Never be afraid to ask for help.

As today is Mental Health Day I have taken this extract from my book which was published back in 2015. Hopefully this will encourage people to talk about their mental state and problems. Its nothing to be ashamed of and I would urge anybody if your feeling depressed to go and talk to somebody.
It was a bleak time for me as I battled to overcome my financial problems but it wasn’t just my pocket that was affected, it was my mental health too. The first time I ever felt low and depressed was back in 1988 during my playing days when I hit a barren spell in front of goal. Nothing felt right in January and February of that year and after banging in the goals for Middlesbrough I went through a drought. The form I was in, I couldn’t have hit the main stand, let alone the back of the net. It wasn’t just out on the pitch either, it was in training too – I just didn’t want to be there. It even crossed my mind to pack in playing professional football, which would have been a massive decision for me, especially as I had worked so hard to get where I was in the first place.
It became obvious to some of those around me that I wasn’t in a good place and I received a handwritten letter from my cousin Caroline, who was a teacher, encouraging me to get back to my old self. Bruce Rioch, who was manager of Boro at the time, was aware that I was struggling in front of goal and that I had lost my confidence but he didn’t know exactly how bad how much it was affecting me.
We played Aston Villa at Ayresome Park live on TV and while we were having our pre-match meal at a hotel in County Durham, Bruce called me over to his table. I was convinced he was going to tell me I was dropped, and I wasn’t the only one who thought I wouldn’t be playing because the local and national media as well as my team-mates shared that opinion. But instead of leaving me out, Bruce told me “I believe in you and once you get that elusive goal, you’ll be back.” As it turned out I didn’t score but Boro won 2-1, I set up Alan Kernaghan for one of the goals and Bruce praised me in the press afterwards. As a result my confidence started to come back.
Thankfully that was the only time in my football career I was affected by depression and it was slight, but it did however return and in a much stronger form. In 2010 and 2011 I was going through personal problems had my house in North Yorkshire repossessed and I was made bankrupt. All of this took its toll.
Before Christmas 2010 I realised I had to really focus to hold a conversation and sometimes it didn’t feel real . It was like it was a dream. By January my self-esteem was very low and I started worrying about everything. Even since my playing days finished I’ve liked to keep myself fit but I stopped training, sleeping became difficult and I lost my appetite for a couple of weeks. I found it a struggle to get up in the mornings, I felt nervy and very uneasy although despite my condition I still managed to do a week-long coaching course in Sunderland with Micky Horswill. How I got through that I will never know, I didn’t want to be there and all the time I was there I just wanted to do one. I continued to do the Legends show which became unbelievably difficult because I had no control, drive or energy and quite honestly it felt like I as dying. But the worst symptom was that I wanted to run away, for instance I was waiting at a garage for my tyres to be changed when I just disappeared. I returned later to collect my car but I still felt terrible.
During that two-week period I was in the Metro Centre having a coffee with company but I just couldn’t drink it and I couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me. Despite being a music lover I was no longer switching on the radio or playing any of the CDs that I would normally enjoy listening to and eventually it got to the stage where I knew I had to do something. I booked a couple of sessions with a hypnotherapist called Jean Brady at Park View Clinic in Marton. She helped me when I went to see her about my fear of flying so I decided to see if she turn things round for me this time. I had several sessions there and during my visits I put on a blindfold, listened intently and talked about positive things like beaches, birds and forests.
It may have been brief but it was very personal and mentally disturbing. I would never have thought that I was someone who could be affected by depression but nobody is bulletproof from it and it can strike at any time.
During the time I was suffering from it I preferred to be alone than be in company and I used to sit in my car outside the studio until it was time to go on air because I couldn’t face talking to the lads. It was the weirdest sensation but I never revealed how I was feeling and hopefully I managed to hide it from the listeners because they would have had their own problems and certainly wouldn’t want to hear about mine.
EventuaIly went to see my doctor. Before my appointment I was given a questionnaire to fill in – there were ten questions in all and I answered ‘yes’ to nine of them. The only one I answered ‘no’ to was “Do you want to kill yourself?” That was the most important one but even so nine out of ten was pretty compelling evidence and as I walked back to my car and sat down in the driver’s seat I shed a tear and said to myself “It’s official – I’m a loon.”
I was prescribed Citalopram but my appetite remained low to start with. I remember one night having bacon, eggs, beans and fried bread put in front of me but, as delicious as it looked, as soon as it touched my lips I wanted to bork. I took the tablets for six months but during that time I continued to be restless in bed, continued to worry and continued to break out in hot and cold sweats. I returned to training however, and although it started to get easier, going on runs at first I felt heavy-legged, my breathing was erratic and I found my mind wandering. Once I started to get back it to my stride, though, I began to notice a difference.
The first sports star I ever heard about suffering from depression was Marcus Trescothick and since then Mike Yardy, his fellow England cricketer, has also been treated for it. So too has Neil Lennon, the former Celtic manager and official figures tell us that nearly one in five adults will suffer from depression at some point during their life. It could affect literally anyone. In 2012 former Middlesbrough player Dean Windass went public and discussed his mental issues – now I know Dean, I’ve played in five-a-side tournaments with him and commentated with him and he’s always struck me as a mentally strong, tough as old boots character but his condition was so severe that he twice attempted to take his own life. And one day in November 2011 I was signing books and DVDs at the Metro Centre with Malcolm Macdonald and Micky Horswill when a middle-aged man approached us and told us that Gary Speed, the former Leeds and Wales star, had died. The three of us were totally shocked and stunned at the tragic news and when I looked on my iPhone I discovered Gary had hanged himself. The following evening I read a few Tweets from a lad I used to work with called Adam Lindsey and one of them read “Gary Speed’s death has made me think a lot and reassess how I’ve been going about things for years.” He posted more comments about mental health issues still carrying a stigma, which forced most sufferers to hide from them in order to avoid being judged because of them, and how people in that situation needed support. He then went on to reveal that he too had suffered from depression for many years but this was the day he finally stopped hiding from it. “I’m not ashamed of my problems, they are part of who I am and don’t affect my ability to do my job or to be a good friend or partner.”
Fortunately the treatment I was having did the job and my condition was never as severe as any of those guys’. I eventually stopped taking the tablets through choice, and that’s when I discovered that for three months I had been tricked into taking half the prescribed amount! No doubt it was beneficial in the long run and it just shows that the placebo effect does work. Touch wood, pray to God, I’ve fine now fortunately.

New hardback book coming soon.

My latest publication is called Holgate To Heaven.
Its about my years working alongside “The voice of the boro”. The greatest commentator around, the late great Ali Brownlee.
For ten years we lived in each others pockets, clocking up five hundred games as a partnership. We did five cup finals, had two European adventures and picked up a gold radio award.
It was Middlesbrough Football Clubs most glamorous and successful period and we were both honoured and blessed to be part of it.
But it wasn’t always plain sailing. We had our disagreements, got banned and lost the commentary rights in our pomp.

A donation from every book will go to the Mike Findley MND fund which Ali was patron of,since Ali’s passing Mike asked me to take on this role which I have done.

Books will go on sale at the end of October.

Everyone round Whinstone View for a parmo. A night to celebrate Ali.

Its two years today since Ali Brownlee tragically passed away.
I was fortunate and blessed to have known Ali and I worked alongside him on 500 Boro games, including 5 Cup Finals.
We also picked up a New York Radio award.

Ali was charismatic, loud, biased, blinkered, knowledgeable, passionate and his commentary was legendary and will live in the memory.

On April 19th I am holding a night to remember Ali at Whinstone View in Great Ayton.
Tickets will be priced £25 with Ali’s favourite, Parmo and chips on the menu.
All proceeds from the night will go to the Mike Findley MND fund which Ali was patron of. To raise money and awareness for motor neurone disease that has no cure.

On the night will be entertainment from several of the people Ali was closest to and worked alongside.
Also Boro TV days footage will be on the screen.

We are looking for this to be a memorable, nostalgic, fun evening to celebrate Ali’s life.

Booking via the shop on my website Bernieslaven.co.uk.

Or call 07403478998.

Or Email seven.enterprises@hotmail.co.uk

Pauls passing is another indication that there is no justice in this world.

On Tuesday evening I was flicking through the social network when I received a txt which informed me that a friend of mine Paul Anderson had passed away, I was shocked and devastated.
A lot of Boro fans may have heard of Paul when he tragically lost his teenage daughter Georgina back in 2013 through Cancer.
Paul had a passion for his family, Boro and animals. He was Funny and charming and full of one liners, he was one of life’s good guys and raised loads of money for charity. He also supported me in some of my charity work.
Paul and his best friend Paul Gilmore were my first guests of this season in the Legends Lounge and both were great company and in good form.
Pauls passing is another indication that there is no justice in this world.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of Pauls family at this sad time.

If you would like to donate as this is what Paul was passionate about doing and raising awareness please help the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Attacking flair is the key to our success.

In our opening 5 league games of the season, I have enjoyed our more adventurous, creative, entertaining approach and mentality.
The only game we faltered, stuttered and spluttered was against Preston, on the day we were awful it was like watching a performance under Strachan or A K. One shot on target summed it up.
Despite being away from home for Wolves and Forest we had a go and created numerous chances, but unfortunately lacked the killer instinct.
Against newly promoted Sheffield United and Burton we showed our championship pedigree. There is no doubt that there are still teething problems. We are still looking for telepathy and players gelling. I have always said that you get an idea where we are heading after 12-14 games.
There are several players that I’m looking to produce and make a massive contribution to secure our status back into the top flight Britt Assombalonga our record signing is one of them. He scored two fine goals against Burton Albion. I have enjoyed his energy, attitude, directness, and positioning and I’m sure he will have a healthy goal tally come May. If I have one concern it’s his lack of composure when put in one on one positions against the goalkeeper, where he has time to think about what he is going to do. If you scan his goals at Forest and his two so far for Boro he looks an instinctive striker and that is an art and gift in itself. I have seen similarities to former Boro striker Massimo Maccarone where he has opted for power with his laces as opposed to accuracy. He has tried to burst the ball and the net instead of caressing it into the corners with the inside of his foot. In the course of this season, he will find himself in similar positions and when they come his way he has to be relaxed and composed, ruthless and clinical against the better teams as opportunities may be few and far between.
Adama Traore, we all know what his qualities are and what he is lacking. He is as quick as a Cheetah and has the trickery of a Monkey. These are qualities that defenders are petrified of but unfortunately, he lacks composure, vision and end product. It’s astonishing to think he has not scored a goal for Boro as yet and has only three assists to his credit.
I am hopeful the penny will drop this season and he excels.

Patrick Bamford started the season in good form and is unlucky not to have opened his goalscoring account. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. He is proven at this level and I’m expecting big things from him. He has a good touch, is comfortable in possession, can hold the ball up create and score goals. He just has to nail down a permanent position.
Stewart Downing looked a certainty to depart but lives to fight another day. I’m personally delighted he is staying despite a small section booing his introduction against Preston. I have always liked his style and his retention of the ball and enjoyed watching him score some great goals in the red shirt of Boro. Admittedly since his return, he has not set the heather alight but when you are working under a boring, defensive dictator coach like AK, is it any wonder he faltered? Which attacking minded player shone under AK’s leadership?
If Gary Monk can manage Stewart Downing he could be like a new signing.
And finally, I’m looking for Lewis Baker to make a big impression. He is technically good and possesses two good feet. His goal against Scunthorpe was what I class as a great goal. When he curled and caressed the ball with the inside of his left foot into the bottom right-hand corner, he knew exactly where it was going and I’m sure if he becomes a regular, there will be more goals to follow. He can pick a pass create and likes to play the ball forward against Preston he looked a shadow of the player in the wide position.

I would like to think that the style we have adopted from the off with attacking flair, intention, and mentality, that one or two defeats along the way and the odd boo’s from the supporters doesn’t disrupt our thinking.

I remember Bruce Rioch saying to us. “We are going to play our way out of this division and entertain, not kick our way out.”
We want to do it with style and with the squad, we have assembled I don’t see any reason why we cannot achieve it.

Blue Murder.

I had many ups and downs during my eight years stint on Teesside as a Boro player between 1984-1992. My proudest moment wearing the red shirt of Boro was relegating Chelsea in their own backyard at Stamford Bridge in 1988, In the second leg of the play-off final. On the day we were beaten 1-0, but over the two legs, Boro won 2-1. Senior and Slaven were the goalscorers.
Going from relegation, liquidation and bankruptcy to third, second then first in consecutive seasons, was an unbelievable achievement, with a group of local lads at the helm. A unique period for the football club. Ever since that memorable day I have despised Chelsea. For those that can’t remember the events, when the final whistle went I was nearest to the 10,000 Boro fans that day.I instantly turned and ran towards them. I just took it, all the other Boro players were behind me. As I approached the Boro faithful they looked animated and were pointing over my head, as I turned round, all the players were heading for the tunnel as the Chelsea fans spilled onto the pitch and were causing mayhem. Police appeared on horseback to try and control the Chelsea thugs. I was never quick but seeing the opposition fans running in my direction I would have beaten Linford Christie. As a team, we were locked in the dressing room for at least forty-five minutes, while police cleared the riff-raff off the pitch.
28 years on Chelsea have taken revenge and have returned the compliment. Tonights viewing was a torturous, agonising and excruciating ending to our premier league status.

Everyone at Boro is responsible.

Everyone at our football club is collectively responsible for our demise this season. From our recruitment team to the chairman.
Our negative brand of football, negative tactics, negative results, lack of goals, poor signings in January and promoting from within when AK left, has all been detrimental to our downfall.
We all knew it was going to be difficult. But no one told us it was going to be boring, tedious and at times embarrassing.
We have had 16 games since the turn of the year and no wins. We are the lowest scorers in all four divisions. This sums up our season perfectly and these are the most damning statistics of all. They are not opinion they are fact. For those blinkered, biased, voiceless backslappers out there who don’t like my negative comments, well I’m a realist, not a fantasist and I class myself as an adopted Teessider. I love the area and the people and I love the football club. The team that gave me my opportunity to fulfil my footballing dreams. But I can’t suffer in silence and watch my team surrender our premiership status without having a go and putting up a fight.
I have always regarded chairman Steve Gibson as The King of Teesside. His crown has recently slipped but I’m sure come August it will be firmly back in place.
He is the greatest chairman in the country. The envy of opposing supporters and we should be proud we have him. He has done wonders for the club but he is not infallible, no one is. I am sure he would openly admit, he doesn’t get everything right.
Everything has changed at Middlesbrough Football Club over the year, players, manager and coaches have all come and gone.
Only two things remain the loyal supporters and the loyal chairman. Without these two there would be no club.
UTB.

Something has to change.

After 26 premier league games and with no wins in our last 9, it is quite clear and evident that our style of play, tactics and game plan are not working, we have become a predictable football team.
On the eye we are average and frustrating to view, that’s despite having some very talented individuals. As an attacking force, we continue to be unadventurous cautious and toothless.
A lack of goals confirms this.
The blinkered brigade don’t like negative opinions, well regarding my opinion, it’s driven by what I see, negative opinions don’t lose you games or get you relegated. Negative performances do. At this minute, we as a team are looking doomed, let’s not pussy foot about here, something has to change. For me its one of three things, either AK needs help and assistance from an outsider like Bryan Robson did when Terry Venables arrived to get us out of the mess, although Venables arrived in November, not going into March with only 12 games left. AK has to bin his negative and hesitant approach once and for all and go for it. Or AK has to walk away whilst we still have a glimmer of hope and a chance to turn it around.
We are watching our top flight status evaporate in front of our very eyes, due to the same old boring brand of football every week and nothing is changing.
I have always said that a negative approach and negative tactics, equals negative results.
We need to find a solution and find it quickly.

Boro should look at Burnley as an example.

I was encouraged by our display against Everton, we had a go, we were more adventurous and created a few chances and it was refreshing to see us attack in the latter stages of the game.

Despite our valiant, effort unfortunately the outcome was the same, no goals, our fifth blank in eight games. To say our lack of goals is a concern is an understatement. Everyone locally and nationally continue to highlight that Middlesbrough are the Premier leagues lowest goalscorer.
And by exposing those damming statistics adds even more pressure.

I still question why we have four so called strikers on our books, when only Negredo and Gustede will rotate playing the loan striking role. While Stuani and Bamford will continue to fight for their place on wings.
It’s square pegs in round holes, you get away with anything when you are winning.
Why bring in these so called strikers and not play them through the middle it’s not as if anyone is prolific, untouchable or banging in the goals.

We all know that winning games and scoring goals breeds confidence, but with four defeats and four draws in the last eight games, it must be draining, physically and mentally on the players.
Players like the supporters must be thinking where our next goal and victory are coming from.
Im fed up hearing every time we draw at The Riverside ‘Oh that was a good point against Everton, they are a good team, oh West Brom were well organised, Leicester City, they are premier league champions.’
None of us know what is good and what isn’t at the minute but what I do know we are now 16th in the table because we haven’t and don’t win enough football matches at The Riverside.

Only 3 victories in 12 matches, that is a poor return no matter what division you are in.
Playing in front of 30,000 home supporters is meant to spur you on and be an advantage.
Home territory is meant to become a fortress. Too many average teams have walked in and out with valuable points
.
Look at Burnley as an example, like us they have been adapting to life in the Premier but their home form has been only bettered by Chelsea and Spurs. They have won 9 and thats the reason they wont be in the relegation dog fight.
We as a team are fixated by goals conceded that is why we are in this predicament.
You are not telling me Burnley have a better squad of players than us.

I must congratulate the fans they have been truly magnificent. On match day I sit level with the 12th man. The noise, songs and atmosphere generated is terrific. Sometimes I feel like bringing a drum and joining them to get rid of my frustration.

Lets hope with 13 games remaining we can turn our fortunes around and find the winning formula and give our loyal supporters something to really cheer about. When I was a kid standing in the terraces at Parkhead watching Celtic, when there was a barren spell the fans would sing, ‘Oh we are singing just give us a goal.’ To the tune of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’.
Maybe that’s a song that is missing from our repertoire.

Being brave is the key to survival.

I put a tweet out on the social network before the Spurs v Boro game “Good luck to Boro today against Spurs, ‘fortune favours the brave lets have a go.’ UTB”
Unfortunately we weren’t brave and we didn’t have a go. We set our stall out from the off to defend, frustrate and try to garb a point.
I would have thought knowing the results of Sunderland and Hull City games this would have been the cue to be more adventurous. Obviously I was wrong, not one shot on target says it all.
Look Spurs for me are a very good side they play attractive football, create chances at will and are up near the top of the division on merit, but not to have a go is a cardinal sin. Especially in our precarious position in the table. I feel as if we are content in getting beaten only 1-0.
At the end of the day its another three points down the drain, that’s now seven league games without a win, with only three goals scored we are now only two points off Sunderland, the team who everybody had written off that now sit bottom of the table.
We continue to play the same brand of football which worked a treat in the championship but that is history. The system, our slow, laboured, negative approach to games is simply not working.
In the last third we are powderpuff and being the lowest scorers in the premier league confirms that. There is a trend to our play we start off cautious, we have a spell of slow, laboured, back and square passes. We have a flurry of attacking play then we go into our shells in the later stages. We really have to change something, mix things up. If things are not going to plan we have to get Negredo and Gestede up the middle or Gestede and Bamford and get balls into the box from any angle of the pitch and get defenders turned.
Sticking to this rigid style of play is simply not working and if you are a knowledgeable Boro diehard and you are genuinely not concerned you are deluded.
Its like watching the same game every week, its becoming laborious.
I am fed up getting told that our priority is staying up. I totally agree with that but I don’t agree that it can only be achieved by playing our over cautious style of play.
Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to achieve in football and we have to find a solution and find it quick.