How goalkeeper Coton beat darkness of depression

He cheated death yet lived with a legacy of depression. Tony Coton’s candid life story is reviewed by ERIC BROWN.

Tony Coton feels lucky to still be involved with football. And lucky to still be alive. In June 2012 the much-travelled goalkeeper was whisked 20 miles by blue light ambulance to Manchester Royal Infirmary after a heart attack at his Bolton home.

(Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Coton (left), preparing for the worst, remembers his new Hugo Boss sweater being ripped off by a medic so wires could be attached to his chest. He thought: “I love that top and the only time I get to wear it is for a few minutes on the day I die.”

Fortunately due to the dedication of medical staff and his own determination Coton pulled through after a life-saving operation.  Unfortunately this wasn’t his only brush with death.

Coton admits the next 12 months were the scariest of his life. “My world became a darker, lonelier place. I kept thinking the grim reaper was on his way back to finish the job,” he says.

He had slipped into a world of depression. It began with panic attacks and serious brooding about being forced to retire from coaching at Manchester United. Often he failed to get dressed, lounging around unwashed and unkempt in an old dressing gown, his mind invaded by dark thoughts and conversation limited to grunts.

Coton sometimes wished he had died in the ambulance. Eventually he realised he decided to see a psychiatrist. “It was a matter of life and death,” he admits. A couple of £70 an hour sessions worked wonders.

They enabled Coton to confront  his fears and gradually the clouds began to lift. A scouting job for Harry Redknapp at Queens Park Rangers added impetus to his rehabilitation. Coton was back on the recovery road which later led to his current post as head of recruitment under Steve Bruce at Aston Villa.

Having been rejected by Villa and Wolves as a player, Coton made a sensational entry to professional football by saving a penalty just 54 seconds into his debut for Birmingham against Sunderland with his first touch of the ball. The feat earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

‘My world became a darker, lonelier place. I kept thinking the grim reaper was on his way back to finish the job’

At St Andrew’s Coton became attached to the Birmingham Six, a group of hard nuts seemingly dedicated to grabbing headlines off the pitch as well as on it.  With Noel Blake, Robert Hopkins, Mick Harford, Mark Dennis, Howard Gayle and Kevin Dillon around Coton soon found himself on the wrong side of the law.

His regular transgressions pervade this book like a bad smell. There are so many incidents where fists flew and blood spilled  that the reader may easily find this aspect of Coton’s life tedious and reprehensible.

However author Simon Mullock of the Sunday Mirror has put together a remarkably candid and detailed story of Coton’s adventures in a 500-game career with Birmingham, Hereford United, Watford, Manchester City, Manchester United and Sunderland. It deserves to be read.

There to be Shot At by Tony Coton is published by deCoubertin Books. Price £20 hardback.


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