Lee Crooks was a promising young footballer who came up through the ranks at Manchester City.
He was born in Wakefield in 1978, and was picked for the Manchester City team at the age of 16, where he spent 6 years at the club.
He had always wanted to play football, and his father had always wanted him to play. That was always his plan.
But after a successful career in football, he turned to the military – which left him with depression.
Watch his full interview in the video below:
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Lee told UNILAD:
Nothing prepares you to become a professional footballer – one minute you’re just a lad kicking a ball down the local park and the next minute you’re out on Maine Road in front of 30,000 people.
My dad had a dream to try and make me a footballer and obviously I went on to do that.
Lee went up the ranks at City, rising quickly through the reserves and making his way all the way to the first team.
His time at the City was one of ‘sacrifice and dedication’, working incredibly hard to make his way to the top of his game.
Sadly, the success meant that he grew further and further from his dad’s influence as he grew out of his dad’s ‘league’.
Despite the gruelling training regime, Lee would also have a lot of time on his hands, which caused him to fall off the rails.
I started going out on the booze and that started being detrimental to my football, looking back now.
I wasn’t playing to my best, I got left out of the team. I got myself in a bit of bother and got done for drink driving.
This was me learning as a young lad but they were hard times. You were just in this bubble of playing football day-in, day-out.
As the time went on, I could feel myself loosing this love for football.
It became this drag to go to work, and I know that sounds horrendous but that’s just how I felt.
Lee was getting older, and moved to other football league clubs before his retirement from the game at 32.
After his time on the pitch, Lee turned to the military and joined the RAF regiment as a gunner in 2010.
After completing his training, he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.
Lee saw horrific things during his time on tour, things that he couldn’t possibly have trained for.
There were similarities for Lee between football and his time in the military, namely the sense of family and the feeling of teamwork between he and his fellow gunners.
He told UNILAD:
To go from civilian life into a war zone, you can’t train for that.
And you see stuff out there that the human mind shouldn’t see but at the end of the day it’s a team game.
Football’s a team game, military’s a team game, you’re all in it together.
Lee suffered a neck injury during his time in the RAF, and was medically discharged.
This is where Lee’s mental health began to deteriorate, as he felt he was left on his own.
He was offered no support after his dismissal from the RAF, and struggled from then.
As soon as I left the military, you were left on your own. I struggled big time.
It didn’t matter, nothing mattered. If I’d have carried on, God knows where I would’ve ended up – I was just in a black hole.
During his time in the military, Lee saw explosions, IEDs and people losing their limbs.
The horrors continued to haunt him months after he left his position in the military.
After months of struggling, he was determined to get help for his depression.
He has since vowed to help veterans going through the same struggles as he did.
Lee has started the Lee Crooks Foundation in a bid to combat homelessness among veterans in the UK.
They need help and support, because it is a lonely place, it is a bad place, whether it’s alcoholism, depression or drugs.
Hopefully in the next 12 months or so we can get hold of this and get some stuff up and going and try and help our veterans and our people and get them off the street.
To try and help veterans on the street, Lee has started the Lee Crooks Project, which is dedicated to re-housing the homeless ex-service personnel.
Lee is looking to use his story to inspire people to help with this effort and get the UK’s homeless veterans off the streets and help them with their health and personal problems.
You can help Lee by following this link to his project and looking out for a ‘sleep-out’ between Christmas and New Year in order to raise money to bring the vets in off the streets during the winter months.
There are currently over 7,000 homeless war vets who need to come in from the streets and have no help getting back into civilian life.
Lee plans to change that.