports marketing in 2001. “Help is there now if you ask for it,” he says, “but the mentality of sportsmen is that you don’t want to ask for help, you want to do it yourself.”

His sister told him he needed help and found it for him. Doughty spent a month in Tony Adams’s Sporting Chance Clinic last August, with assistance from the PCA. “I had to try and change the way I was living,” he says, “or I could put a little noose around my neck and jump off the banisters. I’ve thought about it. The difference is, if you’re going to commit suicide, you don’t talk about it, you do it.

“My sister wrote to Surrey and Gloucestershire and I don’t think she got a reply. I don’t know where you draw the line, but there is a duty of care.

We’re talking a very special group of guys — only very few people get to play cricket for a living. You’re not talking about your normal kind of industry.

“Take Wayne Larkins. One winter he was opening the batting [for England] in the West Indies against probably the most feared attack ever, and the next winter he was driving a minicab in Northampton. That’s maybe why the extremes of the suicide rate happen more regularly.”

But life was even less normal for Doughty. “My first wife is George Bush’s cousin, believe it or not,” he says. “So my life wasn’t quite your average kind of life. Grav [David Graveney, then the Gloucestershire captain] used to get pissed off with me because I’d roll into the County Ground in a convertible. I’d go off to California at the end of the season or go skiing in Aspen.”

But what is it about cricket that pushes people to the edge? “The difference with cricket to soccer and rugby is that those games are done in a day,” Doughty says. “Cricketers go away for two weeks or on tour for three months. You’re living with each other 24 hours a day. It is hard to suddenly be on your own.”

The Surrey years of 1985-87 were the best and worst for Doughty: “I had one good season at Surrey, in 1985, because Sylvester Clarke couldn’t play because he’d done his back.”

A few statistics are all that remain of his career: 815.5-129-2986-89. Forty-one first-class matches in seven seasons, 89 wickets at an average of 33.55, 845 runs at 20.60. They are only the bones of his story. His best season, 1985, barely rated a mention in Wisden, yet there he is, nineteenth in the averages, aged 24, with 34 wickets at 25.50, sandwiched between Graveney and Phil Edmonds. The archive reveals the odd downpage headline. “Doughty Demolishes Warwickshire” from August 2, 1985, after his career-best six for 33. “I’ve still got my scrap album,” he says. “I was quite good at one time, believe it or not.”

He kept in contact with some cricketers for a while, such as Phillip DeFreitas, whom he knew from the Lord’s groundstaff. “I would still go into the England dressing-room, but I didn’t socialise much because, with hindsight, I still thought I had failed,” he says. “I was carrying a lot of s*** around with me. You know, when I was sacked I had a better average than Phil DeFreitas, who was playing for England.”

Doughty was diagnosed with diabetes in 1984, when he was released by Gloucestershire. Ten years ago it was discovered that he had testicular and abdominal cancer. “When I hit my bad time, from 2001 until last summer, I kept saying to myself things will get better. But two ex-wives, four kids, one testicle, diabetic, no qualifications, I had nothing, absolutely nothing,” he says. “I went to sell cars for MG Rover. What happens with MG Rover?”

He half-laughs. “You start to feel everything is against you,” he says. “At Sporting Chance I was given a chance to talk. I didn’t think I had a problem — I thought everybody else had the problem.

“I go to regular self-help meetings because I need to. It’s an ongoing process, but going to Sporting Chance was the best decision I ever made and I’m filled with hope for the future.”