‘Harry Potter, he’s coming for you’ roar the Exeter fans as Morecambe’s veteran forward Kevin Ellison receives the ball on his customary left wing. But although they are both folically challenged, it is wrong to compare Kevin to the villainous Dark Lord. It is wrong because Kev is far more wicked. Aggressive, loud and arrogant, to referees Ellison is he who cannot be tamed. Scoring consistently at 39, it is as if Ellison is reaping the rewards of the very elixir of life that Voldermort famously failed to obtain. The Philospher’s Stone in one pocket and his opposition right back in the other, if there ever was a master of the dark arts of football it is Kev. After scoring his 84th and most recent Morecambe goal, he ran half the length of the pitch in order to celebrate directly in front of the opposition manager. The life of the changing room, a fan favourite and a pantomime villain, Ellison would be the last person you would suspect to suffer from mental illness. But he did.
On 21st July 2018, Ellison opened up on Twitter about his eight year battle with depression. I got the chance to speak with Kev about this tweet and how the football world took on his message. For a man with such a big persona and such a personal story he was incredibly open to being interviewed.
I start by asking Kevin why he spoke out. He reveals how a fellow League 2 pro encouraged him to do so – Mark Connolly of Crawley Town. Connolly had recently come forward with his own struggles with mental illness and, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not quite believe Ellison when he came to him seeking help: ‘He thought I was Kev Ellison the big, bald, ugly Scouse lad who runs around and kicks people – someone who has not got a problem in life’, he says.
Being in the cutthroat industry that is lower league football clearly did not make things any easier for Kevin. He speaks surprisingly starkly on his industry, stating: ‘it’s a hard environment, it’s a horrible environment, it’s a nasty environment’. Kev goes deeper, revealing the worries he had before speaking out: ‘in the dressing room if you’re weak and want to speak out you’d get preyed on a lot more and if you wanted to say to the lads “I’m struggling a bit” they’d make fun of you.’ And it’s not just teammates he was concerned about. He worried that ‘the gaffer would have second thoughts on putting you in the team because he would think ‘‘are you mentally strong enough to play ?’’’. In a constant battle to earn his next contract, it is easy to see how it took Ellison so long to seek any help.
But since speaking, Ellison is still a regular on the pitch, and is as liked as ever by fans and teammates. And he did not just stop at this one Twitter post, rather since going public he has continued to help other football fans, even welcoming some into his home, giving them somewhere to speak about their issues face to face. Emotionally, Ellison reveals: ‘I know for a fact I’ve had an effect on four or five people. One of them texted me saying that he wouldn’t be sat with his family if it wasn’t for me’. However, humble as ever, he adds: ‘I told him no, he’s the strong one for going to get help’.
For Kevin the only downside to how things have transpired is how opposition fans are now treating him. But it is not that they are mocking him for his experiences with depression, or see him as weak-minded and easy to aggravate. In fact it is the opposite. ‘They’ve gone a bit too nice and too soft on me’ he complains, ‘it’s just banter, and I’ll give a bit back. It’s alright as long as they don’t report me to the FA’.
Ellison, who is 40 next month, has 84 goals for Morecambe and shows no signs of stopping. This is due, in part, to his changing approach to his body and importantly, his mind. He explains his newfound pastimes : ‘if you’d have told me two years ago that I’m gonna do yoga and I’m gonna start meditation I’d have laughed at you and said you were crazy’, but now these are essential to his weekly routine.
I ask him if he thinks he can reach 100 goals in a Morecambe shirt. ‘I’d love to’ he says. And if I have learned one thing from Kevin Ellison, it is never to bet against him. Well that, and that it is okay not to be okay.