How the Saints are marching forwards with mental health

Ben Herd, Stacey Turner and David Moyo.

Ben Herd, Stacey Turner and David Moyo. - Credit: Archant

St Albans City Football Club is an inclusive bubble of inspiration; a powerhouse within our community, kicking goals on and off the pitch with an abundance of camaraderie.

Stacey Turner with the St Albans City FC team of (left to right) Lawrence Levy, Phil Coates, Sam Mer

Stacey Turner with the St Albans City FC team of (left to right) Lawrence Levy, Phil Coates, Sam Merson, Michael Clark, Ben Wyatt, Dave Diedhiou, Zane Banton, Tom Bender, Khale Da Costa, Jordan Sanderson, Lewis Knight, Solomon Sambou, Liam Sole, Dean Snedker, Clovis Kamdjo, Alfie Bonfield, Ben Herd, David Moyo, Ian Allinson. - Credit: Archant

It is said alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. That is certain as within this stadium of inspirational athletes, manager Ian Allinson, his assistant and stadium manager Leigh Page, community manager Phil Coates, the coaches and physio, all backed by co-owners John McGowan and Lawrence Levy, they passionately form the dream team that is St Albans City Football Club.

Lawrence added: “There are also many volunteers that do work around the ground.”

Interwoven are relationships providing further links for inclusion. I was introduced to Liam Dwyer, mental and physical wellbeing officer for Watford Football Club, who explained: “St Albans City FC have looked at a wider and holistic picture of who they serve and how best they can support.

“Since February 2014 I have been coaching St Albans City Youth Disability FC, in this time I have witnessed support from both City Youth and St Albans City FC grow continuously. St Albans City Youth Disability FC has two children’s teams (under 16s) and three adult teams with over 50-plus players on our books, so there’s a level for every player that comes to our club.

“We have had four players go onto represent Team GB and the Special Olympics World Games, made two national finals of the People’s FA Cup alongside winning various tournaments across the country.” Liam himself is coaching Football Team GB for the Special Olympics World Games this year, with St Albans resident Thomas Ward part of the team. They alight in Abu Dhabi in March.

“In early 2016, between the chairman, [supporters group] Stand By Your Saints and former club secretary, Tom Norman, we devised a scheme where any player from St Albans City Youth Disability could attend any St Albans City game for £5.

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“The concept behind this was to enable more of our players to be able to access live football, due to financial restraints of being unable to work full-time (maximum 16 hours per week) or receiving benefits. “Very few of my players who are passionate for football had ever been able to attend a live game due to the expense of football at an elite level.”

“Though the gesture from the club was great, it is more about how the club have conducted themselves which makes this scheme more impressive and special.”

Co-owner Lawrence Levy added: “As well as having around 5,000 young people playing organised football every week, some serious but many for fun, I feel our focus on inclusivity also welcomes those people who have often felt marginalised or overlooked in the community with both playing the sport as well as providing a safe environment to enjoy watching the first team.

“Evidence shows us that having friends and a sense of belonging adds to the positive wellbeing of young people and we are proud that this club is able to provide this opportunity to many people in our community.”

As I stood with the team for a photograph on the pitch, I could feel the strength. There is no indolence here, only a shared passion and I love how they realise they have the power to be powerful with a belief they can make things better within our community.

Meeting Saints fullback Ben Herd and centre forward David Moyo was an absolute pleasure and I wasn’t let down by any means, enjoying every moment in a very rare interview in the changing rooms at the Clarence Park stadium.

“Football is not just about physical ability, it is everything to do with mental ability and coping mechanisms,” they explained.

During the course of our interview, I mentioned how I am climbing Kilimanjaro in June on behalf of It’s OK To Say, and they both agreed what was going to get me to the top is my mental strength and ability, so when David said, “I believe in you, you will do it,” and Ben added, “What a lifetime achievement, by mentally walking yourself up and reminding yourself why, you’re subscribing to a bigger power than yourself ,” I felt reassured that they know a lot about mental capability.

Ben explained: “There’s been lots of times I’ve felt like giving up. The abuse we deal with as footballers, the everyday discipline, the sacrifices, the intensity of it all. It’s natural to feel anxiety and insecurity, but there’s something inside of you that doesn’t give up, talking and being open helps.

“It gets easier, whatever you’re going through, once you’re through it and have the ability of hindsight, it’s a short time. Battle through it, seek guidance and advice. It makes you and your coping mechanisms stronger.”

David added: “A mentor helps, you know you’re not alone as experiences are shared. Understanding everything you’re going through now is all passing and won’t stick is important, there will be better times, you’re going to go down and back up, so carry on. People need to be educated that they can express their feelings and will feel better for doing so.”

He added: “People don’t realise football is such an up and down sport, they come and have fun, but we get abuse and then you’ve got to go home and deal with what you’ve taken on top of analysing your own performance. Having people you can talk to is vital, as you’ve then got to come back and do your best again.”

Both agreed: “You must have thick skin, you develop resilience along the way, but most importantly be yourself. It’s OK to be yourself.”

David agreed: “Yes, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks and you can use negativity to fuel you.”

“There’s discipline with lots of sacrifices, but it’s all worth it,” agreed both players.

“Before games, I replay all the good things I can do on the football pitch, I focus on the positives,” David said.

While both players train very hard and exert a daily discipline of training and looking after themselves, Ben explained: “This lifestyle choice becomes you as a person, it creates confidence – control the controllables and you can respond more effectively.”

At the core, there is integrity, yet throughout this, I have discovered many layers of passion, dedication and openness with a central goal of societal integration. It has been my pleasure to get to know St Albans City FC, interview Ben Herd and David Moyo and finally, thank you for allowing me to share the heart of your diverse and all-round club and for supporting It’s OK To Say.