The Duke of Cambridge visited Hendon football club in North London today, in his capacity as president of the FA and reflected on his commitment to mental health issues. Prince William also spoke of his being ‘fed up’ with the racism in football.
Hendon Football Club is considered a beacon of good practice for its projects to help those with mental health issues and William was there to learn about their mental health outreach initiatives, which form part of the season-long ‘Heads Up’ mental health campaign.
It is the latest stage of the FA’s Heads Up campaign, which will run all season and is intended to encourage fans and players to feel comfortable talking about their mental health. The Heads Up campaign is supported by England manager Gareth Southgate and footballers including Peter Crouch, Thierry Henry, Danny Rose and Jermaine Jenas, and will culminate during the Emirates FA Cup Final on 23rd May, 2020.
Whilst there, William voiced his condemnation of the ‘outrageous’ racism in modern football, saying he is ‘fed up’ with the damage it is doing to players and fans.
The future King is a renowned football fan and avid Aston Villa supporter. He stated his determination to ‘do something’ about the scourge of racism affecting the game.
Saying it previously felt like the issue was improving, he spoke of his disappointment at recent shocking accounts of explicit abuse and called for immediate change.
During his meeting with coaches, William highlighted how abuse might be a difficult issue for players to discuss and that racism needed to be tackled.
The Duke of Cambridge said: “People are now talking a little bit about mental health issues but I imagine talking about racism is still quite a difficult subject, especially when it’s happening in such a public fashion with Premier League matches or Champions League.”
“We’ve got to do something about it. I’m fed up with it. I’m so bored of it.”
Despite saying the issue ‘kind of felt like it was getting under control here, it got better’, the royal visitor admitted recent incidents of abuse made it feel like ‘we’re back ‘there’’.
Citing recent abuse suffered by players Tammy Abraham, who has been subjected to extreme racism online, and Romelu Lukaku, who has had monkey chants directed at him, he said: “It’s outrageous what’s happening, it really is.”
The Duke said Heads Up, his current campaign to focus on mental health within football this season, is planning to do more to raise the profile of the issue and put pressure to bring about a culture change. The campaign will harness the power of football to encourage more people to feel comfortable talking about their mental health, and feel able to support their friends and families through difficult times.
“Heads Up is about mental health but we are going to start doing stuff on racism as well because it is affecting mental health,” he said.
“Not just the players but also fans.”
Darren Smith, a programme leader for football and coaching management at UCFC Wembley who discussed the issue with Prince William, said it was fundamental for racism to be put on the agenda.
“We’re trying to help people feel part of the community through football, but there’s still a barrier there,” he said. “It does have an effect on mental health.”
Speaking of a lack of accountability on social media, he said: “People are using different platforms to express it and think they can get away with it.”
Jimmy Gray, manager of Hendon FC, said: “Football is so high profile it needs to take a zero tolerance stand. It’s sad that it has to be on the agenda, but it has to be.”
As a match was played behind him, he spoke to young players whose lives have been improved by joining training and making friends at the club.
During the visit, the Royal asked them whether it was a “big deal” for them to talk about their mental well-being, and praised them for having the confidence and passion to now help others.
“Well done for the work you do,” he told Richard Hay, coach and support worker. “It’s a lot of responsibility and pressure, but you’re the linch pin of the community.”
William’s visit coincides with the launch of The FA’s new guidance for grassroots coaches and managers, distributed to FA affiliated adult clubs. The leaflet includes advice on how to spot mental health issues in players and how best to help them.
A spokesman said the campaign would “use the influence and popularity of football to show the nation that mental health is just as important as physical health.
“It will support the important work which is already taking place across the UK to end the stigma surrounding mental health, and will strive to raise awareness, spark conversation and signpost support for those in need.”