As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, participants of Red Neighbours’ walking football programme have spoken about their experiences of mental health.
Tommy Knox, 71, from Walton, joined the walking football team last year and has already felt a positive impact on his life.
Tommy, what’s been your experience of mental health?
“Well, I lost the wife after 40-odd years and you know, that’s when I felt the depression. When you get to my age you lose all your friends because you’ve been with one person for so long and your family have all got their own lives.
“So people say you’re not on your own but it sort of feels like you are. That’s when I got depressed and started drinking a lot. It’s usually the weekends you get a bit depressed and to be honest with you, I think if I didn’t have walking football during the week, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Why did you decide to join the walking football team?
“I only really had one friend, Paul, and he asked me to come along because he was already playing. It was a God-send to be honest because everyone was brilliant, all the lads really make sure you’re not left alone, and everyone makes you welcome and straight away I thought: ‘This is brilliant.’”
Do you feel like walking football has affected your life outside of the sessions?
“Yeah, definitely. When people ask me where are you going and I say ‘the footy’, I think they’re surprised because I’m old! But yes, I’d say so. For example, I went to the Christmas carol service at Anfield and I thought ‘there’s something wrong here, people are being nice to me!’ I haven’t always been used to people being friendly and nice to me and that’s been all my life I suppose.
“I’d also like to say how much of a huge help my dog has been when I’ve been struggling. He provides me with great company and on the days where I feel like lying in bed all day, I think to myself ‘you can’t because you need to take the dog for a walk’. I always feel better once I’ve got myself out and about so having him really helps.”
And how has that friendly atmosphere made you feel?
“At first, I was a bit secretive with it to be honest, but since I’ve spent more time with these people and the Red Neighbours team I’m more open because I’ve got people that are friendly towards me. I’d recommend it to anyone, not just for the football but more so the camaraderie and everyone being so nice to you. I didn’t know there were so many nice people around! I really would recommend the walking football to anyone, I started about seven months ago and now I’m the best player – I’ve got to get that in!”
Why do you think it’s important for men to talk about mental health?
“When you hold everything in and you’re on your own, you really start to feel it, especially at times like Christmas and the weekends. At times it can feel like you’ve got no one, so having people to talk to like my friend Paul, who got me along to these sessions, makes it easier to handle. Like I said earlier, if I hadn’t made the effort to come along to walking football and meet the all the lads, I’m not sure where I’d be.”
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with their mental health?
“I would say share it with somebody because it’s no good keeping everything bottled up in your brain because you’re only going to make yourself worse. I’ll tell you what, if you feel like you’ve got no friends, get out and take part in something like walking football where you can spend time with people who are nice to you and it really will help.
“Don’t try and solve it yourself because a lot of the time, you can’t. Don’t be like me and think you’re alright and start hitting the bottle because it gets you nowhere. You’ve got to try and have some company and there’s so many brilliant people out there that want to help. What with the walking football and the likes of Paul and Red Neighbours, I just honestly couldn’t understand how so many people could be so nice.”
Across the coming weeks, more walking football participants will be sharing their stories with the aim of starting a conversation about mental health.
Red Neighbours walking football sessions take place at Anfield Sports and Community Centre every Tuesday from 3pm to 4pm and every Friday from 11am to 12pm. New players are always welcome.