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'I'm no monster. I just live with something so powerful'

The full extent of Clare Shine’s struggles are laid bare in her new book, Scoring Goals In The Dark.

Clare Shine with her book, 'Scoring Goals In The Dark'.
Clare Shine with her book, 'Scoring Goals In The Dark'.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

CLARE SHINE MIGHT not be here today.

It’s something that often crosses her mind.

The Republic of Ireland international and Glasgow City star has been to hell and back, her story well documented at this stage.

But the full extent of her extreme mental health struggles are laid bare in her new memoir Scoring Goals In The Dark, which is written with Gareth Maher and out this week.

Harrowing, powerful, warts and all. Beautiful and heartwarming at times, but ultimately a raw, searingly honest account of a life that spiralled out of control. A difficult story, but one of hope and recovery.

From appearing to have it all as a gifted, multi-talented teenager to an all-consuming alcohol and drug addition and two suicide attempts.

It’s two years this month since the second, when Shine was reported missing in Scotland and located after a nationwide search. The 27-year-old has been sober since her relapse, having slowly but surely pieced her life back together with her football career firmly back on track.

She stands in Tallaght Stadium on a typically-Irish Thursday morning, happier than ever. The book by her side, a smile on her face and a post-holiday glow after a week in sunny Spain with her family and girlfriend, Amy.

The question she often asks herself: ‘What if?’

That might have never happened. She might not be here.

“When you’re suicidal and you’re in that mindset, you don’t actually want to die,” Shine tells The42. “You just want everything to stop. So you can have peace of mind, so you can actually think straight, that you don’t lash out at everyone that comes your direction, that you don’t turn to X, Y and Z to find a short-term happiness. That was my only escape.

“But I’m grateful to still be here. I’m so thankful because I have such an amazing life now. Amazing family, amazing girlfriend, amazing friends. Everything is starting to fall into place for me. But obviously, I need to be consistent. I can’t take the foot off the pedal because that’s when things start to unwind.”

On said holiday in Torremolinos, she got a tattoo. A symbol of protection on her forearm.

The same symbol of protection she had in a diary she kept aged 15.

Shine wrote for the sake of writing back then, unaware of what she was going through. Later in life, she did so to make sense of what she was experiencing. All of these diary entries and journal pieces from through the years ultimately shape the book.

“I was writing for about 10 years,” she explains. “When I was going through that difficult time in hospital, I was going through a lot of it. My mom found a diary of mine from back when I was 15 at home and sent it over to me.

“When I was reading it, I was like, ‘You’re a child.’ I actually feel so sorry for her and what she actually had to go through. Even my writing in it is like a child. That poor girl. It’s just so crazy to think of a 15-year-old writing that.

“Because I’m in such a strong, confident mindset now, when I look back, and when I was reading that, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really, really sad.’ If somebody else read it, they would have been like… my mom read it years on and was like, ‘Oh my God’.

“For me to look back, I was like, ‘You’re only 15, 16 and you’re writing these intensive thoughts on the page,’ whereas I thought it was normal that everybody thought that. When I got older, it was like, ‘No one else is feeling like this. This is just me.’ And that’s why I tried to bottle it up, because I felt like I would be judged.

“I had no education on it, I had no idea how to handle it, how to deal with it. There was nothing back then that I could turn to or anything. I want my book to be a guide for people, to help them on the right path and to learn, and not make the same mistakes as I did.”

clare-shine-and-danique-kerkdijk Facing the Netherlands at the 2014 U19 Euros. Source: Anders Hoven, Digitalsport

No one thing triggered the downward spiral. The demons that haunted her.

The pressure of being a star striker weighed heavily on the Cork native; the expectation crippling as she also juggled camogie and Gaelic football, and faced the dilemma of choosing just one. (She played in an All-Ireland senior camogie final aged 17.)

Injury left her in a dark place, while death and grief also impacted her young life.

She doesn’t go into heavy detail on it in the book, but her sexuality also played a big part.

“It all happened at the same time,” Shine recalls. “I had lost my friend, I lost my uncle a couple of years after that. I was struggling with my sexuality. It was like I was living two different lives all the time. The one that my friends saw and then the one that my family saw.

“And then there was the one of the footballing world saw, so it was like three different personalities at once. Trying to open up and trying to realise if it was actually something that I felt or if it was a phase, things like that. But for me, I didn’t open up properly until a couple of years ago. I’m 27 now and I told my mom when I was 18.

“I was always, always lying about it; about who I was with, if she was my friend. You lie through your teeth to make yourself look better. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin and that played a huge part in it too. But I’m glad that I went through all that because I wouldn’t be who I am without it.”

The same goes for her journey overall.

It’s admirable and inspiring every time she retraces it.

More calm, eloquent and analytical in each interview she does, it’s a stark contrast to the chaos and despair Shine once endured. Her eyes glaze over a couple of times as we chat, but she’s incredibly impressive throughout.

“I’m so comfortable now,” she notes. “And I don’t care what anybody thinks, you know that kind of way.

“It’s been completely out of my comfort zone, but I would like to say I’ve been able to take it in my stride. I’ve been holding this piece of me back for so long, and I’m in a place now where I can speak about it and speak openly.

“It’s like speaking to a family member or my friend now every time I talk about it. I can look back and just be really proud of how far I have come, and for my family and my friends to see me in this position and taking all these opportunities on is probably really heartwarming for them as well.”

“It’s easy for me to stand here and talk about what happened because I’m in such a good mindset, whereas the book portrays what it’s like to be in the moment,” she later adds.

“And I think that’s what a lot of people don’t see. They can see it from the outside, but they never really understand it from the inside. That’s what I wanted from the book, to give people a better understanding about addiction and then about mental health when you don’t look after it.

shine1 In action for Glasgow City in recent times. Source: PA.

“I feel like my experiences can help a lot of people, in football or out of football. It attracts everybody, at all ages. Addiction can hit you at any point in your life.

“I met a woman, she didn’t start drinking until she was 40. By the time she was 46, she lost her mortgage, she lost her house, she lost her kids, her husband, she was left on her own. Because that’s what it done to her for six years. And she was trying to rebuild all these relationships and friendships. She had no one, everyone just left her be. And that’s just the way addiction works.

“I have spoken to people in hospital and throughout my recovery, and the one thing people keep saying to me is ‘You’re so young, you have your whole life ahead of you… I’m 50 odd and I’m still trying to handle these things.’

“That has been a massive turning point for me to try and put things right and to be the best person I can be instead of hurting a lot of people along the way. I’m no monster or anything. I just live with something so powerful, that’s the way it portrays you. I was a compulsive liar, I was lying to everybody where I was, what I was doing. That’s just not me. And I could never confront that.

“I just ran from it, and it built up and over-poured.”

***

Saturday 20 October 2018 was the day that I tried to kill myself, for the first time.

The very first line of the book, the opening chapter entitled Darkest Hour.

One of the many instances of rock bottom for Shine.

“You know what, I never fully believe… I feel like rock bottom, there’s always lower. I feel like my relapse was,” she frowns.

She remembers being told in a drug and alcohol centre that a relapse is “600 million times worse than your first time coming in here”.

In 2020, things got 600 million times worse. The first drink she had was on Valentine’s Day. Two pints of Guinness in Glasgow.

The following month, she made her first competitive senior start for Ireland. A long-awaited breakthrough. “I was like, ‘I got away with that. I can have one or two drinks, it’s fine.’”

She was telling herself the same thing time and time again shortly after, the Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world and strict lockdowns up-ending her structure and routine.

“I don’t think I’m the only one in saying that the whole country turned to drink in the evenings: quizzes and Zooms and X,Y and Z trying to pass the time.

“I completely forgot about everything that I had worked on and my mindset completely changed. The next minute I was in a relapse that I had nightmares over. It just grips you.

“I was a year-and-a-half sober, I was back in the international team, I was doing so well, and it was over in the blink of an eye. I was back to square one. How does that happen?

“I think it took me to go through that to realise that I was actually an alcoholic, that I did have serious addiction problems. The first time I did give up drink, there was always that voice in my head saying, ‘The next time will be different. I’ve learned so much about myself to deal with it.’ I pick up the first drink, and six months later, it spiralled and I’m back taking drugs and back on bottles of wine in the middle of the street in Edinburgh.

“It’s like, ‘How have I gone from getting a first start for my country to this to this?’”

Other stories from through the years stand out: head of ‘the party house’ and berated for her lack of professionalism at Glasgow; turning up to games under the influence in Cork; spending days in the pub drinking alongside old men, leading to messy nights; physical health issues; and appearing in court for possession of drugs at a concert.

clare-shine Facing Montenegro in 2020. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

Only remembering the famous World Cup qualifier draw away to the Netherlands in 2017 in patches because she was so intoxicated as a fan in the stands, is a big one.

“Drunk, overweight and acting like a twat,” there were sobering moments when former manager Colin Bell offered her a sympathetic smile from distance, and when long-time team-mate and friend Katie McCabe said, ‘Jeez, you stink of drink’ while embracing afterwards.

A few months later, she was back in the same situation at Tallaght Stadium. Déjà vu.

This time it was the senior debut of Amanda Budden, another special friend, against Northern Ireland.

Speaking at that same venue, Shine doesn’t recognise the person she was back then.

“I can’t even remember being here. I remember being over there in the Maldron, having a few pints, seeing parents over there and trying to hide the fact that I was drinking. I was hammered, screaming and shouting at Amanda in the goals.

“I was on the team a couple of weeks before that. All the fans, everyone was there. I was unrecognisable… unrecognisable. I was a completely different person. I didn’t give a shit about anything or anyone. People were probably like, ‘Oh, she’s just gone off the rails for a while,’ but I don’t think people realised how bad it actually got.

“This is just two stories in two years. My mom has said to me that she was just waiting for the guards to come to tell her that I was dead. For me to hear that when I’m sober, I’m like, ‘How did I put you through that?’ But how did I put everyone through it? It didn’t bother me, I didn’t care. And that’s only a small amount of times that it’s happened. There was multiple, multiple times I did not come home for days and days and days.”

She pauses for a moment, before picking up.

“Amanda Budden now, she has been through everything with me. And it came to a head for her as well. I remember us having a difficult conversation, it would have had massive impact on her mental health. She couldn’t do it, she couldn’t deal with me anymore. She was just like, ‘I can’t help you any more. There’s nothing that I can do,’ which is really sad for her because obviously she’s my best friend, she wants the best for me.

“When you’re in that situation, there’s only so much someone can do for you, you need to want to do it as well. I think my relapse was a massive eye-opener in terms of how serious my addiction and my mental health is, and where it can take me when I don’t look after it. I don’t want to put my family or my friends through that any more, I don’t want to put myself through that anymore, because it’s torture.

“It’s just trying to find a balance, and taking each day as it comes and learning as well along the way. I’m not gonna perfect everything. There’s gonna be things that happen out of my control, it’s just having the right tools and the right people around me that can help me in times when I need it.”

clare-shine At Ireland training in March 2020 - not long before her relapse. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

Her girlfriend, Amy, is another of those people. She’s sitting in the next room, and gets a big mention when Shine speaks about her biggest learnings and lessons through recovery. Along with the staples of taking things day-by-day and speaking to other people who have travelled the same road.

“And I think finding myself and knowing who I truly am,” she adds. “I always had football as my identity and that was it. So when I didn’t have it, I didn’t know who I was or what my purpose was.

 ”The last two years have opened so many doors for me, even though they were horrendous. But they were also amazing because I’ve learned so much about myself. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I’m way happier. I have an amazing girlfriend.

“She’s been my rock for the last year. It’s difficult to open yourself up to somebody else, because obviously you have that fear of them having the power over your emotions and your well-being, as such, because if anything happens… you wouldn’t want them to have to take responsibility. For me to actually open up to someone, and let someone in is huge. But she’s just taken it in her stride and is like, ‘You are who you are and I love you for who you are.’ And that’s it. She’s helped me so much, we’re going through this process together.”

***

Shine’s happiness shines through with each and every word she utters about her current situation. Both away from football, and in it.

She’s just signed a new contract at Glasgow, and while she’s been a more peripheral figure in the Irish set-up of late, she’s still part of a monumental journey for Vera Pauw’s team — and could yet play a big role in the 2023 World Cup qualification dream.

“Just how good a footballer Clare is” should not get lost in all of this, McCabe urges in the book’s foreword.

Her personal story may overshadow her recent footballing exploits, her reputation preceding her, but she’s undoubtedly one of the best finishers in the country.

“I’ve been able to separate the player and the person and I think that’s been massive.” Shine nods. “I’m not a robot, I have feelings and every athlete has feelings and emotions.

katie-mccabe-and-clare-shine With McCabe at Ireland training in 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I feel that’s a part of football and sport in general that’s not spoken about enough; the pressures, the expectations, the demands of football can be very hard-hitting for people. I can find it difficult to deal with certain things. Especially in the last two years.

“I thought everything would go back to the way it was, but I’m a completely different person now, a completely different player, I’m playing a lot deeper than usual. I’m more of a personality, a character in the team now. And I’ve adapted that persona.

“I’ve had a lot of obstacles along the way; my relationship with food, my sleep, the medication, the demands of football, the intensity has been something that I have struggled with, and trying to keep up with the pace all the time. There’s constantly things going on, and trying to concentrate for long periods of time. But it’s something that I’m able to manage.

“Hopefully next season might be a bit better than this season, in terms of me personally, controlling the uncontrollables. To just have an open mind to certain things is definitely something that I will be progressively working on as the years go by.”

It’s clear to see has struck the perfect balance between football and life, and is in a good place.

She may have said that before, but not actually meant it, but she genuinely, truly seems to be right now.

“Definitely,” she smiles. “I don’t want to say that it’s never gonna happen again, because there is always that 1% chance. I’ve learned that the hard way, so I can’t take the foot off the pedal at all. I’ll lose everything. And I don’t want that.

“I’m in a really good place. I have a lot of opportunities and an exciting future, for probably the first time ever. I have motivation, I have the drive and the goals, but I just take everything day by day. If I can do the right things every day, you never know what can happen going forward. It’s just exciting.”

“Amazing things have happened over the last number of months,” she adds. “It was all worth it, to a certain extent. Football has given me unbelievable moments; cup finals, league titles, travel the world, a few senior caps, been to a World Cup, European finals, but it’s given me my life back and I think that’s the most important thing.

“Obviously, I’m very competitive, but I don’t view football as this competition all the time, it’s not the be all and end all. There’s so much more to life than just football, and it took me so long to realise that.

shine Shine is happier than ever. Source: Ross MacDonald.

“Whatever happens on the pitch, happens on the pitch. If it works out for me, it works out for me, but I still have so much more to bring and so much more that I can add to the table.”

She’ll certainly never forget the low ebbs she has come from.

“It’s taken me through two unbelievably difficult scenarios for me to find who I truly am. I wouldn’t be able to write this book without football or without any of my struggles. I’m just grateful that I have been able to find a light, and to help as many people as I can with my experiences.

“I feel like there’s a lot of stigma — you’d never put me or a professional athlete in the same category as drink and drugs. It’s never really spoke about, especially in football. 

“People are afraid to have these conversations. I want to open up the conversation, these difficult conversations that people find hard. There’s always this… drugs and drink, you can’t have a conversation about that. You can’t have a conversation about suicide. Why not? It’s trying to normalise these conversations, because they go on all the time.

“How do we make that change? How do we go about it in a different way?”

They’re the big questions Shine is going some way in answering through all of this.

Scoring Goals In The Dark is certainly a good starting point.

A last word for it, perhaps?

“It’s just crazy the way life works at times,” the proud published author smiles. “I would have been the last person that anyone in school would have thought would write a book.

“It’s been an incredible journey. It’s 100% definitely my biggest achievement so far. It beats any cup final wins, league titles, senior cups… it beats anything.”

***

If you need to talk, contact:

Pieta House 1800 247 247 (suicide, self-harm; 24/7 support)
Samaritans 116 123
Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

You can also text HELP to 51444 (standard message rates apply)

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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