“Sport brings people together” is a phrase we often hear and particularly with regards to football. It can be a welcome distraction from people’s lives, from anything that can be troubling, be it work, home life or a global pandemic.
Currently, with a frightening and troubling virus forever in our consciousness, the effects on our mental wellbeing are infinitely more concerning. Human beings overthink and worry; it is a fact of life. When we are faced with such a serious, life-altering event like Coronavirus, our brains can very quickly go into overdrive and whilst football can be a welcome connection back to normality, it can also run the risk of papering over the cracks of a fractured mind.
Heart Of Football recently spoke with two men who on top of their roles on the coaching staff of Medway United youth teams, have created a challenge for themselves to raise much needed funds and crucially awareness for the charity Mind. Founded in 1946, Mind has offered information, advice and support to anyone with a mental health problem. The stigma surrounding mental health has been steadily stripped away over the years since they began but a lot of work must still be done to eradicate that negative perception of the internal struggle that we all have to varying degrees throughout our lives in one form or another.
Whether you are living with a medically diagnosed condition or just find things tough to process sometimes, Mind are there to help. They rely heavily on the donations of the general public to fund their work – we support them to help them support us. As their website reveals (www.mind.org.uk), “every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. But hundreds of thousands of people are still struggling. We believe that no one should have to face a mental health problem alone.”
It is ok not to be ok, but Mind can really help especially if we help them.
We spoke to Adam Palmer and Ashley Stone about their project and Medway United.
Why don’t you tell me what your respective roles are with Medway United?
Ash – Adam is the manager of the Under 12s East and I am the coach of the team.
Ok, great. How central is club to your lives and the community in general?
Ash – Both our sons play in the team as well so to be honest it plays a massive part for both of us. I also coach a men’s team as well so other than my 9-5 job, football is pretty much my life nowadays. In terms of the community, we have a number of different aged teams and are very diverse.
Adam – I work in a school and have four kids. Only Charlie, my 11-year-old, plays. He plays for the team we coach. We love football but for my wife and other kids they have made some great friends through the team. Medway United is a great team to be a part of. They run soccer schools and have different age groups all the way up to a Vets [veterans] team.
It must be really rewarding to watch the transformation of the young players, especially your own children, as you help them progress. Are there any you have your eyes on for a successful career either for Medway first team or beyond?
Adam – Without sounding big headed and biased or showing favouritism, Ash’s son Jack is a phenomenal striker; he bangs goals in for fun. My son, Charlie, plays centre midfield and he has a very good football brain and can pass the ball and shoot with great accuracy. Our goalkeeper has improved massively. They are our best three players; they will always be part of Medway United. If they had the desire and hunger, they could go further. However, I think they are all happy with Sunday league football.
Ash – To be honest, my ethos when I first started coaching kids etc was to just create friendships and for my boy to enjoy the game I’ve loved for so long. My brother was picked up by Gillingham FC Academy at a young age, so I saw a lot of sacrifices that had to be made back then. So, I have always said to my son that he can make his own choices around football as I just want him to enjoy it. If any of the boys make it in the pro game or get money out of it then that’s great news.
Adam – We are there for the boys to learn but most importantly to have fun. We don’t put any pressure on any of them to be the best; all we ask when they do play is give 100%.
Great stuff! It’s obviously their passion as well as your own and that must translate onto the training sessions and matches themselves. With the women’s game becoming more and more prominent, is there scope for a girls development team and potentially first team?
Ash – I believe there is a soccer school for the girls as well. One of the girls involved has already joined an academy, I believe she was asked to trial at Chelsea.
So, moving onto your plans, you’ve set yourselves the challenge of a series of charity activities this coming year. What have you got planned? Are they all driven independently by yourselves or are some in conjunction with the club?
Adam – We have pretty much set ourselves a target of raising £3,000 for MIND. We will be doing various things. One that involves our team is a sponsored walk from where we live in Strood to where we play in Gillingham which is about seven miles. We aim to do a charity football match, raffle, speed quiz. Every month we will do football scratch cards.
Ash – It ultimately is just through Adam and myself. There are elements the club are willing to help with in any way they can but predominantly it is the two of us and our team.
You have chosen Mind as the recipient charity. What brought you to decide on that specific charity?
Ash – I’ve suffered a lot of mental health issues in the past and also, I just feel it needs more exposure to ensure people do get out there and talk if they are having problems. That and with the current pandemic, mental health issues are drastically on the rise with things like loneliness and worry.
Adam – Absolutely, with the way the world is right now people need to be able to talk when they are feeling low and lost.
I think it’s an increasing problem across the country and probably the world even without a pandemic to be honest but that has obviously piled the pressure on people and that creates some very negative headspaces doesn’t it? You’re totally right that it needs the attention and recognition it deserves.
I happened upon your cause due to a Twitter ‘like’ from a mutual following of a wrestling personality! You must be hoping for some exposure from some celebrities and other influential people both in and out of the footballing world. Are there any already on board or you are hoping to attract the attention of?
Adam – Personally, I’ll be happy for any celeb to get involved even if it’s just sharing posts. Not just to raise awareness to our fundraiser but awareness for Mind.
I’m sure any and all interaction is welcome, big or small. Hopefully, though some with larger social followings will get on board to help spread the word. I know everyone at Heart Of Football, myself included, will be willing to help out from ‘liking’ and retweeting to getting involved with the activities and crucially donating the all important money to Mind who can do so much to help everyone who is struggling in all walks of life.
Adam – Really appreciate all your help so far.
Ash – Yeah, I echo what Adam said and really appreciate all your help with everything.