EFL stars tackle mental health silence

11 Oct 2018

By: Sport Industry Group

Stars from English Football League (EFL) clubs turned heads at King’s Cross on World Mental Health Day, as part of a live exhibit highlighting the role football can play in tackling mental health problems.

Four footballers from across the leagues – James Shea (Luton Town), Deji Oshilaja (AFC Wimbledon), Luke Prosser (Colchester Utd) and Darius Charles (Wycombe Wanderers) – took centre-stage at a special temporary installation on the King’s Cross station concourse, on behalf of the EFL and its charity partner, the mental health charity Mind.

The exhibit was designed to highlight the fact that one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year.

All the players spent half an hour within the live exhibit, posing as footballers with visible and invisible health problems, in full view of commuters and passengers. 

To reinforce the key ‘one in four’ statistic, three of the footballers clearly demonstrated physical health problems, whilst the remaining player, while appearing unhurt, represented mental health conditions, with a message that these invisible problems must be treated with equal importance.

The exhibition, which was open throughout World Mental Health Day, highlighted that, every year, dozens of EFL managers, hundreds of EFL footballers, and hundreds of thousands of EFL club supporters will be living with a mental health problem, many of them feeling unable to reach out for support.

Kings Cross station was selected as the location for the stunt based on fans' use of trains in travelling to games in the EFL. Echoing the one in four people who experience mental health problems, EFL’s own research shows that one in four fans rely on train travel to attend away fixtures in the Sky Bet Championship, or Sky Bet League One and League Two.

The activity comes as part of a football season in which EFL and Mind have joined forces in a partnership that seeks to use the power of football to improve the nation’s mental health. Throughout the current 2018/19 football campaign, the players of all 72 EFL clubs from the Sky Bet Championship through to League Two are wearing the Mind logo on the back of their matchday shirts – the first time that player names have incorporated a charity logo.  

Commenting on the activity, Debbie Jevans, interim chair of the EFL said: “Every day throughout the year the EFL, through its 72 Clubs and their support staff ensure players improve and maintain their physical health. The focus on mental health should be no different and every year 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem. 

“With 1 in 4 EFL supporters using train travel to attend matches we chose Kings Cross Station to highlight the need to raise awareness of the challenges around mental health and the work the EFL and its charity partner, Mind will be doing to offer help and support those in need.”

Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, added: “We’re delighted to have joined with the EFL to create the On Your Side charity Partnership to make sure that no one has to tackle a mental health problem alone. Today, on World Mental Health Day, and all days, Mind and the EFL are On Your Side.

A number of Premier League clubs also used World Mental Health Day as a platform to communicate and engage their fans around the issues.

Meanwhile, UK Sport used the day to launch a new Mental Health Strategy with increased measures to facilitate a positive mental health environment across the Olympic and Paralympic sport system.

UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said: “World Mental Health Day provides a fantastic platform to focus on this very important area that doesn’t always get the attention it should.

“In both sport and society, it is vital that we work towards creating the most positive mental health environment whenever possible.

“We are pleased to be promoting new measures today, including the launch of our Mental Health Strategy, as we continue to build structures that will help promote a positive environment for athletes, coaches and support staff.”

A new UK Sport head of mental health is set to be appointed in coming weeks to lead the implementation of the strategy.