‘They’ve just scratched the surface’ – football tackling mental health but more can be done

Work by charities, the PFA, clubs and players is helping the sport open up, though no one claims to have all the answers

By Richard Foster, author of The Agony and the Ecstasy

Gary Speed’s family are inviting fans to take part in the Speed Cycle, a fundraising challenge in which supporters will visit each of his former clubs. The cycle will begin at St James’ Park in Newcastle before moving on to Leeds, Sheffield and Bolton before it finishes at Goodison Park in Liverpool. All the money raised will go towards building a mental health facility close to Goodison. Speed took his own life in 2011 and his widow, Louise, explained last year that he would often explain away occasional low moods as tiredness: “Looking back now,” she said, “I do wonder if it was something else, but blokes don’t talk, do they?”

The need to encourage players to be more open about depression and mental health issues has never been more pressing. Michael Bennett, the director of welfare at the Professional Footballers’ Association, says Speed’s tragic death had a significant impact on the number of calls the PFA received from players throughout the sport. It proved to be a watershed moment in players’ attitudes and openness in admitting to their own issues.

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