Returning to the site where they both took trials for Manchester United at the ages of 12 and 10, first team players Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans spent the afternoon raising awareness for a men's mental health project at the Cliff Training Ground in Salford.
Funded by the Premier League and Comic Relief, ‘Imagine Your Goals' is a two-year programme that aims to use physical activity to improve social inclusion and well-being for people with mental health problems whilst striving to change public attitudes towards mental health.
To highlight the positive work that has taken place in the first 12 months of the programme, three IYG teams from United, Southampton and Bolton Wanderers took part in a round-robin tournament that saw Bolton crowned the outright winners. However, as project manager Stephen Hoy explains, the real winners on the day were all the participants who are using the project to help overcome their own personal issues, enabling them to line up to face battle on the day:
"It was brilliant because everyone enjoyed themselves and played competitively but it was played in the right spirit; they came to enjoy the day and not just win the tournament.” The Manchester United Foundation coach added, "The mental health problems the participants suffer from vary tremendously, from someone suffering from learning difficulties to lads who deal with depression, yet they all supported each other and worked as a team.”
During a break from their matches in the Cliff's indoor arena, the participants enjoyed the opportunity to meet the two United heroes and took part in a Q&A session. Next, Darren and Jonny joined in a ‘hardest shot' competition and, to the delight of the IYG teams, failed to win! The players also took time out to talk openly about mental health:
"People see the good things about our job, but you feel do feel alone sometimes and it's important to have good family and friends around you to support you,” said Jonny Evans. His teammate, Darren Fletcher spoke of his experience during a long-term injury lay-off:
"It's not easy when your injured and sat at home watching your teammates play and it sometimes does get you down and you can get depressed about it. Sometimes, just because people see us playing in front of 70,000 fans we are labelled so called ‘superstars', but we're human beings like everyone else at the end of the day and we have to tackle these issues as well.”
Lee Fearnough used to work as a steward at Old Trafford and is now a member of the Manchester United Imagine Your Goals team. He has recently overcome bipolar disorder and commented that it is reassuring to hear that the players also have to deal with their own issues: "Sometimes you just see them as being famous and don't realise that they go through the same things as other people so it helps to know that they understand.”
Lee has found the IYG course has improved his confidence and helped him to emerge from his disorder with a more positive outlook on life. He added, "Events like this give you a boost and make you realise you're not on your own. Sometimes you don't have anyone to talk to when you have problems so it's nice to do something that brings people together.”
Steve Hoy concluded: "The overriding message for people suffering from mental health issues is to seek help. If, for one second, you feel that you can't cope then place a call into your GP and tell someone. The ‘Macho man' image can really stop men from seeking the help they need but the worst thing you can do is contain it and keep it to yourself.”
For more information about the Imagine Your Goals programme visit: www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us/imagine-your-goals