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The ex-professionals will be among a group of 13 individuals qualified to help and support player’s problems that came to the forefront after the tragic death of Gary Speed.

The Professional Footballers Association has recruited five former professional players who have overcome mental health issues to help tackle similar problems players are facing in the modern game.

Michael Bennett, a former Brighton winger, has been appointed head of player welfare at the PFA and he has created a team which includes ex-pros such as Lee Richardson, Andy Jordan, Andy Milner and Sam Shilton.

Together, they will work closely with the Sporting Chance Clinic and other former players such as Darren Eadie, Vincent Pericard and Leon McKenzie, who once tried to take his own life.

Bennett ruptured his knee ligaments at the age of 20 and subsequently suffered from depression. He says it is vitally important his team can sympathize with those who call for help.

"All of them have gone through some kind of issue, even myself, and that's why they've gone into this field," Bennett told the Daily Mail. "They've been there. They know first-hand. When players call you and don't know who you are, you say you've played football and the language you use makes them more comfortable. The empathy they offer is great.

"It's open to players and former members. Anything related to stress, panic attacks, anger, behavioural problems, as well as gambling or drugs; even not being able to deal with the pressure of football or not earning what they used to. That brings on pressure in itself and problems with the marriage or kids.

"I knew there was a need for it. If you pull a hamstring, you get treatment for it. If you've got mental health issues, we're offering treatment for that."

All calls into the helpline are initially handled by Bennett, whether it be from the players themselves, or concerned family members. The 43-year-old has revealed the numbers have risen in recent months.

"I'm not surprised. I always felt once the awareness was raised people would utilize the network," Bennett said. "I saw 54 players last year one-to-one just because people were more aware of what is available to them and I've seen 17 so far this year.

"The majority of the counselors are engaged with players now and some have two or three."

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