Friday, 13 April 2007

Banishing The Demons

It is Friday night and a quick perusal of the London Evening Standard reveals an exclusive Ken Dyer interview with Matthew Etherington. The troubled winger has opened up for the first time about the not-so-secret and long-standing gambling addiction that has rendered the player so ineffectual this campaign.

Rejuvenated Etherington vows to give his all after banishing the demons
By Ken Dyer

There was a time not so long ago when Matthew Etherington could hardly drag himself onto the Upton Park pitch. From the grandstand, it just looked as though, like most of the West Ham team at that time, he was bang out of form and resigned to relegation. Little did most of the fans realise Etherington’s head was full of the demons that any addiction can provoke.
The West Ham winger is not the first player to have a gambling addiction — and he won’t be the last. Thanks to the Sporting Chance clinic, though, the understanding of his club manager, the support of friends and family plus his own determination, Etherington is well on the way to recovery. You can see it in his play out there on the pitch where there is no hiding place. Where once his shoulders sagged and his head drooped, he is now returning to the sort of form he showed last year, when he was an outside bet for England’s World Cup squad. West Ham manager Alan Curbishley will need Etherington and the rest of his team to be at their best tomorrow, against fellow relegation candidates Sheffield United. Bramall Lane will be no place for faint hearts or distracted minds — but Etherington is ready.

Etherington, who once admitted that he couldn’t recall a day when he didn’t have a bet, has been treated at the Sporting Chance clinic founded by Tony Adams. The West Ham player said: "I was in a bad place at the start of the year and I went to Sporting Chance to sort out my head. Things are a lot clearer now and it’s no coincidence my displays have been much better in recent weeks. I had a lot of things going on in my personal life I had to sort out. I’ve done that now and it’s a chapter in my life I can now close. I want to get on with the rest of my life now. I can look forward. I feel I’m a different person now. The mental state I was in during the first half of the season made it impossible to go onto the pitch and play. That was my own fault but I’ve come through that."

Curbishley believes it is no accident that West Ham’s recent improvement — they go into tomorrow’s game on the back of three consecutive wins — has coincided with Etherington’s rejuvenation. "The work ethic which has come into this team in recent weeks has been epitomised by Matty Etherington," he said. "I spoke to Matty about his problems when I first came to the club. Peter Kay, the chief executive of Sporting Chance, then wanted a longer consultation than perhaps was normal for a Premiership player. "I agreed to that, though, and Matty took the opportunity during one of the breaks we had where we had no game, to go away for a block of time because it was needed. He is now working very hard for himself and the team. Now players like he and Lee Bowyer need to add a goal to everything else they are doing.
"We need them to chip in with a goal because, at the moment, the scoring is confined to a couple of people."

Etherington played a full part in the 1-0 victory at Arsenal as the Hammers became the first team to win at Emirates but he expects a challenge of a different kind tomorrow. "They will look to get us early, try to rough us up a bit. That’s the way Neil Warnock’s teams usually play," he said. "It will be a very different game from last week’s at Arsenal but just as tough. Yes, we’ve ridden our luck a bit in recent matches but it’s the first time we’ve had those breaks all season. The manager has said to us that you make your own luck and everyone is working hard now. We’re now all pulling in the same direction, which perhaps wasn’t the case earlier on. We’re working so hard for each other and that is where it has to start. We’re all putting in our shift and letting the football do the talking later in the game. I wouldn’t say tomorrow is a ‘must win’ game. I know we’re still second from bottom in the table but if we can pick up some points away and then win our home games then I think we’ll be OK. Our fans can make Upton Park an intimidating place and make it very difficult for the opposition. We’ve put ourselves in a better position now and we just have to make the most of it. It will be a hell of an achievement if we make it because three weeks ago everyone had written us off and rightly so."

Curbishley admits that taking the West Ham job before Christmas has turned out to be an even greater challenge than he expected. Since I’ve been here I’ve realised just how big this club is, what it means to people and where it can go," he said. "It’s bigger than I thought. It’s not something which is scary but you think ‘blimey, we’ve had that bad run but what would happen if we had a decent one?’"

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