Nathan Cartman with wife, Vicki, and their two children Millie and Alfie”I was asking myself ‘why am I even here?’. I’d split from my wife and was living away from my children. I was working long hours and coming home to nothing.”
Nathan Cartman, a former Leeds United youth team captain, is recalling what drove him to think about ending his life last Christmas.
The 31-year-old father of two had been forced to close his football coaching business during the pandemic, while his role as a junior scout for Manchester City had stopped.
In addition, Covid ended the one thing that offered Cartman a weekly respite from his personal problems – playing for Scarborough Athletic in the seventh tier of English football.
The former Darlington forward turned to drink to numb his emotional pain and hit rock bottom.
On 27 December 2020, Cartman drove to a flyover in his hometown of Halifax with the intention of ending his life – the same spot he had talked two people down from taking theirs.
“It had been building for months,” he tells BBC Sport. “I was trying to fund the family home as well as my own apartment on one wage.
“I was drinking more and more each day without caring about the consequences and hid it from the people close to me.”
As he prepares for Scarborough’s match against Witton Albion in the FA Cup first qualifying round on Saturday, Cartman opens up about his mental health struggles, suicidal thoughts, and how he is rebuilding his life.
“The reason behind this is to plead to people to stop hiding behind a big fake smile. Ask for help and make sure you talk to people,” he says.
Footballer’s family & friends call for improved mental health supportFA Cup first qualifying round fixturesNathan Cartman five weeks after contemplating taking his own life (left) and playing for Scarborough Athletic (right)’I lost all hope’As a youth team player at Leeds, Cartman shared a house with Fabian Delph and also played alongside Danny Rose,external-link both of whom went on to appear for England.
The closest he came to the first team, however, was when he was invited by Gary McAllister to travel with the squad for the ill-fated FA Cup tie at Cambridgeshire village side Histon in 2008.
Six months later his dream of making it at Elland Road ended when he was released at the age of 19. Cartman found a job outside football before settling down with Vicki, who shared his passion of going to watch Halifax Town games.
After some time away from playing, Cartman rediscovered his love of football in non-league, scoring 36 goals in 35 games in one season for Harrogate Railway Athletic before signing for Darlington.
It was towards the end of his third and final season at sixth-tier Yorkshire side Farsley Celtic that his life began to unravel.
By the time he signed for Scarborough in June 2020, he was living away from the family home he shared with Vicki, who he married in 2015, and their children Alfie and Millie.
“At that time playing football was a release from the stresses of my life,” says Cartman. “I was scoring regularly and just getting on with it.”
Then the second national lockdown came into force on 5 November. Cartman had scored six goals when Scarborough’s season was stopped after eight league games.
With no football to look forward to, his family life in tatters, mounting debt and heavy drinking, he lost all hope.
Cartman sat down on the edge of a flyover and thought about ending his life there and then.
Nathan Cartman (in red) in action for Scarborough Athletic against South Shields on Monday’I was sat in the back of a police car’Cartman knew the flyover well. He had successfully talked a woman, in 2018, and a man, in September 2020, out of jumping from the structure while passing in his car.
“I spent five minutes begging him not to do it,” he recalls of the second incident. “I was panicking inside in case he took his own life. Thankfully the police arrived and took him away for the help and support he needed.”
After spending most of Christmas Day alone and in a distressed state, Cartman found himself back at the same spot. This time he was thinking about taking his own life.
“I went round to the family home on Christmas Day and ended up having a row. Things got said and I left early,” he adds. “I ended up drinking the rest of the day.”
Full of alcohol and emotion, he texted his wife in the early hours of 27 December to say “sorry for everything – but that’s it” before perching on the flyover.
“I sat there for five or 10 minutes. It felt like a lifetime,” adds Cartman. “The longer you sit there the more you start thinking ‘maybe I can turn things around’.
“I was thinking about my children. It was Millie’s birthday two days later so I had that in my head. I got back in my car and carried on driving.”
By now, Vicki had alerted the police after being unable to contact her husband following the text message. He was found several hours later 25 miles away in Oldham.
“I was put in the back of a police car and they put me on the phone to their mental health people,” recalls Cartman. “People close to me asked why I hadn’t spoken to them about my problems. I didn’t want to burden them.”
Millie and Alfie in Scarborough Athletic away shirts which has the logo of Andy’s Man Club on the front, a mental health charity which supported Nathan last Christmas’I’m in a better place’Eight months on, Cartman is rebuilding his life and is back in the family home in Holmfield, Halifax, with teaching assistant Vicki, 11-year-old Alfie, and Millie, eight.
“We’ve sorted it out over the past few weeks,” he adds.
“I’m so much happier. I go to work, I see my kids, I do what they need me to do. Alfie does taekwondo and plays football, Millie plays football in the development centre at Manchester City.
“We’ve got plans to go on a family holiday next summer and I’ve paid for the three of them to go to Barcelona and have a tour of the Nou Camp.”
Cartman has formed a support network and in April ran a marathon to raise hundreds of pounds for Andy’s Man Club,external-link a men’s mental health charity, after they helped him last Christmas.
Former British boxing champion and Premier League footballer Curtis Woodhouse, who runs a fitness and social group for men “who are fighting silent battles every day”, has also reached out.
Scarborough Athletic, seventh in the Northern Premier League Premier Division and managed by the former Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion midfielder Jonathan Greening, have been a “huge” help, says Cartman.
“I’m in a better place and can see a brighter future,” he adds. “My message to anyone who is struggling is you can come back from whatever has gone wrong. There is a future.
“Talk to someone. They don’t have to be friends or family. Sometimes it is best to get things off your chest to people who have no input in your life.”
If you, or someone you know, have been affected by any issues raised in this article, support and information is available at BBC Action Line. You can also contact the Samaritans on a free helpline 116 123, or visit the website.external-link