I WAS deeply saddened by the news at the weekend that former Salford captain Malcolm Alker had passed away at the age of 45.
Malcolm retired injured from playing in 2010 and for a brief time was an assistant coach to Shaun McRae at Salford, but sadly it didn’t work out and he eventually left the club.
In 2012 he wrote his autobiography, ‘The Devil Within’, in which he admitted to a cocaine habit and to taking growth hormones while playing Rugby League.
In one sense his admission, putting all his cards on the table, was admirably honest.
The problem was that it effectively meant that he would never again get a job in Rugby League and his life thereafter seemed to offer him few alternatives.
It appears that he never managed to find a settled role in life and then came his conviction in January 2018 for having taken part in an armed robbery.
The tragedy for Malcolm was that he appeared to know that he was suffering from poor mental health during his playing career and he proposed that the RFL should do something to help players who were suffering in this way.
Jon Wilkin knew him well and last year he spoke on The Bench podcast about the former Salford star.
“We were in the Great Britain camp in 2005 and Malcom Alker, who has fallen on really hard times throughout his life, was in the squad at the time,” he said.
“At the time he said to Brian Noble who was coach at the time ‘do you know what we could do with, just a sheet every day where we write out how we’re feeling mentally, physically and emotionally.’
“He got laughed out; he got laughed out of town.”
Almost 20 years later he would have been taken far more seriously.
But that didn’t happen until it was too late for him and he turned to drugs for comfort, building up debts to dealers, which is why he was desperate enough to resort to armed robbery.
I thought that Malcolm was a very fine player indeed, known in particular for his tackling.
In 2001 he became the first player to exceed 1,000 tackles in a Super League season and he seemed indestructible.
But perhaps he was too dedicated to playing the game.
I was struck by a comment from McRae in an article in 2010, when speaking about Malcolm.
“There are numerous stories here about him coming back from injuries ridiculously quickly – playing the week after having his appendix out, crazy stuff like that.”
With hindsight, that degree of determination to play without taking any heed of what his body must have been telling him was perhaps unwise. Someone should perhaps have persuaded him to recover properly before getting back onto the field. Perhaps his dabbling with drugs was caused by his desire to overcome the pain he suffered from playing the game.
Whatever the truth of his situation, I loved watching him play and I’m desperately sad to see him die at such a young age.
Anyone who doesn’t believe that mental health is important for Rugby League players should perhaps reflect on Malcolm’s passing.
I would like to send my sincere condolences to his family and friends for their tragic loss.
I hope that Malcolm can at last rest in peace.