Retired footballers Paul Merson, Robbie Fowler and David Seaman have been applauded for speaking out about men’s mental health issues.

In the first of a two-part ITV programme on Monday evening, Merson revealed to his former England teammates Robbie Fowler and David Seaman how his gambling and drugs addictions left him suicidal. 

Merson, the former Arsenal, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough star, opened up about his addictions during the ITV programme Harry’s Heroes: The Full English.

The two-part programme sees I’m A Celebrity winner and former football manager Harry Redknapp reunite a team of ex-England legends to train them back to somewhere near their former glory, before they take on old rivals Germany in one final grudge match.

Out of control

Viewers took to social media to praise a discussion about mental health between Merson, Fowler and Seaman.

During the discussion, Merson revealed that his gambling habit was so bad that he lost £20,000 in a weekend.

Merson said: “My life was completely and utterly out of control. I was major, major taking cocaine. I haven’t taken drugs now since 1994 but it wouldn’t take long.

“Being an addict is hard, I would say. It’s something you have got for the rest of your life.”

Merson was capped 21 times by England and won two league titles, the FA Cup, League Cup, and European Cup Winners’ Cup in his playing career.

He added: “Addiction is a strong thing. Addiction makes you withdraw from everybody. I was never going out with the lads in the end. It’s weird how it takes you.

“I am playing for England, I have all the money in the world and I want to kill myself.”

Talk about it

Liverpool great Fowler, who won 26 international caps, admitted he was “knocked for six” by the words of his former teammate, saying: “It just shows you, everyone has this exterior where you think everything is fine.”

Seaman, a former clubmate of Merson at Arsenal who made 75 England appearances, added: “It’s a shame that back in that time, we weren’t equipped to try to even recognise that.

“I think now, because there is more awareness, more people, especially more men, are willing to talk about it and get it out in the open.”

Viewers praised their honesty on social media, including @SamMichaelC, who tweeted: “Can we seriously take a moment to appreciate that part where David Seaman, Paul Merson and Robbie Fowler had an open chat about mental health. You could tell that was a chat they all wish they'd had 20 years ago... #HarrysHeroes #Harrysfullenglish”

Another viewer, @LeePartridge16, added: “This programme is so funny but also addresses far more serious issues than just football,,,,addiction, drink, gambling, drugs, alcohol, obesity & mental health. #HarrysHeroes #HarrysFullEnglish”

And @LisaMarrey1 said: “Absolutely loving #HarrysHeroes A group of blokes who used to all be good at football battling with fitness and diet. Player Banter and openness about mental health what's not to like.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, or in Harry’s Heroes: The Full English, you can find a trained BACP counsellor or psychotherapist to talk to in our directory.