Former Doncaster Rovers captain Barry Miller has spoken about his battle with depression - prior to him joining ‘God’s team’.
The 38-year-old former centre half - who became a very popular figure during the Conference years - has now returned to Rovers as club chaplain.
Born in Northolt, West London, it was as a 16-year-old playing in a friendly for a veterans’ team that he was noticed by a scout for Brentford and duly signed after a trial.
He also played for several other clubs including Wokingham and Farnborough before moving to Rovers on loan in 2000.
Doncaster were on their way back after a period in the non-league wilderness, but Barry missed out on their promotion year through a knee injury.
In a frank interview, he has recalled how he was doing well at school until his parents broke up.
“From then on things went downhill and a kind of darkness came over me,” said Miller.
“I guess that’s when the depression started.
“Not knowing how to deal with it, and wanting to fit in with my mates, I started smoking, drinking and taking drugs. And I left school without any qualifications.
“But even after my football career got off the ground, I was still struggling with various issues, and felt empty inside.
“Then, just before my 17th birthday, I met Felicity, who is now my wife.
“She was a Brentford fan and took a liking to me. She’s so beautiful I don’t know how I ended up with her.
“She grew up in a Christian family, but I didn’t know anything about Jesus apart from what I gleaned from Christmas and Easter cards.
“She started telling me about Jesus and I started going to church and seeing something in people that I needed.
“Then I started playing football on Sundays instead of going to church and broke my foot.
“So I went back to church but, as soon as I was fit again, I returned to Sunday soccer and within a few weeks broke my foot again.
“I realised God may have been trying to say something to me, and I remember asking Jesus into my life, though I don’t know how sincere I was about it at the time.
“A bad bout of depression followed; I even thought I was going to die,” he continued.
“The turning point came when I prayed for the sick baby girl of friends, who had earlier lost a baby boy to the same illness.
“Within days I had four job offers and the little girl was back home and healed!
“I still held unforgiveness towards my dad when, at a men’s conference some ten years ago, a fellow Christian persuaded me to forgive him.
“Finally I grabbed the opportunity when alone with dad, saying ‘Please forgive me for the way I treated you when I was growing up’. I remember how he hugged me as I said goodbye; it was so special.”
Now a full-time teaching assistant, Barry is also an elder at the Bentley Baptist Church in Doncaster and lives with his family in Blaxton on the edge of town.
The church has strong links with professional sport clubs.
Former pastor Peter Amos, now retired, is still chaplain at Barnsley FC and Dave Miller (no relation) looks after the spiritual needs of Doncaster rugby league club, who share the Keepmoat Stadium facilities with Rovers.
Of his role, Barry said: “I understand the footballer’s mentality. I know what it’s like to be injured, or depressed.
“And I remember how I used to feel fantastic when I played well, but awful when I was going through a bad spell.
“But my life is no longer dictated by circumstances.”
Barry and Felicity have two children – Gracie, eight, and Zach, six. He made 69 appearances for Rovers between 2000-2003.