Author Archive

FC Internazionale

New FC Internazionale Retro Shirts & Jacket

About a month ago, we launched the first items of our new FC Internazionale collection. Today we added two iconic retro shirts and a retro jacket.

The shirts and the jacket, made under official license of the Italian superpower, take you back to relive special moments: the Serie A title returned to Inter in some style in 1989 after a nine-year absence. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni fashioned almost an entirely new team based around the very experienced West German pairing of midfielder Lothar Matthaus and full back Andreas Brehme. Ultimately Inter won the title with considerable ease in this record-breaking season.

All items are Made in Europe with great care and pride, using the best possible fabrics for the right vintage look & feel and are packed in luxury gift boxes.

The collection can be found via copafootball.com, in our flagshipstore in Amsterdam and via selected retailers and online resellers. Or in the official Inter.it webshop and Inter fanstore in Milano.

Penny Power OBE

Penny Power OBE

One of the most exciting parts of the whole Shirt Project, was the opportunity I have had to meet so many exciting, positive and professional people. So may people have supported Bjørn and I that it is invidious to name names but I must give a huge shoutout to Penny Power and her husband Thomas who supported me magnificently in 2010 as I cycled through the UK. They were the owners and leaders of Ecademy and I had the pleasure of meeting up with them a number of times that summer. Moreover they introduced Bjørn and I to many supporters who made our two tours possible. HUGE THANKS, guys.

So, I was really excited to read about an amazing new initiative from Penny and it is the least I can do to share it. I wish her every success…..although I am not sure she will need it.

JOIN MORE THAN 100 INVESTORS in The Business Cafe crowdfund

Imagine if tomorrow you could pop into your local Business Cafe and sit in plush surroundings, served by lovely staff who make an effort to know your name, and maybe ask a Digital Friend to help you with a skill you would like for your business.

You may remember us, Penny Power and Gail Thomas – we are creating community and delivering digital skills and support for sole-traders, SMEs and people in business for FREE.

Our coffee shops will be a great place to network, make business friends and get to grip with business apps.

We want to get the first one going in early 2018, please support our crowdfund.

In addition to food and beverage, our revenue comes from the brands who pay to feature on our Digital Menu and train up our Digital Friends to help businesses in each locality become aware of and benefit from better productivity.

Check our pitch page and make your investment here.

So far we have:

*already gained private investment to develop the business and operational structure

*got huge support and online community from SMEs across the UK and beyond, see testimonials from our youtube channel here

*signed major brands on to our Digital Menu

I hope you’ll join our journey, we’d love to have you on board.

With friendship first

Penny
Penny Power OBE

See our video here to learn about us.

China to Runcorn

China to Runcorn

Well, it’s not exactly about a shirt but the story needs promoting! Let’s be honest, it’s not every day that a Football Manager fan travels 6,000 miles from China to visit Runcorn FC – after managing them on CM 01/02

Huang Wenbin enjoyed his title-winning game so much that he wanted to pay a visit to the club.Anyone who plays Football Manager will know how easy it is to develop a soft spot for the club you manage.

Huang Wenbin did exactly that, as he became an exiled fan of Runcorn FC Halton following his tenure in charge of them on Championship Manager 01/02.

Wenbin turned his Runcorn side into world beaters, rising from the Conference to the Premier League, signing the likes of Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy along the way.

Fifteen years on from his virtual exploits, Wenbin, 37, underwent the ultimate pilgrimage for any Football Manager fan – as he completed a 12,000-mile round-trip to visit Runcorn.

The club, now under the guise of Runcorn Linnets following the demise of the original club in 2006, play in the ninth tier of English football.

But that was not going to put off Wenbin, who flew to Liverpool with his wife, Lin Xiaoru, and children, Yandao and Geshu, in a bid to find the non-league club.

“The first time I made the decision to find Runcorn FC was in 2015,” Wenbin told Mirror Football.

“I went to Liverpool by train to watch Steven Gerrard’s last match at Anfield.

“When the train was parking, I saw a sign for Runcorn. I told my friend I will be there again to find my club.” After arriving in England last week, Wenbin set up a Twitter account in order to contact the club to try and organise a visit. And on Sunday, he was greeted by club officials.

“We all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw that someone was waiting for us in front of the stadium. We spent over 24 hours to arrive in Liverpool from Xiamen in China.” Wenbin worked out the local bus system and was able to travel from Liverpool to Runcorn – but it was not without complication.
“We missed the bus station and got lost on the road in the countryside near Runcorn Linnets. “We spent three hours trying to find the club. It must be my false for my poor English speaking and listening.” But football is a universal language and there was no problem in telling the story between Wenbin and club chairman Mark Buckley, who showed the family around the Millbank Linnets Stadium.

“Mark is such an easy going person and he introduced the Runcorn Linnets club to us,” Wenbin said.”He brought us a box of club souvenirs, such as a badge which my son wore on his clothes immediately.”My son wanted to kick a ball on the pitch. Mark was so kind to let him do that and my son enjoyed himself to the full.”

Wenbin was unable to watch the Linnets’ away match against Burscough this weekend but made up for it with a visit to Anfield to watch his beloved Liverpool’s game against Manchester United.

But it was the visit to Runcorn that Wenbin was most excited about. On the other hand, his wife, Xiarou, was just thankful for the warm welcome from the club – and Wenbin is appreciative of her for joining him on the journey. Runcorn chairman Mark said: “She possibly didn’t know what to expect, so when he got a warm welcome I think she was probably quite relieved! “I don’t think he realised that he was quite big news. He seemed quite astonished that we were happy to see him. We have a Swedish fans group and a Norwegian fans group, but China is a little bit special.

“It was quite humbling, because he was such an honest and polite man. I really, really enjoyed it personally. It was a fabulous few hours.”He has already emailed me umpteen photos and his thoughts from the day, so I think I’ve found myself a pen pal for life, which is brilliant and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch. He’s a thoroughly decent bloke.”

Runcorn are now endeavouring to source a replica shirt which they can send to over to Chin

Full story here . Photos courtesy of The Mirror Group

Retro FC Internazionale

FC Internazionale

New FC Internazionale Retro Collection
Internazionale retro collection

Internazionale retro collection
After launching our first official FC Internazionale retro shirts and jackets back in 2016, we are delighted to show you the first items of the new retro collection, made under official license of the Italian superpower.

These two retro shirts and the retro jacket, designed in strong collaboration with the club, are inspired by the rich history of Inter and instantly recognizable styles from the past. They take you back to relive special moments, created by legends like Altobelli, Meazza, Suárez and Mazzola.
Internazionale retro collection

Internazionale retro collection
All items are Made in Europe with great care and pride, using the best possible fabrics for the right vintage look & feel and are packed in luxury gift boxes.

The collection can be found via copafootball.com, in the Copa flagshipstore in Amsterdam and via selected retailers and online resellers. Or in the official Inter.it webshop and Inter fanstore in Milano.

Retro Barcelona

Retro Barcelona

New FC Barcelona retro collection

In January 2017, we had the honour to launch our first FC Barcelona collection. Today we are delighted to show you the second part of the official FC Barcelona Retro Collection, designed in strong collaboration with the club.

This second collection, made under official license of FC Barcelona, consists of four new classic retro shirts, originally from the 1910s, 1950s and 1970s. They take you back to relive the rich history of the club, like the famous 1973-1974 season. It was the season that saw the club finally reclaimed the Spanish title after a lengthy 24 year absence.

All FC Barcelona items are Made in Europe with great care and pride, using the best possible fabrics for the right vintage look & feel and are packed in luxury gift boxes.

The collection can be found via copafootball.com, in our flagshipstore in Amsterdam, in various FC Barcelona fanstores and via selected retailers and online resellers in different countries.

Anders Johansen

Anders Johansen

With all my Norwegian connections, I was amazed that I had never heard of Anders Johansen a football fan from just south of Oslo. He is a groundhopper par excellence and I was delighted when he allowed me to interview him.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. You are Norwegian but where are you from and which Norwegian team do you follow

I’m 44, and the last few years I’ve been writing travel guides to English football for the Norwegian market. I’m from a town called Drøbak, about 25 miles south of Oslo. I was born in Fredrikstad where my dad’s family is from, but been living most of my life now in Drøbak, where my mum’s family is from. As for my Norwegian team, I’ve always followed Fredrikstad (FFK), but sadly my interest isn’t what it used to be (modern football ruined things a bit here in Norway as well), and I’m now more likely to go down to my local club Drøbak/Frogn to watch them play.

When did you first fall in love with football? Was that Norwegian or English football?

I was football mad from a young age, always carrying a ball around with me, often kicking it against a well etc if there was no one to play with. As for watching football, it was probably the English football as I grew up watching it on Norwegian TV every Saturday (they always showed one of the 3pm games live), and was already hooked on that before I started going regularly.

Do you remember the first Norwegian ground and game you saw? Love at first sight or…?

I’m not really sure if the old Fredrikstad ground or Drøbak/Frogn’s ground was my first, but I think it was the latter as we lived in Drøbak at the time (unless I was taken to FFK as an infant before I can remember). My first memory from a football ground is from Drøbak/Frogn’s ground Seiersten Stadion anyway…and the only thing I remember from it is that I lost my dad and probably started crying 😊 Also remember being at that ground and the announcer congratulating the home team on promotion after the game…might’ve even been the same game, but then again it might not have been. Probably wasn’t love at first sight as I didn’t start going regularly until we moved back to Fredrikstad. My dad was away a lot in his work back then (up to 2-3 months at the time) so he never took me to football much. I started going with friends when moving to Fredrikstad, and that’s when I really fell in love with the club, who had also just won the Norwegian cup (with a Fredrikstad player and Norway international scoring what is probably the most famous cup final goal ever in Norway).

How many Norwegian ground have you visited?

Visited my Norwegian ground # 78 tonight. Might do another one tomorrow. Was always just happy following Fredrikstad, or watching Drøbak/Frogn now and again when living in Drøbak. The groundhopping I now do here is pretty much just killing time whilst waiting for the next UK trip.

When did you start to take an interest in English football? Do you remember your first game here?

Like I said, the interest in English football was probably there before my interest in Norwegian football, having grown up always looking forward to Saturday and the weekly TV game from England….also collecting English football cards, Panini sticker albums from English football etc. Maybe a bit strangely, I can’t really say I was a big fan of a certain team as much as I just loved following English football in general. My first actual game in England was actually as late as 1995, when I watched Reading at their fantastic old Elm Park. Unfortunately the game that day was abandoned after some absolutely torrential rain…which was probably a good thing for Reading as they were 0-2 down to Bury after when it was abandoned in I think the 27th minute. It was enough to get me hooked again anyway, and I’d be back for more.

Was there a single moment when you said, “Mmm, I want to visit x hundred ground in the next ten years”?

Not really a single moment like that, I guess. It’s just a ball that started rolling and my trips have been getting bigger and bigger. But the whole thing started when I used to fly over to watch Reading and then sit in the Reading pubs waiting for the next Reading game. I eventually thought I might as well go watch someone else play when they’re not playing, and that’s really how the groundhopping thing started. By then, my first priority was still Reading, and it wasn’t until I started falling out of love with the modern game that I decided I’d rather just do groundhopping – after going to a couple of non-league games and falling in love with the game again.

So, how do you plan a trip? How do you squeeze as many games as possible into each trip? Juggling fixture lists and transport timetables must be a challenge?

It is indeed quite a lot of work, picking games, booking hotels, checking public transport timetables etc. I start by making a list of all the fixtures for every day I’ll be over, then choose which games I fancy before looking to see how they fit into my plans…like if they’re still doable with the game I wanna do the day after etc. Where there’s a will, there’s very often a way, and several times I’ve been dragging my luggage along to games and travelled on for hours after the game to install myself elsewhere with the next day in mind. Let me give you an example: A couple of seasons ago, I was doing Merthyr Town on a Saturday and had booked a (thankfully refundable) hotel there, but then Bishop Auckland had an FA Vase game moved to the Sunday, and I saw there was no way I’d get up from Merthyr Tydfil to Bishop Auckland in time on the Sunday. So I cancelled the hotel and looked to see where I could book accommodation somewhere along the way that would allow me to get to Bishop Auckland in time…and ended up booking accommodation in Birmingham. So I went to the Merthyr game and then got the trains up to Birmingham to sleep over there before making my way up from there to Bishop Auckland in the morning. Might also be worth mentioning that I get a BritRail pass that allows me to jump on any train and gives me unlimited travel for x amount of days. Very handy if there’s a change of plan, cancellations or rearrangements etc.

I remember doing three games on an Easter Friday once. How many have you done on one day?

I’ve done four games in a day a couple of times, but that’s been on organised Groundhops. The most I’ve done in one day outside the organised Hops are 3 games, which I’ve done several times.

How many English grounds have you visited? Which is your favorite…and why? Is there a ground that you particularly don’t like? Why?

I’ve now done 445 grounds in the English pyramid. My favorite ground visited overall has to be Glentoran (The Oval), and as for English grounds…hmmm, hard to pick just one or two, but of current grounds I’d say maybe Workington or Harwich & Parkeston. Both wonderful classic grounds. Even now Workington is a fantastic ground, and I can only imagine how great it was before they knocked most of the main stand down. Ebbsfleet United was another favorite, and it’s sad to see it now being sterilised. Aldershot Town is also up there, and my favorite in the current top 5 divisions…apart from the little prefabricated stand they’ve put up behind one of the goals, it’s like time’s stood still there since the 1950s. Fantastic 😊
As for grounds I don’t really like, I should probably stick to England, as most of the lower division grounds in the Oslo area here in Norway would dominate that list completely (mostly dull, open, council owned plastic pitch complexes with no character). In the UK, apart from the obvious fields, I have to say I found Consett’s new ground pretty horrible. Shame, as I tried to get to their ground 2 times the last season, only for the games to be called off due to snow both times. The only thing I liked about their new ground was the good sized bar. I found the ground devoid of any character whatsoever, a typical example of a dull new build…nice and functional, but so incredibly boring, with the prefabricated stands and of course the god awful plastic pitch (I really can’t stand them!). I remember thinking that “when all the grounds looks like this, I’ll find a new hobby”, and I was glad it was only 90 minutes as I could’ve gradually lost the will to live if I’d stayed any longer. Later, I’ve been to a few more like that. Team Northumbria is another one I really didn’t like, and on my last trip I had a similar experience at St. Helens Town; although hopefully the latter is still a work in progress. On my visit to Royton Town last year I also confirmed my suspicion that I hate caged grounds as well. If you’re after grounds higher up, take a pick from most of the PL/FL grounds the last couple of decades. I think the Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena was an absolutely dreadful experience, but I guess I could’ve just as well been at Doncaster Rovers, Southampton, Cardiff City etc etc. There’s a theme here, I guess…and yes, the only new builds I’ve liked (not just as “not bad for a new build) is probably Weymouth and Dorchester Town.

I have a bit of a soft spot for smaller grounds such as Bærum’s Sandvika stadium in Norway and Stalybridge Celtic’s gorgeous Bower Fold. You?

Agree about Bower Fold, and I do indeed often prefer the smaller grounds, mostly because most of the good bigger grounds have now already been sterilised or knocked down and replaced by a dull plastic bowl. So many ground I have a soft spot for. Could’ve mentioned lots more than the once mentions above…like Crockenhill, Mossley, Prescot Cables, Crook Town, Falmouth Town, Swanage & Herston etc etc.

I love reading your blog in Norwegian. It is clear that you have taken to learning much about English history and culture. Were you always interested or has this been a side benefit of your groundhopping?

Always felt at home in England and UK, and also always been interested in history etc, but guess I’ve no doubt become “worse” over the years.

When are you back next? What are your plans for that trip?

Already booked a flight over on Boxing Day, which I booked back in July. No clue how long I’ll stay yet or what the plans are. Most of the leagues haven’t even announced fixtures for Dec/Jan yet, so a bit early to start planning quite yet. Will probably be a few rearranged games as well. But (and hopefully I won’t jinx this now) if they don’t change the kick off times, I can see myself starting that trip with a Boxing Day double…Oakwood v Lingfield at 11am and the derby game that is Tooting & Mitcham United v Dulwich Hamlet at 3pm. Not a bad one that, and after all, when flying into Gatwick I’ll be stuck in London area that day anyway.

How do the locals take to a Norwegian rolling up at their excuse for a ground on a wet Monday at a level 9 club? Are you welcomed, seen as a bit “odd” or treated as an “away fan” (with all the negative connotations that has!)

There’s pretty a warm welcome almost everywhere below step 2-3. Although I’m often mistaken for an away fan at first, people are very friendly. When they find out through conversation that I’m from Norway, there can be a bit of a commotion at times – guess it’s not an everyday thing for some of these clubs!

PS I must ask you one last question. What do you think of the new Valerenga ground.

It’s good for the club, but I didn’t think it was anything special. Not bad for Norway I guess, although that doesn’t say too much. I think maybe they should’ve filled in the corners(?), and again I’m having big problems with the plastic pitch. At least it’s got a stand with terracing (well, “safe standing” anyway).

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Anders, my friend, of that there is no doubt! To see the up to date list of all the grounds that Anders has visited please visit Groundhopping

Mexico

Mexico

West Ham: Shirt auction to aid Mexican earthquake relief

West Ham United will auction shirts worn in this weekend’s London derby to raise money in aid of the Mexican earthquake.

Mexican striker Javier Hernandez, 29, is leading the #YoXMexico initiative alongside international team-mate Miguel Layun.

The Hammers will double the proceeds, which will help deliver food and supplies to victims of the disaster.

“Seeing the suffering of our compatriots has been very painful,” said Hernandez.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Tuesday, leaving thousands of families homeless and killing 273 people.

“We know that many see us as a source of inspiration, but in this case, what has inspired us is to see millions of Mexicans take to the streets and to lend a hand without asking for anything in return,” Hernandez said.

“We hope, with this initiative, to help those who need it and motivate more people to do it with us.

“Miguel and I are very grateful to have the backing of everyone at West Ham United and all of its supporters at this difficult time for our country.

“It is a fantastic gesture and we hope it can help us raise funds that will make a difference in Mexico.”

Full article from the BBC site here

Prostate Cancer Fundraising

Terry Butcher, English football legend.

Prostate Cancer Fundraising

Join the biggest ride in football – Football to Amsterdam 2018

In 2013, 30 hardy fans joined the fight against prostate cancer and took their respective club into Europe, cycling 150 miles to Amsterdam.

Between 2014 and 2017, the number of riders rose from 150 to 350, and the event now involves three different start locations and over 400 fans fans from over 60 clubs.

If a challenge, a great laugh and camaraderie of riding in unison with football fans from across the country appeals to you, let us know you are interested.

Terry Butcher’s guide to the biggest and best ride in football

I’ve taken part in this ride twice and the camaraderie and team spirit is simply fantastic. If you’re going to do one charity event a year, then this is the one to do. Here’s my guide to Football to Amsterdam 2018:

1: Get signed up early

As well as getting your fundraising started early, signing up gives lots of benefits. Plus, if you’re thinking of doing the Yorkshire route, the early birds can choose what time their return flight will be, so you can get that well-deserved lie in. Be warned though, the fun doesn’t stop at the finishing line in Amsterdam – the journey back to the UK is another adventure!

2: Choose the right bike

If you don’t have a bike, don’t worry. While you can spend silly money these days, you can get a decent road bike for £250. The right bike is the key. If you are part of a team, try approaching your local bike shop to see if they will do you a deal or sponsor you with a bike. Three years ago I used an old bike and painfully regretted it. The following year, I really benefited from having the correct equipment and enjoyed the event far more than the first time.

3: Representing your club

Last year we had riders from over 60 football clubs across the Premier League, EFL and Non League. Let us know if you want to ride for your club, whether that’s Arsenal or Accrington Stanley. Prostate Cancer doesn’t choose its victims: that’s why we are all Men United.

4: Hitting your target

We have a great time on this ride, but it’s a much better experience going into the event having hit your fundraising target. Once registered, set up an online fundraising page (linked to your team and event) and keep an eye out for lots of ideas about how to smash your target. It’s not difficult to raise money with a bit of planning and realistic expectations. Just sending an email to your family and friends might help but you need to do a little bit more than that these days. The more you raise the more help that money can buy.

5: Getting fit

Signing up early also means you have to start training early. You don’t need to be Bradley Wiggins for this event but doing a regular 20-30 miles in the build up to the ride will help. You will never cycle more than 25 miles between rest stops and that’s good to remember when fatigue begins to set in. If you’re part of a team it’s great fun getting out for training rides (and easier too), especially when finishing with a pint or two at the end.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer

Former Great Britain tennis number one and current BBC pundit John Lloyd is a supporter of Prostate Cancer UK after being diagnosed with the disease early last year.

The 62-year-old, who had successful surgery, spoke about his prostate cancer journey and is keen to hammer home the dangers of the disease.

“I’m determined to spread the message,” he explained. “I’m proud to say the ‘Man of Men’ pin badge will now be a regular part of my wardrobe.

See the whole EFL article here.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

John is a huge Wolves’ fan and he is delighted that Prostate Cancer UK is the Official Charity Partner of the EFL. Their “Man of Men” logo sits proudly in the squad numbers of every one of the Wolverhampton Wandererers players’ shirts.

But what does it mean? Prostate Cancer UK’s “Man of Men” represents everyone who wants to stop prostate cancer being a killer. Meet Kevin and Lloyd, two inspirational men, living with incurable prostate cancer who are doing everything they can to raise money to beat a disease killing one man every 45 minutes in the UK.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THEIR STORY on a You Tube video.

Kevin and Lloyd both joined Jeff Stelling on his March for Men, and like Jeff, wear their Prostate Cancer UK badge with pride.

You can too. Text BADGE to 70004 from a UK mobile to donate £5 to help stop prostate cancer being a killer (and get your own Prostate Cancer UK badge to wear with pride)

Mental Health

James Boyes – Flickr: Aaron Lennon in his Spurs days.

Has football scored an own goal on mental health – By football academic Duncan Stone

I know this is not quite the usual shirt and/or cycling article but nevertheless I thought it was well written and deserved a bigger audience. I hope you agree.

We hear lots of good intentions when it comes to mental health and football, but what is actually being done to help professional players and managers? And why are footballers still afraid to speak out about mental health issues? Happiful examines the culture of hyper-masculinity that persists on the pitch (and in the locker room), and uncovers some ugly truths about the beautiful game

In 2015, after re-signing Aaron Lennon on a three-year deal worth £4 million, the Everton manager at the time, Roberto Martinez, delightedly informed the press: “We know we are getting a player our fans know inside-out.” It’s a statement that proved to be tragically false in April this year, when the ex-England international was detained by police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Mental health has become an increasingly prominent topic in football in recent years following the tragic suicides of German international goalkeeper Robert Enke in 2009, and Wales manager Gary Speed in 2011. Suicide remains mercifully rare, but Lennon’s committal to hospital does represent an extreme example from within the world’s most watched football league.

Official statistics suggest as many as one in four people in the UK will suffer a mental health problem in any given year, so it would be inappropriate to make any direct association between Lennon’s illness and his job as a footballer. Undeniably, however, it was his fame as a footballer that marked Lennon out for special attention. Attention that was, in many cases, less than sympathetic.

The reporting of Lennon’s committal by certain sections of the media was malicious to say the least. The Daily Mail was widely condemned for emphasising Lennon’s wages in a tweet which read: “£55,000-a-week England footballer Aaron Lennon is detained under Mental Health Act after stand-off with police.”

Such irrelevant reporting was criticised by ex-Everton captain Phil Neville and the former Labour Party spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, who has previously battled with depression and alcoholism. And yet, the notion that millionaire footballers are somehow immune to mental health problems and ought to simply “man up” remains the default opinion of well-known media commentators and, it must be said, a wide section of the general public.

As the game appears to get inexorably richer, footballers are treated less like ordinary members of society, even if the vast majority earn a fraction of the riches bestowed upon the best Premier League players. Indeed, beyond the rarefied atmosphere of the Premiership, far more players – especially in Scotland – are employed on a part-time basis. Footballers of all standards are, nonetheless, regarded as “role models”, who are constantly expected to demonstrate unrealistic standards on and off the field.

Supporters, who often invest a great deal of their personal identity in a club, now enjoy previously unknown levels of access to players thanks to social media. Sadly, much of this access is used to criticise poor performances or behaviour. Indeed, Lennon was accused of being a “miserable bastard” for failing to smile in photographs following his transfer to Everton. Yet the public remain ignorant of the everyday realities and pressures of professional football that threaten or suppress a player’s true self.

A HYPER-MASCULINE CULTURE
Previously a professional with Portsmouth, Dr Martin Roderick, author of The Work of Professional Football: A labour of love?, explains that the “culture of fear” recently exposed in British cycling has a long history in football: “From a very young age, players are subject to highly precarious employment practices. Nobody, player, coach or manager, is comfortable, and voices of dissent are silenced – if they ever emerge.”

Sports governing bodies have a long history of simply paying lip-service to issues such as racism, bullying, homophobia, gambling, addiction and even corruption
In a results-driven business, a player’s true self (and their physical and mental wellbeing) is habitually sacrificed for extremely short-term goals. Managers and players are only as good as their last result, and the pressure to win encourages a culture of hyper-normative masculinity.

Physical “toughness”, which frequently requires players to play when injured, goes hand-in-hand with mental strength and an implicit image of heterosexuality. Young or old, wealthy or poor, gay or straight, fit or injured, contented or depressed, Roderick emphasises that many players, no matter how successful, wear a mask of conformity: “You have to look like you want to be there.”

As the tragic case of openly gay footballer Justin Fashanu, who killed himself in 1998, or the more recent conspiracy of silence in relation to widespread child abuse implies, such an environment leaves little room for those who do not fit such a clichéd sporting identity. Thankfully, the attitudes and influence of “old school” managers such as Brian Clough or Bill Shankly, who infamously referred to “poof bandages” and called injured players “bastards”, are in decline.

Younger managers, including the ex-Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, Richie Foran, who helped launch Scottish Football’s “Support Within Sport” campaign, worryingly reverted to the “man up” language of old when fighting a futile relegation battle last season.

SCOTLAND THE BRAVE
The “Support Within Sport” initiative, which aims to identify and treat mental health issues among players and coaches, was launched in 2016 following research by Dr Katy Stewart, of the Hampden Sports Clinic (HSC), into the incidence of mental health issues in male players across the 42 clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League. The survey, which was funded by the UEFA Research Grant Programme, asked two simple questions:

1. “Have you, or a fellow player, experienced a mental health problem?”
2.“Who would you want to talk to about a mental health issue?”

NHS spending on mental health
The results revealed alarming levels of anxiety and depression within Scottish football, with 64% of the 600 respondents revealing that they, or a teammate, had experienced a mental health issue. A supplementary questionnaire identified 40 players suffering a significant issue at the time, and 15 of these were immediately referred for more intensive treatment available, free of charge, under the programme.

Although a number of contributory factors were identified, Dr Stewart’s research revealed how one of the key triggers of mental illness stems from the precariousness of football employment. Managers and players need to be extremely mobile in order to secure work, and frequent moves, often at short notice, to various parts of the UK or abroad, can lead to loneliness and depression.

64% of 600 Scottish football players revealed they, or a teammate, had experienced a mental health issue
Such social isolation may even be experienced within a club environment. Long-term injuries are an obvious contributory factor, but others, such as Lennon being denied a first team squad number by Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, are similarly isolating and damaging to a player’s self-esteem.

Such ingrained practices will undoubtedly continue in football, but the results confirmed the urgent need for a robust system within the professional game to deal with their effects. Thus, the HSC, together with the Professional Footballers’ Association of Scotland (PFAS), established a programme of welfare specifically designed to look after the professional game.

A CALL FOR URGENT HELPLINES
The PFAS programme established a 24-hour helpline that provides immediate access to an experienced sports medicine doctor. And, if necessary, the player can be referred to a specialist dealing with addiction, general counselling, and experts in both sport and clinical psychology or clinical psychiatrists and psychologists within a week.

Recognising that making a phone call is still an enormous step for some players, the HSC and a group of students from Strathclyde University have also developed an app called “SUPPORT”, through which players can access self-help advice or send a message directly to a doctor.

In England, anecdotal figures have emerged. Like the PFAS, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) also operates a 24-hour helpline. Michael Bennett, the PFA’s Head of Welfare, has disclosed that 160 players had requested help in 2016. The number of past and present players seeking help, Bennett adds, is “growing year on year”. But as more than 60% of those seeking help in 2016 were former players, the numbers suggest the prevailing culture of football still stops current players from coming forward.
While it is a truism that football, like other sports, does not exist in a social vacuum, it does seem that modern society (and modern living) increasingly reflects football rather than the other way around.

Unlike football however, where employers are legally obliged to provide (no matter how ambiguously defined) for the physical and mental care of their employees, the zero-hours contracts that define the UK’s burgeoning “gig economy” guarantee little in terms of work or wages, let alone statutory sick pay, holiday pay, pensions or health care. Undoubtedly, mental health is the societal problem of our time.

It’s here that football and society diverge.

Football has the money, but those in charge appear reticent to make the cultural changes required. Whereas government seemingly has the desire to help, yet a self-imposed age of austerity means there is insufficient money to provide the services needed. There is clearly room for improvement in both football and society.

Players who are unfortunate enough to suffer mental illness do, at least, have almost immediate access to the vital health services denied to those who rely on the NHS. We can only hope the rest of UK society can enjoy the same level of provision in the near future.

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