AS a footballer, Paul Howarth hit the highs of a famous cup upset.

Beamed live to a Sky Sports audience of millions, and in front of a sell-out Crown Ground, the maverick midfielder put then non-league minnows Accrington Stanley on the map with the winning penalty in a shoot-out against then Second Division Bournemouth in December 2003.

He revelled in the adulation and attention his career brought.

Twenty-two at the time, he had the world at his feet.

But he liked to party as much as he loved to play, and more than a decade later - away from the game - he hit rock bottom. So low that, he says: “I felt the world would be better off without me.”

Howarth had forged a successful career as a financial advisor after finishing his playing career.

But instead of contentment the father of two found himself on a pathway to self-destruction – drinking heavily and closing himself off from family and friends.

Sporting Chance, a clinic which provides help and support for current and former professional sports people experiencing difficulties with addiction, gave him a second chance.

Now, 20 months sober, he is channelling his energies into the launch of PH7 Wellbeing Centre – a Psychotherapy & holistic health service – based in his hometown of Burnley.

“I came out of playing football full-time and carried on playing part-time when I left Accrington (in the summer of 2005). I played for Droylsden and Hyde, while building up my career in financial planning,” Howarth, now 36, said.

“I snapped my Achilles about three or four years ago, ran into some relationship difficulties and it just crept up on me. I just found myself in a place completely on my own, lost, didn’t know where to turn, didn’t know what to do.

“I was pushing people away and my ego kept me from seeing the truth of what was happening. I didn’t want to show I was hurt or what was really going on for me inside. I acted and manipulated situations around me to make it fit how I wanted it to fit. I realise now I was protecting myself from a lot of hurt inside.

“On the outside I was perceived to be doing pretty well in life and progressing but underneath I was crumbling. I was in a pretty bad place.

“To go through professional sport and then to come out of it and go into business and be successful at that – to then find yourself at a place in life where you think the world’s going to be better off without you in it is a pretty dark place to get to.

“The more that I detached and disconnected from people, the more poorly I got.

“I went out drinking and partying in my 20s but it never quite got in the way of me progressing. My life was never really unmanageable through my behaviour back then.

“But the reality is in the end it was torture. The consequences where stacking up and my life became unmanageable. I was drinking when I didn’t want to drink and I remember the trips to the doctors and the anti-depressants and I remember the dark places I ended up in. It was a long, long way away from the partying, and it was so subtle how it kind of crept up on me.”

There are high profile professionals who have struggled with life after football, such as Paul Gascoigne, Stan Collymore and Paul Merson. but Howarth doesn’t put his problems solely down to facing life without football.

“As I’m finding out it stems much further back than just having problems with coming out of football and changing your structure and identity,” he added.

“They are surface things that you can look at and think ‘I get that’.

“Army lads go through a similar thing. They lose their identity.

“I’m not sat here because I came out of football. I’m sat here because I have always had a hole inside that I’ve struggled to fill. I’m sat here because I have never understood healthy ways of getting my needs met and how to manage my emotions.”

It was football, however, that helped to save him.

“It wasn’t until I got access to Sporting Chance that I really started to be able to understand my situation, and with that went a lot of the fear that I had with everything else – the fear of not being good enough, the fear of not being enough, the same fears that hold so many people back in live, addiction based or not. I’m learning that these are now my greatest assets.

“I owe a lot of it to Sporting Chance and the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association), because without them I genuinely believe I wouldn’t be here,” he said, admitting he came “as close as it gets” to suicide.

“Sporting Chance gave me the space and they helped me understand my situation.

“I was there for four weeks after some one-to-one sessions with a trained therapist before a space came up and he felt that was the right place for me and a good opportunity for me.

“I fought it at first. Obviously there’s a lot of fear around going in and why wouldn’t there be – you’re getting asked to look at yourself; you’re getting asked to take away the dummy that you’ve been soothing yourself with.

“It was a difficult time going in and a difficult couple of weeks, but I really grasped it in the end, in the last week or so.”

After turning his life around, he is hoping to provide a platform to help others through PH7.

“There are different areas here. There’s psychotherapy and counselling departments which I’m passionate about, we’ve already got a really good team formed here,” said Howarth, who is halfway through a post grad course in psychotherapy, from the Manchester Institute of Psychotherapy.

“We’re going to be able to offer therapy from people with great experience and a low-cost clinic as well. I’m encouraging all the therapists to do volunteer groups. We’re doing one on bereavement and loss in the new year.

“We’re providing holistic treatment – reiki and massage, we’ve got two yoga teachers working from here now.

“And then there’s the health side of it which will be nutrition and physio based, acupuncture.

“We’re also going to have a PH7 training academy where we’ll be running accredited courses from workshops to four-year courses.

“Then there’s the PH7 LIFE, which is the charity that we’ll set up. We’ve got some good people involved with that. We’ll be raising money and bidding for funding and we’ll be using the resources from our three areas to bring together the programme and target maybe one year young people with mental health issues, the next year it might be dementia.

“We’re going to keep it fresh. Children’s mental health is something I feel drawn to.”

Of his own journey, Howarth said: “I don’t drink at all now. Twenty months complete abstinence, and I don’t miss it.

“There’s the odd time when I think ‘I’d like to go and have it somewhere’. But my life’s different now, I choose not to go out. I get my needs met in healthier ways and if you gave me 24 hours to live I’d be sitting back in the chair asking for a cup of tea and some biscuits not a pint of lager.”

“There are days when it isn’t brilliant and I’m not doing the moonwalk across the landing with a trumpet. That happens. But 90 per cent of the time I’m in a good, stable, happy place and that only comes from changing your behaviour and way of living.

“I feel lucky and grateful that I’ve gone through that and something out there has put me back on the right track.”