Friday, May 24, 2024

‘Don’t be afraid to seek help’ – football great Andy Townsend recalls ‘go sort yourself out’ attitude towards mental health

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The commentator told of being part of “glorious moments” with the Ireland team at Italia 90, including the Dublin homecoming that sent “shivers down your spine”. He also captained the Irish squad at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Townsend (60), who played for ­several English clubs including Chelsea and Aston Villa during a 20-year career, spoke about the stigmas around mental health in sport and the issues athletes faced.

“It’s something that nowadays we talk about an awful lot, but in all walks of life, particularly as a former footballer, it’s something that in my era we were encouraged to keep to ourselves,” he said.

“Any problems you had, you had to deal with them by looking in the mirror. Or perhaps before you switched the light off at night, you talked to your wife about. That was about it.

“It wasn’t something that you brought to the dressing room. It wasn’t something that you felt you wanted to necessarily share with others.

“Everybody had issues, problems, situations that I would love to have had the courage to maybe talk about and seek some help with.

“I’m a grandfather, I have two grandsons, and I think it’s so important now that people talk about any personal issues they have, any anxieties they have, any fears. I think all of that stuff has to come out.”

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Townsend, who has worked as a broadcaster and pundit since he retired from football in 2000, said he coped with the demands that were placed on him.

However, he added that there were situations where it would have helped to have “somebody around the football club that you could actually go and talk to”.

Success in sport was decided by “fine margins”, he said, with clubs now enlisting professionals who focus on players’ mental health and not just their physical fitness.

“Clubs are quite rightly encouraging their players to be open and to admit when things aren’t going quite so well for them, rather than ‘go sort yourself out’.

“That’s how it used to be: ‘Don’t bring your problems to me, go sort yourself out and come back to me when you’re ready’.”

Townsend said the advice he would give his younger self would be to “not take everything too seriously” because the sport can be a “dog-eat-dog world”.

“The sun is going to shine tomorrow and you will live to fight another day. Along the way, there will be bumps and bruises, but don’t be afraid to seek out a bit of help if you need.

“Life can be tough for many different people for many different reasons, but it doesn’t matter what it is, there are people out there now that can help you and there are people that can get you back up on your feet.”

Townsend was speaking yesterday as he launched the #TalkMoreThanFootball campaign with Three, Chelsea FC and Aware.

Research has shown 26pc of Irish football fans have never talked about their mental health challenges.

A total of 56c of Irish fans say they have experienced a mental health disorder, while 54pc would like to talk about it more regularly.

Two-thirds would like to know how to broach the subject, while 43pc said seeing well-known people talk about mental health would help them to seek help.

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