A Preston based charity football team, which provides mental health support for its players, is looking at expanding its reach across the local community, hoping to change the nature of amateur football whilst doing so.
Headstrong CFC was set up by 28 year old Jamie Gregory, a trainee psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWPS) at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, with the aim of creating a fun, inclusive environment that tackles the stigma of 'toxic masculinity' and provides a space for men to open up whilst doing something they love.
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Explaining the history behind the team, Jamie, who works with people suffering from depression and anxiety as part of his day job, said: “Originally, we had a group of guys who just came to have a kick about, and when we were playing, I noticed a few of them were struggling, a few of them tended to talk about things that they didn't feel particularly comfortable talking about normally, but football was their go to thing and made them feel like they had an outlet, and obviously, there's bountiful evidence that physical activity improves our mental well being overall, and so, it got me thinking about what more we could we do, but then Covid happened, so football was off and everyone went into isolation, which inevitably caused more symptoms of depression to come about.
"But then the thing which the idea for ‘Headstrong’ primarily came from, was my nephew. He was in Year Six when Covid happened, quite an active, confident young man, part of his school’s hockey team, and as he transitioned into high school, all of his confidence had left and anxiety had hit him, and as I’ve worked in children's behaviour, I realised that he’d developed a social anxiety disorder due to the Covid situation, so again, that got me thinking if it can do that to a child, then what could it also do to an adult male who doesn't have coping mechanisms.”
With a 'friendly football' ethos in mind, Headstrong CFC was then officially set up in August, sponsored by the Preston based domestic abuse charity, ACAYA CIC.
On top of the regular football training which is led by manager Tim Sleddon, during the club's weekly sessions, the team also hold discussions about what's going on in their lives, and Jamie, the club's chairman, is available for one to one chats for those who do not feel comfortable speaking in front of the group.
Although currently on hold due to the current Coronavirus situation, the team also have access to confidential peer led support groups, hosted by ACAYA, whose experienced counsellers can also hold one to one support sessions for players if needed.
Jamie, who is in the final year of his Counselling, Coaching and Psychological Interventions BSC at the University of Central Lancashire added: “It’s a football team that’s about building friendships, learning coping strategies and enjoying the game as it should be enjoyed, rather than thinking about the winning mentality. Our slogan is ‘mending men's mental health’ and that’s our premise above anything else. We’ve made support more accessible through that football community, when new people come to us, they realise this isn’t just about football, it’s about participating in physical activity that is enjoyable, and becoming better, healthier versions of ourselves.”
Although the team do play friendly matches against local charitable teams such as Red Rose Recovery's football group, Headstrong's 'friendly football' ethos is something they want to expand further across the region, and they are currently looking at creating a Social Inclusion League.
The league will have it's own set of rules based around their concept and will reward teams based on their approachability, sportsmanship and comradery towards the opposition, an idea inspired by the rules of Ultimate Frisbee.
Jamie, originally from Southport, explained: "Football brings a lot of people together and can make a positive change in people's lives, but the current Sunday league can be very aggressive, you see swearing, fighting, grown men crying, so we're reaching out across Lancashire to see if any other teams would like to be part of our Social Inclusion League Project.
"The idea behind the league is to create an environment that is enjoyable, safe, and inclusive for all men who take part, as anyone could be struggling with their mental health. We have approached the Lancashire FA and they said they'd love to back the league if we can gather enough interest, so if you feel your teams possess the right ethos then please get in touch with us."
Headstrong CFC currently train every Thursday at 18:30 on Callon All Weather Pitches, behind St Teresa's and Fishwick Primary Schools, however they are on the look out for a new pitch, so organisations who can offer a site are also urged to get in contact.
In addition, the team are looking at creating a women's or a children's side, so anyone who wishes to help out with these, or simply express interest in their foundation, is also asked to get in touch.
To find out more about Headstrong CFC, including their ethos and services visit their website.