More Than a Game as football tackles mental health issues

Ollie Goodwin meets the organisation behind a new Brixton sport facility linking football and wellbeing

Football training

Football can have a positive impact on someone’s mental wellbeing. Whether it’s social inclusion, physical health or mental health, the positives football can have should never be underestimated. 

However, the opportunity to help positively impact mental wellbeing through football is very rarely explored – even ignored. 

More than one in 10 of us is suffering from depression at any one time; with one in four experiencing mental health problems during any given year.

Fulham Football Club Foundation (FFCF) is hoping to change this through their “More Than A Game” initiative. The foundation is hoping to support people through weekly sessions in Brixton’s Roupell Park.

Ben Mcllwaine is a mental health and wellbeing practitioner with the foundation. One of his main roles is in the “More Than a Game” setup. “I recruit participants to come along to the sessions that we run across four different locations dotted around South West London,” he told us.

As part of More Than A Game, FFCF will be creating new mental health football sessions, to provide positive physical activity for people who have poor mental health.

The new Roupell Park facility was opened by local MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. “We’ve completely regenerated that area and the pitches,” says Ben. The facility is a testament to the good work this foundation is doing. A space for all types of people to get involved for no cost at all. 

“It’s also open 24 hours a day, so anyone can use it at whatever time. It’s just brilliant,” Ben says. “The five-a-side pitch was taken from a gravel surface that you really couldn’t play football on, until now. It’s all new. A brand new basketball and football pitch with indented goals. It’s so well designed – you can also play side to side for shorter games with more people.”

Football coach

It was all paid for by the Fulham Foundation. Community projects, like the More Than a Game sessions, are one of the ways the foundation tries to involve itself in local communities and help disadvantaged people through football.

Ben told me a little bit about his background and how this links in with the setup.

“I have a masters in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) counselling and group psychotherapy,” he told me.

“People come for the football, so I’m only involved for a little bit.

“Lots of it comes through the coaches instilling things like teamwork – morale and working together – it’s all integrated like that.” 

With a host of positive benefits coming from sessions like these, Ben and his team are not only professional, but passionate about helping the community – supporting people who might otherwise not get the right help.

“All of our coaches have amazing football experience, they’ve been through amazing training, but their wants and needs are to work within the community.

“They’ve specifically come to a foundation as opposed to going to a football club,” Ben says. 

The foundation also does a great deal more. Whether it’s partially sighted football, summer schools, camps for schoolgirls or the More Than a Game sessions, the foundation is providing coaching, facilities and everything in between.

More Than a Game sessions are just getting up and running.

If it sounds like something you could benefit from or want to be involved in, check them out on the Fulham website, or email health@fulhamfc.com.

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