On World Mental Health Day last month, the preliminary stages of a five-a-side tournament were held at the Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre, Wythenshawe. The event kick started a month-long campaign of mental health awareness organised by Manchester United Foundation and Wythenshawe Community Housing Group (WCHG), culminating in the finals of the tournament at the legendary Cliff Training Ground, Salford.
To celebrate the manner in which this highly competitive tournament was played, former Manchester United manager and Busby Babe, Wilf McGuinness was on hand to present all the finalists with their medals. Participants came from all over Greater Manchester and are members of community groups helping them deal with health or mental health problems.
Representing the Reds, Wythenshawe’s Lifestyle United narrowly missed out in the final against Benchill Community Centre – decked in City sky-blue – but in a tournament aimed at raising awareness of mental health and to highlight the support that is available there could be no losers, as tournament organiser and Foundation health project co-ordinator, Steve Hoy says, “Everyone is a winner!”
"Today was everything we wanted in terms of bringing people from the community together who don’t always have a chance in life for whatever reason that may be,” Steve explains.
“With it being such a success we hope it will be an annual thing and involve more teams. Hopefully today has given them a focus and a step up. Playing at The Cliff doesn’t happen every day, some of the biggest legends in the history of the game have gone through this place including Best, Charlton, Robson, Cantona and Giggs - it doesn’t get any better than that. To come here and follow in their footsteps and then for the players to meet a true living legend in Wilf McGuinness makes it a great day for all of us.”
Brushing aside his disappointment of losing in a semi-final match, Derek Coley of Wythenshawe was delighted to meet Wilf and share a unique footballing experience: “I’m gutted to have lost because it was a special occasion and you don’t want it to end, but I’ve been attending Steve’s health project for the last four years and I can’t thank him enough. Today has been tremendous, it was great to meet Wilf; it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Likewise, the man who took over from Sir Matt Busby in 1969 recognised the importance of the work the Foundation has carried out with WCHG. After entertaining the players with stories from his playing and coaching career and showing all in attendance the injury that ended his playing career at the age of 22, Wilf McGuiness said:
“It’s terrific to be back at The Cliff and witness a tournament like this played in the right spirit. These men have got it hard and it’s difficult for them for one reason or another. So to come down to Manchester United and for the Foundation to get them to believe in themselves and steer them in the right direction, that’s what it’s all about.”
And it was the Busby Babe’s departing words to this group of local men that summed up the ethos of the tournament and saw every participant leave with their heads held high:
“Get it into your hearts and in your head that if you can do it in football then you can do it in life. Self-belief is what I believe in. If you believe in yourself, you will get there in the end.”