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'He could see in my eyes and I just broke down there, just started balling my eyes out'

By Josh Raisey
England prop Joe Marler. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Joe Marler joined his former England teammate James Haskell on his What a Flanker podcast recently to discuss his battle with depression and mental health issues, detailing an explosive 2018 ‘meltdown’ which saw him smash up his house.

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Marler’s documentary Big Boys Don’t Cry premiered this week on Sky Sports, in which the Harlequins prop travels across the UK exploring ways in which poor mental health can be managed.

The pair discussed what Marler described as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and a series of events that culminated in the 30-year-old breaking down in the changing room after a game.
Their conversation covered some profound subjects but was interspersed with plenty of humour, particularly recounting their infamous fracas in 2017 in the Gallagher Premiership and Haskell’s “death grip”.

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Marler describes his “meltdown” in his book, Loose Head: Confessions of an (un)professional rugby player, and shared the account on the podcast: “Me and my missus were going out for a mate’s 30th birthday, we’d both just dropped the kids off and on the way back a squirrel ran in front of the car and I didn’t move out the way for it, I just carried on. I didn’t speed up, I wasn’t attempting to kill this squirrel. My wife didn’t agree with the way I was driving, she said ‘you should have swerved for that.”

“The squirrel survived, but we’re kicking off at each other and we get in the house and I lose the plot, completely lose the plot, shouting and screaming. She’s heavily pregnant as well at the time. I remember losing control of myself, didn’t know what was going on, anger consumed me.

“This had been going on for a while, I was aware of it but didn’t know what to do. Not massive blowouts but these feelings inside and all these dark moments that I have, and then out of nowhere this happened and I turned over the house. Smashed the doors in, kicked off. She legged it upstairs and I remember seeing her on the floor in her dressing room crying her eyes out and I just thought ‘f**k, what have I done?’ I’d gone from losing control to coming back to reality and thinking “f**k, what is going on here?’

“Then I’ve gone, just got in the truck. That was the turning point. I was spinning out, didn’t know what I was doing, run out on my missus who’s about to give birth to our next baby and then I just came back full of shame, full of ‘enough’s enough now, this is what’s been going on’. I wasn’t able to vocalise that to her at the time, but she put on a brave face and was like ‘we’ve got to go to the party, we’ll deal with what has just happened another time.’

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“The doctor was there and I was asked if he could have a quick look at my hand. So we sat down in this room in this hotel and he was having a look at it and he kept looking up at me and looking at the hand and he was like ‘how did you do this?’ I was like ‘I was in the gym last night and I dropped a weight on it.’ He’s like ‘drop a weight on it did you? How heavy was it then?’ I was like ‘what is this the Spanish inquisition? Just jab it or give me some painkillers’. He was like ‘everything alright?’ He could see in my eyes and I just broke down there, just started balling my eyes out.

“The first thing he said to me was ‘is Daisy alright?’ And I went ‘yeah’. ‘Kids alright?’ I went ‘yeah’. And he said ‘as long as they’re alright, now what?’ Because that didn’t look like I’d dropped a weight on it, it’s what he called a boxer’s knuckle. I just opened up to him about that, about how I’d been feeling, what I’d been going through. But I had a game in two hours and he was delving a little bit deeper, he was asking the standard doctor questions.

“He jabbed my hand for the game. We got into the changing rooms after the game and I just broke down. Robbo, DC, Browny, all the boys that were in there were like ‘what is going on in here?’ I was sat in the corner with a towel over my head crying my eyes out. They were all coming over, then [Paul Gustard] came over and picked me up, put me on the coach and said ‘we’ll sort whatever needs sorting, we’ll look after you, we’ll sort things out’

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“That was the start really of trying to explore what was going on, opening up to my wife about the thoughts I’d been having, how dark I’d been.”

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'He could see in my eyes and I just broke down there, just started balling my eyes out'

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