From the outside looking in, Danielle Gibson seems to have it all. A mansion in Cheshire, fast cars, and all of the designer clothes she could want.
But the wife of ex-Manchester United footballer husband Darron Gibson says that wealth is not always all it is cracked up to be. She says that she didn’t feel like she could reach out for help when she most needed it.
And realizing that things had to change in her life, Danielle decided to take her own steps to help – by training for five years to become a psychotherapist to help others who are struggling with their emotional or mental health. She said that she knows exactly how it feels when you don’t feel that you “have the right” to complain or speak up when you are struggling, ManchesterEveningNews reports.
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Danielle opened up about her experiences at an event for inspiring women on International Women’s Day in Manchester. Speaking to a crowd of businesswomen and friends, including a host of fellow former Manchester United footballers’ wives and girlfriends, Danielle spoke openly and honestly about the reality of life married to a professional footballer.
She is planning to launch her own psychotherapy business, ‘The Heard Hub’, this year to help others who have been in a similar situation with face-to-face and online therapy sessions. She has trained for five years and has worked for the past year in a women’s prison and also for a substance abuse service.
Danielle grew up in Wythenshawe, living with her mum and sisters in a high-rise flat, and knows only too well the struggles of life when you have little money. But being catapulted into the ‘lavish Cheshire lifestyle’, as she calls it, brought with it its own problems.
She met Darron, who is originally from Derry, Northern Ireland, when they were teenagers and he had moved to Manchester to follow his footballing dreams at Manchester United. They swiftly fell in love and, in the ‘buzz’ of their early years together, she says they were living their best life.
But, in the precarious world of football, when Darron got injured it put an emotional strain on their relationship – and that led to years of Danielle feeling she had to bottle up how she felt. “I felt like I didn’t have a right to complain, I didn’t have a right to moan because I lived in a big house in Bowdon, my kids go to private school, so I didn’t say anything to anybody, I just carried on.
“I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone how difficult it was because I was rich, and rich people aren’t supposed to have problems.” Now Danielle is hoping that through years of her own training, she can help make changes in the sports industry – having experienced for herself a lack of mental health support for sportspeople and their families.
She told the audience at the event, organized by Julie Perry Events, that she has seen life from two very different perspectives. “I’ve lived the lavish Cheshire lifestyle for 16 years – but I was born into a single parent family in Wythenshawe, with me and my sisters in a tenth floor flat watching my mum struggling up and down the stairs with shopping bags. I had a really simple life, “she said.
Danielle added: “But at the age of 16 I was catapulted into a new world, and everything that it brings. It’s really important to say I’m so grateful to everything this life has given me. I have two kids in private school, I’ve flown around the world, I’ve had the absolute dream wedding.
“But I want to use this platform to validate those experiences, it still feels tricky sat here in my designer outfit saying this, but I want to be honest and say that there have been years and years where I didn’t feel thankful or grateful of any of it – I just wanted to be Danielle from Wythenshawe. “
When Danielle and Darron first got together, it was in an era before social media, and Darron had left his family in Northern Ireland at the age of just 14 to follow his ambitions of playing for Manchester United.
Danielle said: “He was living every footballer’s dream, but I didn’t know anything about football so he was living this dream I knew nothing about. That buzz lasted for years, don’t get me wrong, we lived our absolute best life We bought our first house at 19, we had an all-singing all-dancing wedding – but it’s not as easy as you think.
“At 24 he signed for Everton on a massive contract with massive money, and it felt like at times he was paying for half of Ireland. He was paying for people’s car insurances, people’s mortgages, people’s rent, everything, the list didn’t stop, the phone was non-stop all the time – this was all ok because we were loaded right? Until he got injured. “
Danielle recalls watching on TV as Darron suffered a horrific cruciate knee ligament on international duty that could have ended his career right then. In the years that followed, he would continue on a treadmill of surgeries, long recoveries and then succumbing to injuries again. It would take a huge emotional toll on them both.
Danielle said: “Shortly after the wedding was his first injury – he was playing for his country, I was pregnant with baby number two and I was watching from home. To see basically your husband’s leg fall in half on the pitch when I felt like a million miles away was not a pleasant experience.
“He snapped his cruciate knee ligament, it made such a mess that they had to shave his thigh muscle and create two new ligaments behind his knee – only 20 years ago that would have written off his career.
“He was young, he was at a really good team in Everton, they provided lots of physical care for him, he was in the best hands but it meant a year out of football. Physios would come for an hour in the morning, but for the other 23 hours he was at home with me.
“We had to make him a bed downstairs, he had to sleep in a metal cast, I had to take him to the toilet, to bathe him, this was for 12 months – and that was the start of a very slippery slope. He got back fit eventually, but the manager who signed him had left.
“They’d signed other midfielders, there was no place for him in the team anymore, he’d get the few minutes here and there but that’s not what he wanted. He just wanted to play football. He was fighting to make the team , that was the first time I saw him lose his confidence.
“That happened for the next five years, he was constantly injured, constantly fighting to get fit. But this story isn’t just about him, it’s about me. I struggled, I felt helpless in a very chaotic world. I felt there was nothing I could do. He withdrew, rather than talking about it. “
Danielle sought support from her mum, while feeling the weight of responsibility to get Darron better. She said: “I couldn’t control how many times he got injured, I couldn’t control if the managers were going to pick him at the weekend, I couldn’t control how many surgeries he was going to have, the poor guy is held together by nuts and bolts.
“I felt we were always on the train going down to London to see specialists. My point is there was loads and loads of physical care, it feels bizarre saying this today in this billion dollar industry which is what it is, but I didn ‘ t feel like we had any emotional support whatsoever, yet we were getting flown to Germany, to Spain to have all these surgeries by specialist surgeons – bare in mind a therapy appointment is £ 70 an hour.
“He felt like he wasn’t good enough to make the team, he was constantly trying to get fit. I was a mum of two one with a poorly baby and I felt like my husband was disappearing.
“All of this while social media blew up. Internally he felt like he wasn’t good enough anymore, but externally that was being validated by comments all over social media, on news sites, like none of them were nice what they were saying, they were saying things like ‘he’s stealing a living getting a wage not playing for a year’, ‘this guy is made of glass what you doing signing him’.
“It’s alright for us to sit here and say” don’t read the comments “but when you’re in bed 23 hours a day, you’re going to read the comments. So all I kept thinking was my mates’ husbands don ‘t have these problems, my mate’s husband who is a builder goes to work, comes home and has his tea, job’s a good’ un, my mate’s boyfriend who works in a call center doesn’t get verbally attacked like this.
“I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone how difficult life was feeling. So I put up and shut up.”
The football contracts would get shorter, and Danielle says they’d constantly worry what the future held. In 2017 Darron signed for Sunderland which meant he moved away from the family, leaving Danielle increasingly isolated-and her worrying how he would feel on his own di lui too.
“Again I just internalized it all and kept everything in. I never felt like I had the right to say anything other than to be grateful for this life I was living.
“I wasn’t only a mum of two kids, one being poorly, I was a wife, a cook, a cleaner, a taxi driver, a therapist even then before I was even qualified, a mental health nurse … no one EVER asked how I was – no football manager, no football agent, ever asked how I was. “
A fateful moment would lead Danielle to finally have to face head on the issues she was so desperately trying to hide away from – when Darron crashed his car on the way to training and was found to be over the drink drive limit, for which he went on to receive a community service order in 2018.
She said: “Fast forward 14 months Gibbo gets injured again. But this time, he’s four and a half hours away in the North East. He couldn’t drive home because he had a leg cast on, it was hard enough him being injured at home let alone four hours away but I still had a poorly baby, I felt torn and helpless and he was feeling alone and useless.
“Saturday morning, 9am the phone rings, Darron had crashed his car on his way to training, still over the limit from the night before. I didn’t go to the police station, or travel the four and a half hours to the North East, I stayed at home in that big fancy kitchen in that big house in Bowdon with my two kids.
“I looked around and thought ‘what is this?’ And that’s when I thought I need to change this narrative, where are those football managers and agents now because that kitchen felt very quiet? We needed more than a therapist, I needed to become a therapist.
“All the professional people in football could help us with knee injuries, contracts, groin strains, investments, but who could help me with this? Who could help me save my husband and ultimately save my family?
“I knew I couldn’t control what the papers were going to write or the whispers at the school gates. But I needed to take life back into my hands because I was living in a world that was feeling out of my control.
“I wasn’t allowed to make any important decisions. Our bills, our finances, our holidays were booked by somebody else, always in someone else’s hands and I was just the wife and mum at home – well not any more.
“My husband is more than the number on the back of his football shirt. And now here we are four years later and I’m a qualified therapist.” Danielle has spent the past year working in a women’s prison with ‘lifers’ while also spending time helping people to address substance abuse issues.
But the next stage is to launch her own therapy business. She said: “My hopes and dreams are to work for people in this industry who feel they can never pick up the phone because they have all of this. So I’m in the process of opening my own business, The Heard Hub, in September and I want to help anyone and everybody. “
Darron has just retired from professional football, which Danielle describes as a “massive relief” but says: “I’m just a very proud wife for everything that he has achieved in his career.”