For thanks to city-based organisation Liverpool Football Therapy, the game is giving adults with mental heath issues help, hope and, in some cases, a reason to live.
“Football can be, and is, used to change the lives of adults who are experiencing poor mental health issues, whether that’s social anxiety, depression or conditions like bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia,” says its founder Colin Dolan.
“It can help people to become well again or help them to cope with whatever it is that is causing them to suffer. I am bi-polar and, while I won’t be cured, it helps me to cope with my condition – and that’s what I’m passing on.”
Colin, 54, from Mossley Hill, officially launched Liverpool Football Therapy in June last year.
LFT meets every Wednesday for five-a-side team football sessions at Goals Soccer Centre in Park Lane, Netherton, with a welcome for anyone experiencing mental ill health.
It already fields a trophy-winning team with success across the country and even Europe, bringing home the La Testa Nel Pallone Championship from Italy in 2019. (“We went in 2018 and got beaten in every game and returned a year later and won it,” grins Colin).
And it aims eventually to extend its service across the city, playing at bases in the south and central Liverpool before the next couple of years are out.
The idea for LFT came to Colin after he’d been supported in his battle with mental health. In 2012 he joined Everton in the Community’s ‘Imagine Your Goals’ Fitness Programme after being referred to them by Mersey Care.
“Imagine your Goals was a fitness programme for people like me to meet, discuss their problems, and hopefully get support dealing with them,” adds Colin. “I went on to become a volunteer with Everton in the Community and started travelling the country playing in five-a-side tournaments.
“After that we started our own EITC mental health league and Liverpool Football Therapy grew from that. For many programmes you have to be referred but, with LFT, you don’t. You can just come along, although many mental health charities are seeing what we do and referring people to us.”
Colin, who is also chief executive and founder of the Mental Health Football Association, goes on: “It’s not just about the football.
“We have a trained peer support worker who can signpost people to the support services out there and who people who come along can talk to; and of course people can talk to and play with people who have similar lived experiences.
“We concentrate on the four key areas for recovery: physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing. We have players from 18 to 68, and a wide range of abilities from people who have never really played to absolute superstars, but want everyone who comes to feel they are part of something special.”
LFT is planning to register as a Community Interest Company so it can qualify for funding from organisations like the National Lottery and Sport England. It is competing in the La Testa Nel Pallone Championship again this year thanks to a donation from Everton’s Seamus Coleman, but for most activities LFT needs to hold raffles, sell football cards and more to raise money.
But Colin is keen to stress that it’s the weekly benefits that put LFT into the premier league.
“It’s a well-known fact that exercise releases endorphins in the brain that make us feel better and, with football, with us, that’s whether you’re standing on the side of the pitch waiting to go on, being on the pitch in the middle of a game, or sitting in the lounge having a chat afterwards.
“People are surrounded by others who have learned to cope with their mental health problems and it give them hope that they can do the same.”
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