On a fiercely hot July day, in the magnificent surroundings of Marlborough College in Wiltshire, teams representing the community trusts of Swindon Town, Reading FC, Exeter City and Newport County met to compete for the right to be crowned Mental Health Football Festival champions.
The event was organised as part of the WNST/EFL Trust “Every Player Counts” programme, which is offering disabled people up and down the country the chance to play football, at projects organised by around 25 of the EFL club community trusts. All of the participants at this event had some form of enduring mental health issue, often in addition to other impairments. So for some, the simple taking-part was a great achievement and something to be celebrated – visiting a new location, playing as part of a team and coming up against unfamiliar faces can all present real challenges for some people, but all conquered with fantastic support from excellent coaches and the desire to play football.
For many of the participants, this was their first opportunity play competitive 11-a-side football; some also have a very patchy history of playing sport and staying active – often because they have been excluded from other settings. For players with mental ill health, occasions such as this are therefore an excellent opportunity to play football in a supportive environment, whilst helping them to get fit and healthy, without fear of stigma or of “not fitting in”. So, real credit is due to everyone for giving their all throughout the event.
The quality of the competition was high, with some talented players on show. However, in tournament football, there has to be winners and losers. At the end of the afternoon, after a “round-robin” of fixtures, Reading FC came out the eventual champions – with WNST CEO, Stewart Goshawk, on hand to present the winners medals and trophy.
Afterwards, Stewart said “This has been a great opportunity for these players to experience competitive football and in such a fantastic setting. Congratulations to Reading, but all the teams did their clubs proud. Thanks must go to Clive Maguire at Swindon for arranging and hosting the day and to all the club coaches for their work in support of disability football within their local area.”
To find out more about the community work at these clubs, visit:
For more information on all of the clubs being funded as part of the Every Player Counts programme, see: https://wnst.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/England-Grants.pdf