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.

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.

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.

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.

Full article and contact details here

Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano

I have to admit that I am embarrassed that I missed this story last season. It is too good not to be shared.

I have always had a soft spot for Rayo Vallecano. They are a proudly working class club with a strong community ethic. The club is based in the gritty Vallecas district just south of the Madrid city centre. It is maybe a cross between West Ham and Millwall in English terms. Most neutrals would quite like West Ham to do well and most fans who support one of the glamour clubs or those with Top Six aspirations are happy for them to do well ….except when they are not playing their club!

What I had not picked up was the concept behind their kit. A percentage of the sales’ revenue goes to a number of charities. What caught my eye was an attractive black shirt with a pink ribbon to highlight the fight against cancer. They are also a fiercely inclusive club where all fans are welcome regardless of their colour, creed, race or sexual orientation. They have zero tolerance for domestic violence and fans with physical disabilities are encouraged to integrate.

For a club that is in the shadows of its illustrious neighbours, they are teaching a lesson to Real Madrid and Atletico in terms of integration. Respect!

The full story is here in Spanish. Sadly and ironically, their website is not yet in English.

World Afro Day

Inaugural World Afro Day endorsed by United Nations

World Afro Day (WAD) is now endorsed by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This follows increasing international support from academics, the London Mayor’s office, natural hair influencers, Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber and celebrity hair stylists Felicia Leatherwood and Charlotte Mensah. World Afro Day has an affinity with the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent programme, which works towards tackling the challenges of over 200 million people globally, who identify themselves as of African descent.

This group often suffers discrimination based on their heritage and World Afro Day aims to tackle the issue of bias against afro hair which has been previously overlooked. The inaugural World Afro Day, which takes place on Friday 15 September 2017, aims to celebrate the value and beauty of natural hair. This is an opportunity to change the often-negative perceptions that exist around afro hair with an event that people of all backgrounds and hair types can enjoy.

The WAD team will be attempting a RecordSetter World Record for the ‘Largest Hair Education Lesson’ at the event in London, England. Five hundred children of all backgrounds will take part in the world record, which will also be live streamed across the world via social media.

WAD Founder, Michelle De Leon, believes education is key to changing the way people view afro hair and this starts with young people. “Their mental well-being and self-esteem are a top priority,” says Michelle “It’s in all our interests to promote self-love and make young people, no matter what their hair type: curly, straight, wavy or coily, feel great about themselves.”

“We want everyone to be free to wear their natural hair and for society to treat it equally.” continues Michelle. “No limitations should be placed on a person of African descent because of their original hair type; whether they choose to be a ballerina, sit on the board or run for Prime Minister.”

Alongside their world record attempt, the World Afro Day team will be hosting a public debate to discuss how various industries can support the inclusion and appreciation of afro hair in the workplace. The esteemed panel includes model and mumpreneur, Keisha Omilana, Berkley Professor and Campaigner, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, and internationally acclaimed hair stylist, Vernon Francois.

Tickets for this event can be purchased on the official World Afro Day website,

100 Day Tour

100 Days for 10,000 Euros

On the 21st of September 2017, Steve Hall will start off on a 100 day virtual tour of Spain.

Yes, a digital tour where he will be viewing the four corners of Spain through the eyes of local hosts and writers. It will be a virtual tour of Spain which should be of interest to thousands already here in Spain and those thinking of coming. He will be shown what is the very best of Spain and what makes Spain unique. He will be “staying in” favourite but modest hostels in Calatayud and Barcelona and magnificent hotels in Madrid and Ronda. He will take a look at some of the most exquisite properties on sale as well as the most stunning sunsets and mountainscapes through words, images and video. He will “mingle” with the tourists in Benalmádena and the locals in Zaragoza. He will “catch” trains and boats and planes and, no doubt, a few ALSA buses.

His company along the way will be the ladies of Costa Women who are “partners” for the tour and the members of who will be sponsors. Notionally, he will be “driving” in the car kindly supplied by Coys of Torrevieja for the journey. Steve is famed for his staple diet of pizza (the food of the gods) and coffee (the drink of the gods) so I know that Lauren Aloise and her team at Devour Tours will, no doubt, help him to understand the finer points of Spanish cuisine.

The Virtual Tour

The journey will start on the twenty-first of September in Madrid.In fact it will start in the very epi-centre of Madrid. No, not at the Moncloa or the Plaza Mayor but at his favourite bar in Spain, the Gastrobar Ópalo where the owners and staff are offering superb support. For a an who survives on pizza and coffee, he has become a huge supporter of their vegetarian food and alcohol free beer. The good news is that they serve GREAT meat and fantastic cocktails too!

It will move north to Bilbao and then west to Galicia. After visiting Santiago de la Compostela at the end of the “Camino” he will go inland through the west of Spain down to Andalucia and Gibraltar before taking the ferry to the Canaries. A few days later he will return to the mainland, visit Granada, Almeria and Cartagena and then spend time with his friend Keith Nicol in Torrevieja where Steve lived for many years. He will be at the Expat Spain Exhibition in the Salt City on the 11th/13th November before he goes to the Balearics. On his return to the Levante he will amble up the coast to Denia, Jávea and Calpe before he arrives at Spain’s third city, Valencia. After a few days in a favourite part of Spain, he’s off to finish the tour in Barcelona.

The highlights of this virtual/digital tour will be ironically some “in real life” visits …. in Madrid where he will attend an ACN International Event, the Torrevieja Exhibition and at and the Writers and Bloggers about Spain Annual Retreat in November. See you on the way?

So, what is this journey? Why is he doing it?

At least half a dozen reasons, I am told.

#Something of a homage to Spain. A pilgrimage to Spain, if you like. He has lived here 15+ years and is embarrassed that there are still provinces in the north that he does not “know” despite spending a lot of these years “on the road.”

#He aims to raise 10,000 euros (100 euros per day) for the AECC (Spanish Cancer Charity) via Rock Against Cancer Charity

#Equally over this period, he has had contact with hundreds of ebuddies who he would love to meet. (I wonder how many know how deaf he is!) He is active in a writers’ group and he would like to spotlight their work. One of his friend’s is Jorge Varo from Regus and Steve will be visiting every Regus in Spain …..and Gibraltar!

#He is a passionate “Remainer” and is fascinated by people’s hopes and fears of Brexit. He will be looking for reactions.

#He is also planning to walk the Camino del Norte once an injury clears, so this will be great preparation.

#Most of all, he hopes that you, the reader, enjoy this 100 day tour of the Kingdom of Spain.

#The route is going to take in a lot of Spanish football grounds … this space!

Please follow him as he travels his journey through Spain. The journey will be charted on, and will be shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+, Pinterest, Instagram, EmpireKred and many other social media channels. At the end of the journey he will produce an e-Book which will be sent to every single supporter. Obviously, this makes it a great opportunity for Tourist Information Centres, town councils, travel companies and even commercial entities to become involved. Please, shout if you have any suggestions.

In 2010 Steve did a similar journey but this time on a cycle and “In Real Life” as he cycled around the United Kingdom to raise awareness for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That was a journey of four months and 5000 kilometers. Then in 2015 he did a 90 Day Virtual Tour of Spain that was very successful on every level. This latest tour of Spain with more supporters and more focus on the Charity fundraising looks a little easier!

2017 Shirts

Brentford Home 2017/2018

2017 Shirts

The new season is upon us and most clubs seem to have new shirt designs and/or sponsors’ logos.

Some are simply reinventing the wheel and I fear many are “launched” more with an eye to empty the fans’ pockets rather than that there is anything inherently wrong with the 2016/2017 design! Among those that I have seen I like the Brentford shirts and over the next few days, I will add some of the more interesting shirts I see on my travels.

Andreas Hugo Hoelgebaum Pereira

Andreas Pereira, the Manchester United player, on loan at Valencia in their 2017/2018 strip. He will be pleased to know that even their casual wear is sponsored now by NP Makarthy, the Spanish fashion business.

Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona

I got a very interesting email from my friends at Copa today. What a small world it is!

“Last weekend we were pleasantly surprised to see the one and only Diego Maradona wearing our Argentina Capitano T-shirt in the new Bavaria Beer commercial.

El Diego, of course one of our ultimate childhood heroes, wore the shirt in a promotion inspired by the famous van Basten-video by Bavaria, shot almost 25 years ago.

The Argentina Capitano T-shirt and other Argentinian retro shirts can be found on and via selected retailers and online resellers.”



I was strolling around Madrid yesterday when I came across the Coolligan store in the very centre of the city. Oh, happy day! It’s a veritable treasure trove of quality football memorabilia. Like my friends Copa in Amsterdam it is part display and part museum. For somebody like me, an Alladin’s cave.

There is a huge selection of football shirts (current and retro) but these are not replica kits to wear for 5-a-side or to kit out an amatuer side. These are high quality leisure wear. I was delighted to see so many of many favourite shirts including many of the classics from the 60s and 70s…..fashionable but without the omnipresent sponsors’ logos!

A couple I really liked are the Zaire shirt from 1974 and the 1900 Scotland shirt (above)

If you are in Madrid, please pop in. Otherwise, they run a mail order service. Incidentally, they have stores in Málaga and Galicia too. Please visit their website

U. Adarve

Unión Adarve

This week I have come across possibly one of the most interesting football stories I have read in many a year. It deals with a Madrid club who play literally walking distance from the Real
Madrid Santiago Bernabéu stadium but who are a million miles away.

The club is Unión Adarve and their presidente is the charismatic Luis Gómez whose team has just been promoted to Segunda B, the third level of Spanish football. There is nothing unusual about a promotion story but when you look into the background it is an amazing (fairy-)tale.

The club is just 25 years’ old and is what is called a “barrio” club. These traditionally gets their players and supporters from one local district or neighbourhood of a city. Often these clubs have kids teams from 4/5 years all the way through to adults and often there is a ladies team, a 5-a-side team and a seniors’ team too. If anybody watched the TV series “Pelotas”, you will know what I mean. Generally these adult teams have no massive ambitions but they are a vital social function of the area. Unión Adarve have done it slightly differently though! With the lowest budget in their Tercera division and after a poor start they got through the league and the playoffs to reach the dizzy heights of 2B! Note also that they do NOT charge for admission …..ever! This season too they have stated again that they will not charge for admissiom. In English terms they are playing at the same level as Portsmouth, Bradford City, Wigan and Charlton ….but their capacity is just eight hundred!

Luis Gómez used a recent article in AS, the national Spanish sports’ paper to make his thoughts very clear about the amateur nature of the lower leagues in Spanish football. It is frankly eye-opening! This week I am looking to make an appointment to see whether we can create some sort of support for the club à la Peña Internacional Malaguista at Málaga CF or, more likely FC Torrevieja with its famous Torry Army.

Whatever happens, I wish them every success.

(PS The season got off to a good start with a 1-1 away draw at Valladolid B)

La Liga

La Liga 2017/2018

Marca have produced a nice guide to the shirts worn by all the La Liga teams for this season. Click on the start page and you go through each club one at a time where you will see there shirt for the season and the squad numbers.

If you want to learn more about this season’s La Liga, Marca has also posted a team by team review where it is clear that Real Madrid are the clear favourite’s for the season just about to begin. They kick off with a potential banana skin at Deportivo Coruña but what will the next 37 games bring? See here for expert analysis in English.

Commemorative shirt worn against Betis in honour of the victims of the Catalonia atrocities.


Barcelona in Mourning

Within 24 hours terrorists launched two atrocities in Catalonia. More than a dozen innocent people were slaughtered in the centre of Barcelona and a few hours later another band of terrorists struck in Cambrils to the south of the capital.

The immediate decision of the Barcelona board was to honour the dead and injured by taking the players’ name off the shirts for this weekend’s game against Betis.


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