Penicuik Athletic: Liam O’Donnell on his mental health battle following a double leg break and how charity Back Onside has helped him pull through

It wasn’t a day to remember for Penicuik Athletic’s players and fans last Saturday as they suffered a humbling 5-0 cup defeat at the hands of Linlithgow Rose. For Liam O’Donnell, however, the match represented progress.

Liam O'Donnell has been supported through his mental health struggle by the charity Back Onside
Liam O'Donnell has been supported through his mental health struggle by the charity Back Onside

Progress from a horrific double leg break suffered in November 2020 which threatened not only his career, but also his mental state, as he was back amongst the club’s squad for the first time with a place on the bench.

Almost 15 months on from his injury, the 28-year-old right-back has opened up exclusively to the Edinburgh Evening News on his mental health battle and the support the charity Back Onside provided him.

“It’s not been great at times,” said O’Donnell, who is on a lengthy waiting list and hopes to undergo a second operation before the end of the season.

“I started a new job just a month before it happened and then I was off my work for six months.

“It wasn’t great at the time. I didn’t think I would have a job at the end of it but my boss was really good to me. He just said: ‘Take as long as you need and the job will always be there for you when you come back’.

“I did struggle a bit when it happened. I had to go through therapy. I started to develop really bad anxiety and I couldn’t sleep at night.

“I was taking a lot of co-codamol and I had to stop myself taking them because I was sort of depending on them every single day and it felt like it was normal for me to do.

“Libby [Emmerson] from Back Onside [founder] got in contact with me. They have a councillor, and I did two sessions a week over Zoom for two or three months, which helped me a lot, it was really good.

“I changed my routine a wee bit, I started reading when I had nothing to do and it really did help me.

“Back Onside also paid for me to get rehab, and that helped me a lot.

“It was £50 an hour and I was on sick pay from work and had a car and everything to pay for.

“It was hard. I don’t play professionally so I didn’t have people there who I could just go to rehab for free. The charity helped me out a lot.

“I’ve never had a bad injury before so I thought I’d be back playing in six months’ time, I thought it would be fine. It never works out like that and I think that’s probably what made me struggle.

“I’m just taking everything day by day. I know I probably won’t play this season.

“Hopefully I can get my operation before the summer, then I can have a good pre-season and go again.”

The backing from his club has also been key to his recovery, with the defender signing a new deal just a month after his injury.

He added: “The club has been brilliant with me. They’ve supported and really looked after me, so hopefully I can pay them back with performances on the pitch next season.

“They gave me a new deal and stood by me, telling me to take as long as I need. I was worried I’d have to try and find a new club when I was injured.

“It’s been really good being back with the boys. The last two results haven’t been great, but I’m sure we will pick back up this week and hopefully we can kick on from there.”

Back Onside is an independent committed to tackling mental health illness. Find out more at

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