THE football community have rallied to support a former Cowdenbeath player after he quit the game following an alleged taunt over his mental health.
David Cox, who spent three years with the Blue Brazil before his contract was cancelled by mutual agreement in January, said he was “done with football completely” following an incident during Albion Rovers’ SPFL League Two clash at Stenhousemuir on Thursday evening.
The 32-year-old, who joined the Coatbridge outfit in March, was a substitute for their match at Ochilview but left the ground at half-time after “again having to deal with some mental health shouts at football”.
Cox, who has been open about his struggles with mental health claimed that he was taunted over previous attempts to take his own life.
In a video posted on social media, Cox said: “It’s currently (the) second half just starting, Albion Rovers at Stenhousemuir, and I have left the stadium.
“I wasn’t playing tonight, I was on the bench. One of the boys on the Stenny team, we were having a wee bit of to and fro on the bench, and he had another go at my mental health.
“He told me I should have done it right first time.
“I promised myself that the next time it happens I’ll walk off the park, but obviously I wasn’t playing, so I am done with football completely.”
He went on: “Some folk might not think it’s a big deal but I’m ******* fed up listening to it. I don’t get paid enough for it and if he’d put me on the park I’d have probably ******* broke the boys legs. Deliberately.
“I tried to speak to the referees about it, but he didn’t want to know because they didn’t hear it.
“We talk about racism, we talk about the personal issues that get brought up in football, and because it’s not heard by officials or whatever, there’s nothing they can do about it, so I’m going to do something about it and, for me, it’s leaving the game.”
His club described the incident as “unforgivable”, and reiterated that he has they, and Scottish football’s, “unconditional support”.
Three of Cox’s former clubs – Peterhead, Forfar Athletic and Airdrieonians – were amongst those to post messages of support on social media, while football fans from across the country, pundits such as ex-Celtic forward Chris Sutton, and mental health organisations all moved swiftly to give him their backing.
Back Onside, of which Cox is a patron, uses sport to help those on the road to recovery and they said that they were “shocked and disgusted”.
In a statement, they said: “Doubtless it will be said that it was just banter, (but) telling somebody who has attempted to take their own life that they should have done it right the first time is not banter.
“The Back Onside team are fully behind David, who is understandably very angry and upset at what was said. This isn’t the first time David has suffered this sort of abuse and it is 100 per cent unacceptable and something needs to be done.
“This is exactly the reason why players don’t want to reach out and talk about their mental health as, when they do, it is used against them and not just by fans.”
Wendy Halliday, a director with See Me Scotland, said: “David has been a brilliant advocate for tackling the stigma and discrimination around mental health and suicide. He has spoken out bravely to help normalise discussions, and make it easier for others who are struggling.
“So we are incredibly disappointed to hear David speaking once again about receiving abuse while playing football.
“No one should experience stigma or discrimination because they have struggled with their mental health. These are incredibly serious issues and not ones that should be used for taunts or abuse.
“All across Scotland people keep mental health problems to themselves, worried about the reaction they will receive from others.
“Stigma and discrimination can make people who are mentally unwell feel worse. It can stop them asking for help and ultimately could be the difference between life and death.
“No one should be made to feel ashamed to speak out about their mental health problems. We fully support David’s brave decision to speak publicly and welcome the support he has received from his club.
“For this incident, and any other future incidents like this, See Me is urging the clubs, leagues and governing bodies to fully investigate what happens and take action against anyone who is found to have abused a player because of their mental health.”
In a statement after the match, Stenhousemuir FC said they had spoken to Cox and the other player alleged to have been involved, Jonathan Tiffoney, and said that both players were “making claims of serious and wholly inappropriate comments being made during the game that have implications for player wellbeing and mental health”.
Tiffoney, who denies the claims, has been put on a leave of absence while an investigation is conducted.
Stenhousemuir said: “We have spoken to the players involved, David Cox (Albion Rovers) who was on the bench, and Jonathan Tiffoney (Stenhousemuir) who was playing. Both players are making claims of serious and wholly inappropriate comments being made during the game that have implications for player wellbeing and mental health.
“Whilst we accept that things can get said during a game, we believe the allegations are sufficiently serious enough to merit a more detailed investigation. We will be referring this to the Scottish FA tomorrow and will work with them and our colleagues at Albion Rovers to investigate the incident.”
On Friday, they added: “The club can confirm that we have asked the Scottish FA Compliance Officer to investigate the incident that happened last night during our game against Albion Rovers, and the SPFL has been informed.
“Serious allegations have been made and they must be fully and robustly investigated.
“Following discussions with the Stenhousemuir player involved, he will take a leave of absence until the investigation is concluded.”
Since arriving at Central Park in January 2018, Cox played 74 games for the Blues, netting 17 times.
Cowden secretary, David Allan, said that his contribution would be “long remembered” at the club, whilst the forward said after departing: “I’d like to thank those who welcomed myself and my family at the club and looked after them during games etc.
“I did my best in every game and was lucky enough to score some important goals in some big games and also played my part helping the club avoid relegation from senior football.”
Cox, who owns his own gym business, Flex Fitness in Motherwell, had previously spoken about receiving abuse from fans and players after revealing that he had self-harmed and attempted suicide.
He had considered quitting football after claiming that opponents tried to use his depression to put him off his game.
At the time, Blue Brazil manager Gary Bollan said: “In my opinion mental health issues should be treated the same as racism.
“Abuse is not something David or anyone else should have to tolerate. He is dealing with issues in his life and he should not have to work in an environment where there is abuse from off the pitch or from players on it.”