This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (18 - 24 May) 2020. In normal circumstances, this week would have coincided with the conclusion of the football season, drawing an end to months of hard-work, travel, volunteering, hope and expectation - giving everything to the sport we love.
From following our teams’ ups and downs be that in the Premier, EFL and National Leagues, to dedicating hours of our time to support our local grassroots football community, the end of the season normally presents a meaningful opportunity to draw breath, reflect, be proud of our achievements or feel that we were robbed! It’s a powerful moment we all understand that enables us to take some time to look back, be proud of our achievements and the progress we’ve made.
However, circumstances have made the end of the 2019/20 season like no other. In ways none of us could ever have predicted we have had to pause, reflect and wonder what end of season games, family-fun days and award ceremonies might have been. Covid-19 has caused so many wide-ranging sacrifices and tragedies that ours may seem trite. But we know football can also be a family, part of our social fabric and an outlet for those otherwise isolated, providing a way to come together.
Some of us cope with change well and others less so. In all of the current turmoil we must never forget the importance of mental health. And it is a topic that really has come to the forefront in football this past season, as more players in particular have opened up about the challenges they have faced. When football and mental health come together it is an unrivaled force in opening up important conversations.
2019/20 saw The FA and Heads Together announce a new campaign – Heads Up – using the influence and popularity of football to show the world that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical fitness. Spearheaded by The Duke of Cambridge, the campaign was backed by other famous faces more commonly fronting Match of the Day! Players, supporters, friends and families recognise football’s unique ability to break barriers, taboos and fear around the topic of mental health. Football is our favourite conversation starter. And this season, it has begun one of the most important conversations of all.
It is apt that the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 is about kindness and looking out for each other. The premise of football is that it is underpinned by teamwork and how to extend a hand to others. And we’ve seen that with the number of clubs and teams who have undergone a bit of a transformation in recent months. Rather than focus on delivering opportunities to play and enjoy football, football organisations have become community catalysts for kindness and looking out for others. Whether that be delivering food parcels to those in need or contacting those in isolation; the breadth and variety makes you prouder than any crammed trophy cabinet could. It is all very much in tune with Mental Health Awareness Week 2020.
Whereas previously, we would have imagined the seasons’ highlights to revolve around top goal-scorers, clean sheet tallies and league tables. Instead, during a time when social isolating and distancing is the norm, both professional and grassroots football has redeployed tactics to excel and perform by ensuring we don’t feel disconnected, we don’t lose touch and we remain and feel part of the same team.
During this time, when football may seem a trivial topic, it is arguably more important than ever to stay connected to those values we align so closely to our grassroots game. To show kindness, to look out for one another and to remember we are all part of a team. Until the time comes again when we can return to our long-held football allegiances, that team is the same team and it is one I’m certainly proud to be a part of.
If you’d like to learn more about the Head’s Up Campaign and check out a range of resources around Mental Health please click here:
To find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 please click here: