Martin Gould's victories over depression and opponents transcend snooker

Martin Gould’s resurgence may prove to be one of the most enjoyable stories of the snooker year, but his inspirational fight against depression should not be a tale that is confined to the baize.

The 39-year-old spoke candidly at the World Championship about his mental health struggles, which badly impacted his snooker as he slid down the rankings and brought up thoughts of early retirement.

It was the decision to speak about his problems in the first place which put him on the road to recovery, something sufferers are regularly advised to do but can find so difficult to actually put into action.

Gould found the courage to talk about his problems in February after months of struggling and last weekend he found himself in the final of the European Masters, enjoying himself again and proving that he belongs near the top of the sport as he downed Judd Trump, John Higgins and Yan Bingtao in Milton Keynes.

It is an ongoing battle for the Pinner Potter, but he has taken the crucial first steps and is continuing in the right direction, ones that can be followed by people in all walks of life.

Martin spoke to from a Milton Keynes hotel room where he was isolating for hours as he awaited a coronavirus test result to play in the Championship League. He felt that dealing with that situation comfortably, shows how far he has come.

‘I think I’ve got most of it out the way,’ he said. ‘Obviously a day like now, locked in my room, a few months ago I don’t think I’d have been able to do it.

‘It’s easier now, I don’t feel like I’m climbing walls. It’s certainly got easier.

‘I haven’t had a blip, which a couple of people have told me I should expect at some point. I haven’t had it yet, hopefully touch wood that don’t come any time soon.

‘I didn’t even feel that bad when I lost in the final, obviously I was disappointed, but in all honesty I didn’t expect to be in the final so I didn’t beat myself up about it. I played great and I lost to a proven, great champion.’

Gould narrowly lost the final 9-8 against Mark Selby, but it represented his first ranking final since 2016, proving what strides he has made with his game.

Personal trauma due to a bad break-up, coupled with physical pain from a serious back issue and the lack of sleep that brings had all built up to create Gould’s ongoing problem over the last two years.

While he could see an osteopath for his back, he could not shake the darkness in his mind until he decided to speak to a friend on the World Snooker Tour security team at February’s Shoot Out, which opened up more doors than he could have imagined.

‘The thing for me, up until I spoke to someone about it, I hadn’t slept properly for months,’ Martin explained. ‘Not just my back, every part of my body ached, I felt like the whole world was on me.

‘Those two players came over to chat and without them knowing anything about it, it relaxed me. I walked down to the plane with them and was fine, but I had a proper panic attack about going, and not for them, I wouldn’t have gone.’

The way Gould has dealt with depression is admirable and will hopefully show others how it can be done.

The former German Masters champion took the difficult step of talking about his problems, while also choosing to eat more healthily and do more exercise, which he feels has been the recipe for success, and one that others can follow.

‘I have made a couple of lifestyle changes, I don’t eat too much fast food anymore, the odd pizza now and again, but not McDonald’s, KFC etc,’ he said.

‘It’s mainly helped just through talking. During lockdown I did a lot more exercise which helped as well, I’ve not been on trains everywhere, so I’ve been able to do a lot of walking. Playing golf as well which gives me the opportunity to switch off in my own little world. So eating well, exercise, but mainly talking about things.

‘I wanted to help other people by talking about it, not just me. With lockdown and everything, there’s thousands and thousands of people struggling.

‘They might not have the opportunity to speak to anybody. I felt I couldn’t speak to anybody, but when I found the courage to do so, I was able to let everything go.’

While Gould’s mental state is the most important winner in this battle, his snooker has flourished, with some early signs of the resurgence coming in his spectacular first round victory over Steven Maguire at the Crucible in August.

After coming through qualifying impressively, Gould had a tough task against the in-form Scot, but blasted him away 10-3 to keep up an incredible unbeaten record over him in major tournaments.

Maguire, who was ranked 51 places higher than him at the time, was clear after the match, saying: ‘He’s too good for me. He’s a better player and I can’t believe where he’s ranked.’

Gould’s form has seen him climb from number 60 to 36 since August, and is crediting the fact he has taken the pressure off himself now and is playing with a new relaxed attitude.

‘Regarding Maguire, I didn’t see his interview or hear anything, but that’s a massive compliment,’ Martin said. ‘I wouldn’t know how to have taken that.

‘I just felt like I was back in the club practicing. I spoke to Stevie outside, getting ready for the second session and we were speaking about the empty auditorium and I said, “Yeah, I’m just treating it like I’m in the club.”

‘He said: “Don’t I just bloody know it, I’ve been sat in my seat all afternoon.”’

Gould’s superb run at the European Masters shows he is still enjoying himself as his fresh, relaxed outlook even meant that he barely picked up his cue before the event.

There was a mental fatigue that came with going public about his depression and he wanted time off from the table after the World Championship, which clearly paid dividends in Milton Keynes.

‘If you had had said to me before the event that I was going to beat Higgins, Bingtao and Trump and then lose 9-8 to Selby in the final, I’d have snapped both your arms off,’ he said.

‘A couple of people had told me on commentary Fouldsy [Neal Foulds] didn’t believe I’d only practiced for two days beforehand, but I literally hadn’t picked up my cue at all.

‘I had one game with a mate of mine and another few hours, that was it since the Worlds, all I did was play golf.

‘I hadn’t played any snooker so I had no expectations. I put no pressure on myself, I just told myself to go out and enjoy it and that’s what I did.’

Gould enjoying himself again and showing the finest form he has shown in years is not only heart-warming, but hopefully will inspire others to follow him down the difficult, but rewarding path to recovery.

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