Almost two years have passed since Clare Shine felt that, after trying so hard to keep going, everything had come crashing down forever. She had already achieved what once felt impossible, rehabilitating from drug and alcohol addiction to continue a hugely successful career with Glasgow City, but now she had to do it all again. A relapse, brought on by the loneliness of Covid-19 lockdowns, had culminated in more suicidal thoughts and a high‑profile 10-hour police search that found her in Edinburgh.
Living with 19 other patients inside the Nairn ward, a mental health unit at Glasgow’s Stobhill hospital, she could not let go of the thought that her chance of recovery had passed. “I felt like I was finished,” she says. “I thought I was done: that this is it for me, I can’t progress or move on from it, it’s taken over my whole life. I didn’t see any way out.”
Once again, though, she stepped back out into the light. On Sunday, Shine will be part of the City side that faces Celtic in the Scottish Women’s Cup final and nobody should be surprised if she applies the decisive flourish once again. She scored a hat-trick in the 2015 final and a last-minute winner four years later, both times having cast aside personal demons. “I’ve learned to enjoy the moment as much as I can,” she says, and the very fact of being back out there is a marvel.
Shine is chatting in the lobby of a Glasgow hotel, which might not be the way most sportspeople would wish to spend their 27th birthday. She has been joking with her teammates that she is in fact still 24 and points out, more seriously, that several years of a young life were effectively lost to addiction; listening to her talk, though, is to hear an older and wiser voice. Shine has known more highs and desperate lows than most will experience over an average lifetime and wants people to take inspiration from her journey.
That is why she has written a book, Scoring Goals in the Dark, partly drawn from a series of diaries she has kept since the age of 15. There are few such resources available to young footballers, and girls in particular: in a relentless sporting environment, where there sometimes appears little option but to bottle things up, the darkness can take over indiscriminately.
“Trying to speak about it was so difficult because of the stigma,” she says. “I was in a professional environment, playing in the Champions League, and found myself in the depths of an addiction. I had no one to turn to as I thought people would look down on me, judge me for it, and I had lost a lot of respect from people as well. Being in the public eye while intoxicated was something I didn’t even think twice about in that moment.”
Her book tells the story of a gifted all-rounder who played for her native Cork in the all Ireland camogie final – a variant of hurling played by women – as a teenager. “There’s no way that, lining up in that game at Croke Park, I’d have thought that I’d be an alcoholic or addicted to drugs five or six years later,” she says. “I’d never have associated myself with any of that. It’s just wild, the way things can turn out if you don’t look after yourself.”
A natural goalscorer, Shine settled on football and excelled with Raheny United before joining City for the first time in 2015, becoming a full international shortly afterwards. But alcohol was already playing too heavy a role for a player who became obsessed with finding highs that could match those felt on the pitch: months before moving to Scotland she had been hiding a problem that led to training sessions being missed and matches being dragged through in a haze; she would have panic attacks too and eventually sought help at Cork’s Pieta clinic for people in distress. “I was so good at hiding how I felt,” she says. “But as my addiction got worse it became harder to do that, because I was turning up to games where it was very visible.”
Shine believes the book’s contents will shock some who were close to her. It pulls no punches in describing occasions when she was embarrassed in public, including drunken trips to watch Ireland play when she was injured, and lays out in detail the harm caused when her problems continued in Scotland. Her apartment became known as the “party flat”; homesickness did not help and she returned to Ireland, falling out of the game for a while before resurfacing with Cork City, who bore witness to her illness at first hand and arranged for her to visit an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre.
Sign up for our new and free women’s football newsletter!
“I just thought it was a phase, normal for people at my age,” she says. “I couldn’t differentiate between it being an addiction or me going through a certain period in my life. But when I didn’t want to play football because of it, I knew there was a serious problem.
“There are lifelong friendships that came crashing down around that time. I wasn’t trustworthy, you couldn’t rely on me for anything. I became a compulsive liar in the middle of my addiction: first silly stuff like lying about where I was to somebody who could literally see me while they were calling, then bigger things about money and the company I was keeping when the drugs started to overpower me. I was lying all the time, but I’m trying to rebuild all these relationships now. It’s not who I am: it’s what my addiction and mental health problems did to me.”
During that period Shine tried to bring about her own death: a shocking episode described vividly in the book. The fact she was back in Scotland to decide the 2019 final against Hibernian less than a year later, having been offered a return to Glasgow by their manager, Scott Booth, is utterly remarkable. So is the fact that, having relapsed in June 2020, she has reached that level once again now. Higher, too: Shine returned to the Ireland squad last summer before scoring for City in the Champions League against Servette in September.
Coming back has not been entirely smooth, although she cannot praise Booth and the club enough for their care. “There was a period towards the end of last season where I was like: ‘I can’t continue, no way, I need to put myself first and do something else’,” she says. “I just felt I couldn’t reach all the demands. I got quite worked up about it but learned that you can manage things better and strike a balance. I’d run through a brick wall for this club but you need to do what’s best for you too. Pre-season went well, though, and that goal in the Champions League was a turning point for me. I thought: ‘I can definitely still do this sport.’”
That is beyond question. Shine’s achievement, along with the clarity and candour with which she is able to describe events that are still very recent and raw, is extraordinary. “There’s obviously stuff I still have to work on and manage that may never go away,” she says. Routine is very important; so is resolution and she has recently begun talking with her mother, whose loving attempts to tame a near-impossible situation are addressed in the book, about everything they went through and the associated feelings of guilt.
Now she can see a clear future for herself on and off the pitch, perhaps as a public speaker where the latter is concerned. Her erudition and honesty are arresting: the aim is that she can use them to help others.
“This could happen to anyone at any time in life,” she says. “I want people to look at my mistakes and not make the same ones, and to know where to find support if they become ill. I know what it’s like to give up, but I also know what it’s like to fight back. I just want to give the message that it’s possible to come back from the moment when you think you can’t go any further.”
Scoring Goals in the Dark by Clare Shine, with Gareth Maher, is out on 6 June from Pitch Publishing, £19.99
Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.