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Irish Hammer 12:56 Fri Jul 9
Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Not the lightest of reads and one of our quieter players, but gave his all and was a good player for the club.

George McCartney: ‘I was depressed. I can admit that now but, being a quiet person, I never tried to seek help’

“Mark Noble sent me a text and asked if I wanted to play in his testimonial, and I didn’t even reply. We were very close, so I should have given him a bit more respect and explain why I couldn’t attend. But it was during a time when I needed to escape from football. I haven’t spoken to him since. I’ve never had the opportunity to apologise to Mark, and I would like to.”

That testimonial took place in March 2016. Teddy Sheringham, Scott Parker, Dean Ashton and Jack Collison were some of the names in a 35-man West Ham United all-star squad. It should have been a time where George McCartney looked back on happy days with old team-mates but, in his first interview since 2014, he spent 90 minutes speaking candidly about the depression he suffered in the build-up to Noble’s testimonial.

The 40-year-old has kept himself out of the limelight since leaving West Ham seven years ago and wants to express his regret at turning down Noble’s invitation.

“I would like to get back in touch with him,” McCartney tells The Athletic. “I enjoyed being his team-mate and he’s a great lad. For him to play more than 500 games for West Ham is a great achievement and I’m really proud of him. Me and Mark just clicked. We used to go and play snooker in Loughton and quite often we would bump into former players, like John Moncur and Steve Lomas. The only argument we had was about a free kick during a five-a-five game at training. I remember a game we played against Newcastle. I crossed the ball and Mark scored a volley. We had lots of great memories.

McCartney celebrates with Carlos Tevez and Mark Noble after a victory over Manchester United in May 2007 (Photo: Mike Egerton – PA Images via Getty Images)
“But I wasn’t in a good headspace to play in his testimonial. I didn’t even respond and looking back now, I regret it big time. A few months later, when West Ham were leaving Upton Park, David Gold sent me a letter to see if I would be interested in attending. I told them I couldn’t make it but I appreciated the offer.

“I wish I went, because it would have been nice to be there for the occasion but, similar to Mark’s testimonial, I wasn’t in a good frame of mind.”

McCartney is in a much better place and has started working towards his coaching badges.

He has three children with wife Elaine and in May he co-commentated on Northern Ireland’s 3-0 win over Malta for BBC Sport in Belfast. Yet before he reflects on his playing career at Sunderland and West Ham, why he dislikes social media and a memorable encounter with the police, he wants to discuss what led to his dark moment.

“I’ve never said this to anyone before but when I look back now, especially when I rejoined Sunderland in 2008, those first two years, I was depressed,” says McCartney. “I can admit that now but, being a quiet person, I never tried to seek help or open up to someone. I didn’t want it to seem like I was being weak. When I finished playing, I just went through phases where I wanted to be by myself. When I was home alone, that’s when I would feel down and start thinking about my career. I was good at covering up how I felt. The best thing is to talk to people but when you’re a quiet person, it’s not that easy.

“When I signed for Sunderland, I had pneumonia for six weeks. I lost a stone (6.3kg) and missed the majority of pre-season so it was a race against time to be fit. I had (problems with) nerves in my feet and I struggled to run and ended up having an operation to remove the nerves. It was one problem after another. Roy Keane got sacked and Steve Bruce came in. During the following pre-season, he made me captain for a few games but it didn’t work out. I just didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t in a good headspace, I wasn’t giving it my all and I was withdrawn from the lads in the changing room.

“Steve Bruce gave me numerous chances to get in the team. There were times when I would be playing well and then I would get taken off for tactical reasons and that would lead to another situation where I would feel down.”

McCartney was 16 when he joined Sunderland as a trainee. Across his two spells with the club, he made 175 league appearances. When Sunderland won promotion to the Premier League in 2004-05 as Championship title winners, he was voted their player of the season and named in the PFA’s Championship team of the year. The full-back joined West Ham in the summer of 2006, after Sunderland went straight back down, with former Republic of Ireland international Clive Clarke going the other way as part of the deal.

McCartney playing for Sunderland against Chelsea (Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
“Niall Quinn and his consortium had just taken over at Sunderland,” says McCartney. “I was getting the better end of the deal because West Ham were in the Premier League, but initially I felt a little bit betrayed by Sunderland because of how well I had done. Once I got to West Ham, I loved it straight away. I consider it to be the best club I’ve ever played for. Obviously, I had to prove myself but I was playing with better players, the fans were amazing and it didn’t take me a long time to settle. I really enjoyed it and to this day, leaving West Ham in my first spell is the biggest regret I’ve ever made in football. I still bring it up every so often to my wife.”

McCartney’s first spell at Upton Park saw him make 71 appearances in all competitions, scoring one goal. He played under Alan Pardew and Alan Curbishley and the latter allowed the full-back to have the occasional day off when his wife was expecting their first child. Yet it was around this time that Elaine felt homesick and was contemplating moving back to Northern Ireland.

McCartney narrowly missed out on the Hammer of the Year award to Robert Green at the end of the 2007-08 season. But the decision to sell McCartney and Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland that summer culminated in Curbishley resigning over the club’s transfer policy.

“The club continued to make significant player decisions without involving me,” said Curbishley at the time. “In the end, such a breach of trust and confidence meant that I had no option but to leave.”

With West Ham in turmoil, McCartney was heading to a club who had finished 15th, 10 points behind the east London side, the season before. In that summer of 2008, though, Sunderland signed 10 players, with Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbonda, El-Hadji Diouf and Djibril Cisse their highest-profile arrivals.

It should have been an exciting time in McCartney’s life but the decision to rejoin Sunderland quickly became the low point of his career.

“I really didn’t want to leave West Ham,” he says. “But the opportunity came around to move back to Sunderland and I was thinking about my family but it’s still the biggest mistake I’ve made. I remember leaving Essex at 6am so I could drive to Sunderland for my medical. As soon as I got in the car, I kept saying to myself, ‘If I get stopped by the police, I won’t sign for them’. The odds of it happening were very small. So I get to Leeds and guess what happens? The police pull me over for speeding. I ended up having to go to court because of the speed I was doing.

“But I didn’t listen to that voice in my head, because I still travelled to Sunderland. I get there and I couldn’t stop telling myself, ‘George you’re doing the wrong thing. You shouldn’t be here’. Even before I went into the boardroom to sign the contract, a part of me wanted to just run down the stairs and drive off. That’s how much doubt was in my head. I signed the contract and I immediately regretted it. I thought, ‘What the hell have I done? Why have I done this? Am I doing this for the right reasons?’ Sometimes as a footballer, you have to put your family first, but there are other times where you have to be a bit selfish.

“After the medical, there was an international break and I had to fly to Heathrow to meet up with Northern Ireland. Nigel Worthington was the manager and Glynn Snodin was his assistant, who also worked at West Ham. I knew he was disappointed with what I had done. I didn’t tell him at the time how I actually felt about the move. I was just hiding it from everyone. I knew I made the wrong decision.”

McCartney’s second spell at the Stadium of Light was hampered by ankle and knee injuries. He went from playing week in week out to seeing others take his place in the team. He joined Leeds United on loan to regain his match fitness during the 2010-11 Championship season but fell out with the owner Ken Bates. When McCartney returned to Sunderland that off-season, he was mightily relieved at the good news he was about to receive.

“Steve Bruce pulled me into his office and said there’s an opportunity I could go back to West Ham on loan and it was the best news I had heard,” he says. “That’s what made me determined to prove people wrong and have the best season ever. The funny thing is, I never did an initiation song at West Ham. When I rejoined, I always refused to do it. Every away trip when we had dinner they would say, ‘Come on George, it’s your turn to sing’. This went on for months.”

The affable McCartney’s second stint at West Ham saw him play a key role in their promotion to the Premier League via a play-off final win over Blackpool, making 43 appearances across all competitions including 38 starts. At the end of that 2011-12 season, he was rewarded with a two-year deal that turned his loan spell permanent and was named their players’ player of the year.

McCartney celebrating a West Ham goal with Carlton Cole in 2012 (Photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)
McCartney, who was well-liked behind the scenes, bought 30 bottles of champagne as gifts for club staff at Christmas. He was a fan favourite and at the peak of his career… until an innocuous challenge had disastrous consequences.

“I was playing for a new contract, and in training, Alou Diarra loved sliding tackles,” McCartney recalls. “There was a loose ball and he tackled me and I tore my knee ligaments. I went to see the specialist. He said I didn’t need an operation and I would be back playing in 10 weeks. After a lengthy rehab, in my first game back against West Brom, I ruptured the same ligament.

“I was brought on as a sub and there was roughly half an hour left. It was so unfortunate. I was out for seven months. I basically lost a year (from the point of the original injury) and when I got back I just wasn’t the same player. When I got released (in June 2014), it’s the first time I had to go in the manager’s office and be told I wasn’t going to get a new contract. I was gutted.

“When I finished playing, it took me four years to even start watching football on TV. I was so unfortunate with how my career finished. I was always in constant pain. It’s fine now but I was trying to train and I couldn’t even jog. I kept saying to myself, ‘Just try to get through this’. But it was just a constant struggle. In many ways, I had a bad taste in my mouth because I still felt I had a lot more to give.”

McCartney had interest from Crystal Palace and Australian side Sydney FC but had lost his love for the game. While most pursue a career in punditry, management or coaching when they retire, these avenues did not appeal to McCartney. Initially, he wanted to move to Dubai and settle there with his young family but eventually opted to return home to Northern Ireland, where he currently lives.

“When I left West Ham, I didn’t even announce I had retired,” he says. “Even when I was playing, I never had social media. I’ve always liked being in the background and I’m glad I’ve never been on it because I’ve read so many stories about the abuse players get. I also never enjoyed doing interviews when I was a player. If there was any way I could get out of it I would always try my best to avoid doing it. I just wanted to go out and train, play a match and live my life.

“One of the last interviews I did for West Ham was an away game at West Brom. Laura Burkin was the press officer and she told me it was my turn to do the pre-match interview with Sky. It only lasts one minute but I was trying to hide in the changing room so I wouldn’t have to do it. She knocked on the changing room door and Neil McDonald, Sam Allardyce’s assistant, said, ‘Where’s George?’ I couldn’t hide any longer and had to do it. So that’s the last interview I’ve ever done.”

In April, West Ham’s official Twitter account posted a happy birthday message for McCartney. He is still well thought of by supporters and most of the comments under the post were from fans appreciating how good of a player he was across his two spells.

“I enjoyed everything about West Ham,” he says. “The club is making good progress and have brilliant players like Tomas Soucek, Declan Rice and Michail Antonio. If they bring a few more in this summer, they can certainly challenge for Europe again.

“But why I love the supporters so much is I turned 40 in April and about 50 West Ham fans messaged my wife on social media to wish me happy birthday. They didn’t have to do that.

“I showed it to my kids, because it meant a lot to me and it’s something I’ll always remember.”

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Lato 12:55 Wed Jul 14
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
I echo what others have said.......good, honest, hard working professional who always gave 100% and never let us down. I wish him and his family well in the future.

His parents must have a good sense of humour naming him after two Beatles!

BBondsBootlaces 11:30 Mon Jul 12
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
I always liked Linda. Good solid professional. Wish him the best.

goldstar 9:41 Mon Jul 12
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Great article, thanks for sharing. Not often you see professional athletes open up like this. Good player, I was always happy to see his name listed on the team sheet.

Billy Blagg 12:45 Sun Jul 11
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Sounds a top bloke as well as an underrated player. He was so solid for us and I remember wondering how he'd managed to stay under the radar but it seems as if flying above it was something he found difficult and I can relate to that. The fact he had difficulty opening up about this shouldn't be a surprise when you see him being called a 'fanny' on this very thread.

Alfs 1:44 Sun Jul 11
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Goes to show that mental health problems can even affect people living their dream.

It's other's calling someone 'a fanny' when they openly express they have depression that are the problem.

Vexed 11:57 Sat Jul 10
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Liked this bloke when he was with us, but he sounds like an absolute fanny.

Manuel 1:05 Sat Jul 10
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Always thought he was a decent player.

I'm sure he could get in touch with Noble if he really wanted to.

chim chim cha boo 12:58 Sat Jul 10
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
I fucking loved Georgie. One of about a million who gave his all for West Ham, and we all love a left-footed wing back, don't we?

It's strange, depression, isn't it? Thirty-five thousand people love you and you're still unhappy.

I wish him nothing but a happy life

SDKFZ 222 1:27 Sat Jul 10
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
I liked McCartney when he played for us. He also scored a good goal at Cardiff in a 2-0 victory.


Tomshardware 11:48 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Solid player for us especially first spell for us.

Sven Roeder 8:47 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
A sad story, hope he is ok. There is always time to rekindle things with people.

Did well for us, bought for a small fee then sold for a bigger one & then came back for free.

He is right that he should have been more selfish in turning down a move to the deadbeats at Sunderland while he was with us. Players should make their moves for career reasons and WIVES , while having a nice life with big money coming in, should accept they might have to live in one of the great cities of the world rather than a turgid shit pit like Sunderland.
If you cant accept that dont marry a footballer.

wd40 6:12 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Yet another ex football player sulking after he retired from kicking a ball around and getting paid for it for 15 years and hitting the real world.

charleyfarley 3:19 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
Thanks Irish...The thought of being managed by either Steve Bruce or Roy Keane is enough to give anybody depression

Mr Kenzo 1:53 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
If only he had a WHO account and could have posted on the depression thread, all his troubles would have gone away

Moncurs Putting Iron 1:21 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
When I left West Ham, I didn’t even announce I had retired,” he says. “Even when I was playing, I never had social media. I’ve always liked being in the background and I’m glad I’ve never been on it because I’ve read so many stories about the abuse players get.

Suggests an introverted sensitive soul.

El Scorchio 1:12 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
And after reading in full, what a sad story. Really feel for the guy. Clearly had a lot going on in his head and needed more support.

The bit about him going back to Sunderland despite not wanting to is a bit heartbreaking. (and the bit about that injury, obviously)

El Scorchio 1:06 Fri Jul 9
Re: Article on George McCartney - a quiet Hammer
I thought he was great in his first spell.

Wasn't it him being sold against his will that make Cubishley quit?

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