The other side of Stu Musialik FIGHTING BACK: Stu Musialik at home at Eleebana this week. Picture: Marina Neil
Grand final day 2008.
Musialik with coach Gary van Egmond during the Jets’ 2008 grand final celebrations at City Hall.
Grand final day 2008.
Musialik with former Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink at Rotterdam airport after a pre-World Cup training camp in 2006.
Musialik at 15 after being picked to go to the AIS.
Playing for the Young Socceroos against Chile in 2004.
facebookSHAREtwitterTWEETemailwhatsappcommentCommentsStuart Musialik made it look easy as the classymidfield player who helped steer the Jets to Newcastle’s first national football championship.
The Newcastle boy was still only 22 when his home-town club beat derby rivals Central Coast to lift the 2008 A-League trophy. Former Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink had selected him to attend a pre-World Cup training camp in 2006, and he went on to starfor his country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Butbehind the scenes, away from the bright stadium lights, the young man’s life was running off the rails.
Musialik was 15 when his father committed suicide, and five years later he was a “mess”. By 26, his career would be over.
The midfielder’soff-field troubles and early exit from the game, barely a year after winning a second A-League title with Sydney FC, havebeen asource of speculation in football circles for years.
Musialik has now opened up to the Newcastle Herald in an honest and revealing interview about his strugglewith grief, drugs, depression and bipolar disorder during and after his professional career.
The now 32-year-old describes how he abused alcohol and recreational drugs, including ecstasy and cocaine, during his three season at the Jets.
“Football-wise it was unbelievable, but behind the scenes I was a mess,” he said. “That first two or three years of the A-League when I was playing for Newcastle, I spiralled out of control.
“I’ve struggled with depression since my teenage years. My dad committed suicide when I was 15. I was put on medication in 2006. Even when I was playing for the Jets and Sydney I was on medication for it.
“Then it spiralled a bit out of control and I had to walk away from football after I left Sydney. It’s been a struggle ever since then.”
Musialik was plucked from the Newcastle Breakers youth system at 16 to go to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, where he found a welcome, if ultimately harmful, distraction barely months after his father’s death.
He returned from the AIS in 2004 to play first grade for Newcastle in the final months of now-defunct National Soccer League then faced 18 months without football before the A-League started in late 2005.
“When I went through my first episode of severe depression, it was when the old NSL finished up and we had that break in between the NSL and the A-League.
“I was really lost in that period. Nineteen I was then. I didn’t have any qualifications, I didn’t get a job or anything, I was too old for school. I think that’s probably when it hit me what happened with my dad.
“That’s when I started to drink more heavily. When I was still playing I’d have the odd night out, but not when it interfered with football. Every player does that, or most players do.
“But that was the period when I started to drink more heavilyand I did try recreational drugs in that period.”
Musialik was a constant in the Jets midfield when the A-League finally kicked off, helping the team to the preliminary final in 2007 then the championship the following year.
Stu Musialik with mother Sue Rigby. Picture: Marina Neil
But the on-field success concealed a routine of drinking and drug-taking as his “demons kicked in” and he felt “lost” when he wasn’t playing or training.
“Back when I was playing for Newcastle I had issues with alcoholand I had issues with recreational drugs as well.It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’m not afraid to admit it, either.
“Going through what I was going through and doing those things only made it worse. Off the pitch I spiralled out of control a fair bit with those things.
“I self-medicatedwith the wrong things, with alcohol and recreational drugs. At the end of the day, that’s what took away the football from me.It’s just a shame that I got involved in that sort of stuff. That took away what I really loved most. It is what it is. I can’t change it.
“There was a period there where it was pretty consistent. The first year or two of the A-League I was drinking pretty consistently. I was definitely out drinking every week and I’d probably take recreational drugs most weekends.
“It was more after a game. You wouldn’ttrain’til a couple of days after so you’d go out and drink, then usually once you’ve had a few too many drinks you’d find some recreational drugs, or they’d find you.It was usually ecstasy. Once you’re out in nightclubs and drinking, that’s the drug most available. It’s not hard to get. Sometimes it was cocaine or speed.
“Even though I didn’t like what I was doing–I hated the fact I was doing it, because it was stuffing up my life and my football –thatwas my escape from reality when I wasn’t at football.
“Dealing with the issues I had at the time, it was easier doing that than sitting at home.”
Asked if his Jets teammates knew about his issues, he said:“Of course they knew, but at the end of the day people try to help you, but once you’re in that cycle, I suppose, no matter how much people try to help you it’s hard to get out of it.”
Musialik moved to Sydney FC after the grand final success and found a few years of relative peace. He stopped taking drugs, cut back on his drinking and bought aunit at Freshwater, where he would surf in the afternoons after training. The Sydney-based family of former Jets teammate Tarek Elrich provided a home away from home one night a week.
Musialik scoring for Sydney FC in 2008.
He won a second title with the Sky Blues in 2009 and captained them in the 2011 Asian Champions League, but he was homesick.
“I never really wanted to leave Newcastle.I had success down there when we won it, but deep down I still wanted to be in Newcastle playing for Newcastle.
“Sydney offered me a contract, but I wanted to come back to Newcastle, but I was told from Newcastle that they didn’t want me. I was sort of stuck in no-man’s land because Sydney withdrew the offer. I’m pretty sure they got wind that I wanted to go back.”
At 26and training on his own with no contract on the horizon, heincreasedhismedication without consulting his doctor.He then signed with the Mariners under his former Olyroos coach Graham Arnold, but within weeks he was forced to walk away from the game he loved.
“When I signed with them I made the mistake of dropping my medication, halving it to where it was before I put it up a few months before.
“Then I spiralled and went to s—.
“I found out that doing what I did with my medication could have that effect, and I never really recovered from that. That medication had been working for me really well for four or five years. It stopped working for me, and then I had to go into hospital to come off that medication and go on to new medication, and that really took ’til now to get on top of that.
“I was in hospital numerous times because of my depression, and had lots of bouts of that shock therapy, ECT [electroconvulsive therapy].I’ve lost count of how many times Ihad that. It’s been a real tough road, and without my family I don’t know that I would have got through it.
“I had a fair few bouts of the shock therapy in Newcastle. I tried new meds and it wasn’t working. I went down to Sydney and had some bouts of shock therapy in Sydney.
“It was getting me by, but it wasn’t actually working well enough to get me back to full health.
Musialik training with the Jets during an attempted comeback in 2013.
“During those periodsI had two or three goes to get back into football, but it just wasn’t happening for me and I pulled the pin on it.”
Musialik was also suffering from a serious stomach complaint he believes was brought on by his drug taking. His health has improved dramatically sincesurgery last year to fix the problem, and he has not had a drink in three years. He haslost more than 20 kilograms and finally returned to the field this season with Northern NSW first-division team Adamstown Rosebud.
“I’ve really knuckled down in the last few years to concentrate on getting on top of the illness and basically getting myself back so I can play football again.That’s been my main motivation.
“The whole time I was out I knew that I wanted to play football again and get myself back to a stage where I could play football again. That was my number-onegoal. I love playing.
“It’s no different to a player having an injury, but when it’s mental you can’t go get an X-ray or an MRI scan like you can with a broken leg or an ACL.You can’t prove it. A lot of people don’t understand it.”
“I’m coming out the other end of it now, and now I’m happy. I feel like I’ve matured a lot because of it, and I’m doing all the things I wish I did when I was 19 or 20.
“I can’t change that now. I can just deal with what’s happened and make the most of what I’ve got.
“Now I’m more aware of what’s important in life. You’ve got to have your family and close friends. Anything outside of that doesn’t really matter.
“Sometimes you can get sidetracked and lose sight of what’s most important,especially when I was playing football and everyone kissed your arse and wanted to be your best mate. Once football’s gone and you’re not in the papers or on TV, you’requickly forgotten, and you realise the ones that really are important.
“They’re the ones who pick up the pieces when it all goes to crap.”
He urged young people to stay away from drugs and be open about their emotional problems.
“I can’t control what other people do, but I’d want young ones to know that they don’t have to bottle uptheir issues. I bottled everything up and kept everything to myself.I really shut out my family.
“First of all, there’s no need to be trying recreational drugs whatsoever, especially if you want to be an elite athlete.
“When you’re younger there’s a lot of that pressure involved in it. When you’re getting older and all your mates start drinking and then you’re in environments where the recreational drugs are put in front of you, at the end of the day you’vegot to be strong and just say no.
“…Be open with people around you about the issues in your life and things that are bothering you, because you don’t want to fall in the cycle of what I did and ruin things. It can go downhill really quickly.”
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