The captain of Yeovil Town Football Club who died earlier this year struggled with depression and alcohol addiction issues for years, an inquest has heard.
Glovers skipper Lee Collins, 32, was discovered at a hotel in West Coker, near Yeovil, on March 31, after he had been absent from training that morning.
Yeovil Town assistant manager Terry Skiverton found Mr Collins in his Lanes Hotel room, where the players were staying during their training.
READ MORE: ‘Bubbly’ girl, 17, took her life after struggling with lockdown isolation, inquest hears
Somerset coroner, Tony Williams ruled today (Wednesday, August 4) that he had taken his own life.
Fellow footballer Josh Neufville spoke to Mr Collins the previous evening and was the last to see him alive.
He described him as ‘just laughing, the way he normally is’ to an Avon and Somerset police officer.
In a statement from Mr Skiverton read out in Taunton Coroner’s Court today, he described last seeing Mr Collins at a training session at Yeovil Town’s Huish Park ground, which was ‘put on especially for Lee, because he had been struggling with injuries and personal problems’, the day before his death.
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Mr Skiverton said Mr Collins ‘appeared and seemed really happy’, adding that the team had a good session.
Through a series of statements read to the court, a picture of Mr Collins’ persistent fight with alcohol addiction and mental health struggles emerged.
A pivotal moment flagged by the team doctor at his previous football club, Forest Green Rovers, was the death of his father in 2017.
This was a sentiment echoed in a later statement from Mr Collins’ partner and both described his subsequent excessive alcohol consumption.
Dr Jim Holmes at Forest Green Rovers saw Mr Collins throughout 2018, during which he was on and off antidepressants while battling alcohol and gambling issues.
Dr Holmes said Mr Collins was ‘doing quite well at hiding his issues from the club’ and described a pattern of highs and lows through the year, during which Mr Collins would avoid alcohol for a period but then later resume drinking.
He noted that a particularly low period was during the off season, when he missed the ‘routine and distraction’ of regular training and was also concerned he would not be able to cope when it resumed.
Mr Collins eventually entered counselling under the Professional Footballers’ Association’s (PFA) guidance.
Dr Holmes described the ‘crisis point’ at the end of 2018, when Mr Collins entered a rehabilitation programme for three weeks and stopped drinking entirely, after which he appeared ‘settled’ and was then transferred to Yeovil Town in June 2019.
A statement from Dr Chris Minton, Yeovil Town’s team doctor, on his dealings with Mr Collins reflected the same issues.
In February this year, Mr Collins was struggling with insomnia as well as alcohol addiction, the inquest heard.
Dr Minton said Mr Collins was ‘low’ in early March and was drinking heavily to numb the pain, for which he suggested counselling or attendance at a rehab clinic, both of which Mr Collins refused to do.
Mr Skiverton’s statement reiterated that he had tried to organise a conversation between the PFA and Mr Collins regarding mental health help.
Dr Minton said: “He felt he would be able to sort himself out without any additional help. I was concerned about it but later in March he appeared to be in a better frame of mind. I hoped at this point he had turned a corner.”
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A statement from Mr Collins’ close friend Paul Broadhead additionally described his periodic struggles with mental health, saying that despite being the life and soul of the party he didn’t do very well in his own company.
He noted that when the football season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Collins worried about money and started to drink heavily and resorted to ‘extra curricular highs’ with cocaine.
Mr Broadhead said: “He had always been against drug use, so it was clear that he wasn’t in his right state of mind.”
The second lockdown in November ‘hit Lee quite hard’ and he told Mr Broadhead he was having ‘wobbles’.
Mr Broadhead said: “I also think in his darker moments he was concerned about what he would do next as he approached the end of his football career.”
The third national lockdown was equally difficult and “frustrated” Mr Collins as he could not see friends and was “cooped up” in a hotel, the inquest heard.
Mr Broadhead received a “cry for help” message from Mr Collins on March 23, after which they spent the entire night talking on the phone and he subsequently said he had “ticked on mentally”, making plans to visit Mr Broadhead soon.
Mr Broadhead concluded his statement: “He hadn’t been well for some time, being locked away with only his own thoughts for company affected him badly and self medicating distorted his worldview.
“Had he been in his right mind and able to meet friends, I genuinely don’t think we would be in this situation now.”
Yeovil Town manager Darren Sarll and captain Lee Collins walk off the pitch after the Glover’s 3-1 win over Dover Athletic
In the final statement read to the court, Mr Collins’ partner Rachel Gibbon described the “major issues” they had been experiencing due to his substance abuse, saying that from October of last year “Lee was not Lee”.
She said: “There was a Lee that the world saw and a Lee that only those closest to him saw.
“What’s been said about Lee in the press and on social media is absolutely true. He had time for everyone and anyone, and if he didn’t have much time, he would make it. He was the joker and always made people laugh with his infectious personality.”
However, Ms Gibbon described how Mr Collins had an “addictive personality”, which could drive his exercise habits or “more unhealthy” addictions.
Ms Gibbon said he had an “intermittent” gambling addiction and had previously lost all their money, leaving them briefly to rely on family and friends.
However, she said his “main addiction” was alcohol and that the problems emerged when he began to use it as a “crutch” for his mental health issues.
She said: “No one really knew the extent of how bad his drinking was. For the past 10 years Lee drank every single night. He would easily have six bottles of cider and two bottles of wine a night.”
Following Mr Collins’ six months of sobriety after his rehab stint in 2018, Ms Gibbon said his actions were a “textbook relapse”.
She said: “There have been many, many instances where Lee would disappear for days at a time on drinking benders, leaving me not knowing where he was or how he was.
“Once again, drugs became part of Lee’s life. In the last six months of Lee’s life, the drinking had got to a stage where I would have to set my alarm early to take out all of Lee’s empty alcohol bottles so our children didn’t see them.
“I begged him to seek professional advice or speak to a friend or myself about it, but he would turn verbally aggressive.
“I could see that there were major issues with Lee. I could see that he was struggling but he point-blank refused any help.
“It’s absolutely okay not to be okay, but what do the closest family members do when you see someone is not okay? I couldn’t physically drag him to a doctor. He didn’t want help. His actions are the last thing I ever thought he would do.”
Tributes outside Huish Park in memory of Yeovil captain Lee Collins
(Image: Simon Galloway/PA Wire)
Despite a number of previous statements asserting that Ms Gibbon and Mr Collins’ relationship had ended in the weeks prior to his death, Ms Gibbon stated that she had in fact moved with their children back in with her mum to support her, after her grandfather died before Christmas.
While Mr Collins spent Christmas and New Year with them, he took their extended stay to be a sign she had “abandoned” him, the inquest heard.
Ms Gibbon said: “I explained so many times that this wasn’t the case and I was where I needed to be for a short period of time, but he wouldn’t understand. For the first and only time I put myself and the girls first.
“Undoubtedly, if I could turn back time, I would stay in our family home regardless of what it was doing to me.”
She concluded: “Lee was all of the things that people say about him. He was a gentle giant. He was the kindest, most generous man that you could come across. He made me smile every single day, and was genuinely the best dad I could have ever wished for my children.
“But nothing would come before alcohol. If there was a choice between drinking and doing anything else, drinking would have won. I genuinely think that it was his illness that made him this way. But most importantly, it didn’t make me or anyone love him less.”
The post-mortem blood and urine analysis showed Mr Collins’ blood alcohol levels were slightly above the legal driving limit and there was evidence of recreational cocaine use prior to his death.
Senior Coroner Tony Williams concluded: “Lee Harvey Collins died on March 31, 2021 at Lanes Hotel West Coker from the cause of death as given to me by the pathologist as hanging. I will record a conclusion of suicide.”