FORMER Oxford United goalkeeper Ryan Clarke admits he had no idea the impact of going public with his battle against depression would have.

The 36-year-old, who still lives in the county and is now playing for Bath City, says he is ‘in the best place I have been since leaving Oxford’ after a number of tough years, which saw his problem compounded by family bereavements, injuries, a cancer scare and not getting regular first-team football.

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The popular Bristolian, who spent six seasons at the Kassam Stadium and was instrumental in helping the club regain their Football League status in 2010, thought long and hard about telling his story.

But having revealed his fight during the summer, Mr Clarke was blown away by the response.

"When I decided to go public with it all, my main reason was that I thought it would be a relief for me to get it out there,” he said.

"But it turned out to be pure satisfaction.

"So many people came forward and said they could relate to it and told me it was reassuring that somebody who they knew as a professional sportsman felt like that.

"The amount of comments and private messages I got was unreal.”

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And while the quantity of correspondence was a big surprise, so too was the wide range of people who got in touch.

“I really was staggered by it all,” he added.

“I had players from the Championship, Leagues One and Two right down to the Southern League get in touch.

“But probably the majority of messages were from your 'normal' person if you like. Those who had a 9-5 job but who were just in a bad place.

"If me speaking out has encouraged them to go and get help, then that's amazing.

"It wasn't why I did it in the first place, but I just feel privileged that I might have been able to help them in a small way.”

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Mr Clarke’s tough time started after he left United in 2015.

A move to Northampton saw the goalkeeper win promotion – but he did not play a league game for the Cobblers, making just four appearances in cup competitions.

Having been a regular for Oxford, sitting on the substitutes’ bench every Saturday was difficult to take.

Further transfers followed, to AFC Wimbledon, Eastleigh and then Torquay United.

But life was tough.

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Mr Clarke had lost his grandmother and grandfather, his sister was going through breast cancer, and he himself had a scare – skin cancer on his back – which was thankfully caught in time.

His father then passed away and he admits he was in a ‘very bad place’.

"There is a big thing on mental health in sport at the moment, but to me it's about mental health in general,” he said.

"You don't have to be a sportsman for it to be a big thing – anybody can suffer with this.

“I would just urge anyone that is struggling to go and get some help, because it will be worth it.”

He added: “I do think football clubs should definitely try to do more.

“I know it's often a financial thing and maybe some smaller clubs do not have the budget for it, but they should maybe try to work with the NHS or whoever they can because it really is a big issue.”

Mr Clarke was back playing football in the county last weekend when Bath took on Oxford City in a league match, and this weekend is in action when his side travel to Banbury United for an Emirates FA Cup tie.

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The ongoing support from his family and, latterly, the reaction of the Oxfordshire community has been a great source of comfort.

"Obviously I still live in the area and I always got on great with Oxford United supporters, but it was brilliant that so many got in touch with me when they knew what was going on,” he said.

"The amount of messages I got from fans was just amazing.

“It really did help me and gave me a real boost that there was still that good feeling from them towards me.”

He added: “I had serious shoulder injuries that could have seen me never play again.

"But I was never in a bad, bad place with that mentally. My troubles started when I was fully fit but not playing, on top of all the other things going on in my life. It was all too much.

“However, I am now in the best place I have been since I left Oxford.

"I don't mind admitting I am on the final pieces of my medication.

“I am now playing part-time and have some work during the week – it’s been a really tough journey, but I’m getting there.”