A Letter From The Editor: How Football Can Change Hearts And Minds – Men’s health UK


Posted: January 9, 2020 at 8:41 pm

The third round of the FA Cup is widely regarded by football fans as the most romantic date in the seasons calendar. The stage at which top-tier clubs are let loose on the competition, when Premier League starlets can find themselves pitted against non-League amateurs with potentially explosive consequences, it represents the universal, levelling appeal of the beautiful game. Wrexham toppling Arsenal in 1992, Shrewsbury Town upending Everton in 2003, Newport skewering Leicester just last January these are the ties that linger in the memory and remind us why football is the great unifier of modern times.

Football has long been an underused tool with which to punctuate the stubborn male psyche

While last weekends third-round antics didnt feature any vintage defenestrations, they nonetheless lived up to this reputation of spirited egalitarianism, albeit for slightly different reasons. On Saturday, all matches scheduled for the traditional 3pm kick-off started 60 seconds late as part of the FAs Take a Minute initiative, the latest instalment in its Heads Up campaign. The simple aim was to raise awareness of mental health issues and to encourage fans to contemplate the benefit of just a moments support for a friend or family member. An elementary gesture maybe, yet one that clearly landed effectively, even if said contemplation manifested itself in some stadiums as little more than boisterous bonhomie.

Aside from the obvious good intentions, football has long been an underused tool with which to punctuate the stubborn male psyche. Here at Mens Health, we can shout until were blue in the face about how suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45; about men accounting for three-quarters of suicide deaths in the UK; about how the rate of suicide has just hit a 16-year high, marking a 12% rise on the previous year, largely driven by deaths among men and boys. But, as influential as we modestly claim to be, theres only so much noise we can make. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 15 million football fans in England, two-thirds of whom are men. Perhaps the most direct route to male hearts and minds has been there in front of us all along, when Saturday comes.

Take a Minute clearly struck a chord. The ex-Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson wrote a coincidental column at the weekend for The Daily Star, in which he confessed to suffering suicidal thoughts last year following a long battle with alcohol addiction. A film released by Public Health Englands Every Mind Matters campaign, featuring the likes of Frank Lampard, Dele Alli and Harry Maguire, has already prompted over a million people to complete their own personal Mind Plan, a free online tool that recommends a bespoke, evidence-based prescription of self-care.

Get your Mind Plan, here.

But this is a problem that is deep-set and not easily remedied by platitudes. In a bitter, tragic irony, the 39-year-old former Cardiff and Southend defender Chris Barker was found dead at home last week on New Years Day. Police reported that his death was sudden, though not being treated as suspicious. While the cause has not yet been officially confirmed, some news outlets have cited suicide. Barker left behind a partner and two daughters.

Why professional sport should be littered with so many cases of mental ill health is both baffling and disconcerting. Of course, it is not limited to football this magazine has also featured stirring testimonies from the likes of Ricky Hatton, Marcus Trescothick and Paul Highton, to name but a few. With our Mend the Gap campaign, we have long made the case for parity of esteem between physical and mental health; the promotion of one is simply not sustainable without the maintenance of the other, as the Greeks well knew. And yet, the active pursuit of increased performance and greater physical dexterity seems to be simultaneously creating a breeding ground for unhappiness, anxiety and confusion. Clearly, sport has the power to heal and to transform. But, too often, what should be a remedy is somehow causing harm. There are few thornier issues in the vast arena of mens health.

These are just random, possibly short-sighted observations. We will be revisiting this subject later on in the year with greater scrutiny, space and attention. Nevertheless, it is food for thought. These subjects are the things people engage with most on my Instagram feed, and its an interaction I welcome. Even if you passionately disagree with me, it would be great to hear from you.

Toby Wiseman, EIC

@tobywisemanuk

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A Letter From The Editor: How Football Can Change Hearts And Minds - Men's health UK

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