At first glance, football seems an unusual choice to address the topic of male mental health. It is, after all, historically a macho sport where players are often told to ‘man up’, hide their emotions and not whinge.
However, in this frank and revealing documentary, Prince William hears Chelsea manager Frank Lampard admit that he was ‘stuck in the Stone Age,’ when it came to such issues.
He also learns how Premier League players such as Joe Hart, Tyrone Mings and Marvin Sordell struggled with depression and the pressures of being in the public eye.
‘Why do we still have a taboo and stigma about mental health?’ asks the Duke of Cambridge. ‘As Brits we’re not particularly good at dealing with emotions anyway, so it can get a bit awkward.
'Men in particular don’t know what to say when it’s something sad. Understanding your emotions and why you’re feeling that way is part of the mental health journey.’
The film is a follow-up to last year’s A Royal Team Talk, where William hosted a candid conversation about mental health with England manager Gareth Southgate, plus soccer icons Jermaine Jenas, Peter Crouch and Thierry Henry.
It’s the Prince’s belief that suppressing the grief and trauma of two world wars and maintaining our ‘stiff upper lip’ are partly responsible for the present day reluctance of men to deal with feelings of despair, grief and hopelessness.
‘That made a whole generation internalise their problems, because they just wanted to get on with life and move on,’ William says. ‘But right now we have to start questioning whether that’s still relevant in today’s world.
‘It’s not, and we’ve got to be able to be more open and talk about the stuff that really matters – stuff that affects everyday life – before it gets to the point where you’re going to start damaging your relationships, work life and everything around you.’
In one of the most emotional parts of the documentary, he meets players from Sands United FC, a Sunday league team in Northamptonshire comprised of men who have been affected by the death of a young child.
‘Having a team like Sands United is sending a very good message,’ says the Duke. ‘People can come here without feeling judged. ‘They can exercise, play football and share what they’re going through with the guys.
That’s what it’s all about – having confidence to start that first conversation and say, “Things aren’t great”. It’s okay to not be okay.’
It’s good to talk
Footballers who have confronted mental health problems include…
In 2018, England player Danny Rose said he had been diagnosed with depression after his uncle took his own life and his mother was a victim of racist abuse.
Former Liverpool and England goalie Chris Kirkland had anxiety and depression, and admitted he ‘didn’t want to wake up in the morning’. He now campaigns for greater awareness and support.
Burnley winger Aaron Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act in 2017, suffering from a stress-related illness. ‘I was in a dark, dark place for a long time,’ Aaron said of his experiences.
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