THE moment Billy Kee realised he needed to seek help was at Cambridge in October.

He had scored early in the second half and now had the chance to add another when Stanley, trailing 2-1 in added time, were awarded a last-gasp penalty.

All eyes turned to the 26-year-old, the club’s regular penalty taker. He didn’t want it. He passed responsibility to Chris Eagles who saw his effort saved by Will Norris.

Moments later Stanley got another spot-kick. Again Kee turned down the opportunity. This time Terry Gornell was denied by the Cambridge keeper and the Reds lost.

“That was the trigger,” says Kee, looking back on the most difficult year of his career.

“I scored in the game but I didn’t want to be on the pitch the whole match.

“We got a penalty, and I have always taken penalties, but I didn’t want to take it. Then we got another one and I didn’t want to take it.

“It all hit me and I just didn’t want to play football ever again and I didn’t even have a bad game.”

Kee didn’t feature in Stanley’s next match – a Checkatrade Trophy win at Chesterfield – and although he came off the bench against Cheltenham the following Saturday, he knew he was not right.

It would be four weeks before the frontman pulled on an Accrington shirt again.

In the month away from football Kee did a lot of soul searching, a lot of crying, and, perhaps most surprisingly, a lot of building work.

“I went to work on a building site for three or four weeks with my dad,” Kee told the Lancashire Telegraph. “It was brilliant to start with. The change did me good but by about the third or fourth week in I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this for a living’.

“My dad said, ‘If you are going to quit football you are not just sitting around, you can come to work with me’.

“I was getting up and it was dark and coming home and it was dark doing long, cold days.

“I was doing some labouring, well carrying things, with my dad telling me what to do.

“It helped me realise how lucky I am.”

So how does Kee, a happily married footballer in the prime of his career with 30 goals in his past two seasons, end up wanting to jack it all in?

“We have the best job in the world but it doesn’t help,” added Kee, who lives in Padiham. “You are at home not wanting to go in to work and crying.

“If you get yourself to football then you would get through it but it was just hard. I had a period where I was just rocking on the bed crying.

“My mates were saying to me, ‘Something is not right if you feel like that about football’. They are earning £200-£300 a week and I am on more than that and you think how can this be happening because it doesn’t add up.

“But that is the thing with depression, it doesn’t make sense.”

And it wasn’t just the Reds striker suffering. His illness affected his wife Leigh, his close family and his friends as Kee began to deal with his issues.

“The worst thing about it is that I was pushing my kid and my missus away,” added the striker who has a young son, Brady.

“My missus was taking the hit and my mum and dad were getting snapped at.

“My mum had it when she was younger so she has helped me a lot.

“The lads at the club probably thought I was okay as I was putting on a brave face here, but my missus was going through hell at home and that was the worst thing. You don’t want the person you love going through hell.

“I have had to realise how lucky I am to have my baby and my wife and I just have to try and stay positive. You are going to have down days but that is depression and hopefully I can keep that in a box.”

Kee returned to League Two action as a late substitute against Stevenage in November.

Fast forward six months and the former Burton man ended the campaign with a brace against the same club, having managed 46 appearances in what was the most challenging campaign of his career.

Sitting in his flip flops in the Wham Stadium sunshine it is difficult to imagine the likeable Kee struggling to get up in the morning.

He has a family holiday to Spain booked and is looking forward to getting away for a few days.

The striker will be back for pre-season though, he is under contract at Stanley and wants to inspire a promotion push, and perhaps also pay back the club for their support during his bleak midwinter.

“I am lucky to have the support of this club and the fans who have supported me through these times,” said Kee, who paid tribute to chairman Andy Holt and management duo John Coleman and Jimmy Bell for their support.

“Holty has given me the time off and not pushed me on to the pitch, as have John and Jimmy.

“To have the support to step away and realise how lucky I am to be playing football is amazing.

“Sometimes you wake up now feeling the same as you did but you have to realise what you do and how lucky you are.

“With football there are so many ups and downs and emotions. You might get injured, you might get subbed, you might be flying. You cannot sleep after midweek games and there is a lot of pressure and you have to maintain your level of emotion.

“The gaffer and Jimmy have been good to me and they will let me hide in the gym if I am struggling.

“You are going to have down days but I am lucky to have that support at the club.

“It is very heartening the support I have received. Players I have played with have said I was brave to talk about it but a lot more players might now feel they can talk about it. If you can make a little bit of a difference then that helps.

“Sometimes life is hard and you do have to try and get through it, and if you can help someone get through life then you have done something good.”

Kee knows there will be plenty of ups and downs to come, but thanks to his time on the building site the blocks are in place for a brighter future.

And, after scoring from the spot at Stevenage in the season finale, he is back on penalty duty.