Book Review: Out of the Darkness: From Top to Rock Bottom: My Story in Football by Matt Piper with Joe Brewin

With football fever sky-high right now and Kane et al living the football dream, it is easy to look on and see only the positive side of the beautiful game, but what happens for players when the reality of life as a footballer doesn’t live up to the dream, when that dream ends prematurely? In truth, this is the more realistic side of the story, with numerous players who don’t make it for every player that does. And even for those who do break through that is far from the end of the football journey. These are the stories, however, that we tend not to see or hear about, yet these are the ones that are just as important, if not more so, than the success stories, and former Leicester and Sunderland winger, Matt Piper, shares his own poignant tale as life as a young footballer and what happened when that life was over.

Piper’s story starts in Leicester, where, like so many other young footballers, he had that innate love of the game, as well as a single-minded focus and determination to succeed. Making it into the academy was the first step on the journey, before working his way through the age groups and being singled out ahead of his time, to step up to the first team, that boasted the likes of Muzzy Izzet, Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore. Despite his prodigious talent, it was not all plain sailing for a quieter, more introverted young player like Piper, negotiating big characters and tackling injuries, but, whilst still a teen, he began to make his mark. Whilst Leicester were going through their own challenges as a club, Piper settled in, but the turning point in his journey came when a move to Sunderland was pushed through. Though Piper made a go of it at the Stadium of Light, Howard Wilkinson didn’t make life easy, and although things vastly improved with Mick McCarthy, Piper was beset by injuries that would lead to him ultimately calling time on his career at just 24.

Piper offers a hugely honest reflection on what it is to be a player who suffers injuries and the mental challenges it poses. His admission of freedom at leaving behind his football career and the psychological merry-go-round of going through rehab only to suffer the inevitable setbacks is both eye-opening and hard-hitting. Again, we tend not to see these stories of struggle and despair, only the successful recoveries, and it’s easy to forget the physical demands of a footballer’s life, and crucially, the mental demands when the body breaks down. But Piper lays all of this bare, as he does with regard to life after football.

Indeed, after an initial smooth transition out of football, Piper’s life sadly soon spiralled, and he opens up without reservation about his struggles with depression, alcohol and drugs. It is a stark reminder of the difficult road many footballers face after the end of their careers, the loss of identity and purpose, especially so for young footballers. With the help of Sporting Chances and a supportive family, but crucially with his own desire to change, Piper turned his life around, ultimately leading to him setting up his own FSD Academy to help youngsters with life skills and football and he speaks poignantly and with a real sense of perspective about what matters in life.

It is easy to warm to Piper in the book and root for him and it’s really pleasing to see Piper not only having come out the other side but helping others. Indeed, all profits from this book go to FSD and Sporting Chances Clinic. Piper’s story is not the only one of this kind, but it is one that generally doesn’t get the attention or coverage it deserves, given the important issues at stake. Tackling the notion of young footballers falling out of love with the game, wanting to escape it, the physical but also the mental struggles of injury, as well as the challenges of negotiating different scenarios, managers and team-mates as a young player are all incredibly significant matters that need to be addressed more often and Piper has done a superb job of removing the taboos around certain subjects and opening up these issues for discussion. It is saddening but also refreshing and crucial that these issues come to light and gain acceptance and visibility in order to help other footballers understand and take control of their own journeys. And it’s crucial not to forget the other side of the footballing dream – and those for whom that dream may have turned into a nightmare. Piper’s book is testament to a rewarding and inspiring life after football, but also a reminder of the support and guidance needed to help former players – and youngsters especially – thrive.


(Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2020. Hardcover: ?320 pages)


Jade Craddock


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Posted July 7, 2021 by Editor in category "Reviews

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