Hendon Town FC Is Tackling Mental Health To Show Football Is More Than A Game

I know nothing about what it takes to run a football club, but I do know a thing or two about depression. We've been together longer than the average Premier League striker's career, and from time to time, it's put the boot in too. So it goes.

When I heard about an initiative run by the same non-league club whose games I attended as a kid - before adulthood with all its issues, worries and woes - I was drawn to go back.

Currently fourth in the Southern League Premier Division South, Hendon FC might not roll off the tongue of the average football fan, but the North London club has made headlines in the last few years for a drive to get those suffering from poor mental health (more on the complexity of this later) to contact the club to get free tickets to league games.

Hendon Town chairman Simon Lawrence
Hendon Town chairman Simon Lawrence

"The broader initiatives are directed by the owner of the ground," Hendon chairman Simon Lawrence tells me. "Silver Jubilee Park [the club's current ground] is the driver and Hendon FC is the vehicle".

After investing in the club, Morris was pivotal in the creation of an 'outreach programme' which aimed to develop a number of youth teams and bring younger fans to come see the club's games.

It was through this that Morris came into contact with Richard Hay, one of the youth team coaches and a mental health outreach worker for Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.

Ultimately, this resulted in early-years intervention services working at Silver Jubilee Park with young people who suffer from various mental illnesses.

Hendon Town
Hendon Town

"I got in touch with Wembley National Stadium Trust, which gave us a strategic grant. People we're working with are all under Brent mental health services early-years intervention service, which means Richard Hay (one of the youth team coaches and an outreach worker) is seeing these people on a daily or weekly basis.

"We're engaging the occupational therapists. We've got clinicians involved; all the key people. There's a danger in us thinking we're the professionals, we know what we're talking about... we can do more harm than good."

Two often overlooked factors when it comes to raising awareness of mental health problems and providing support for those in need is that these conditions are multi-faceted and varied (I suffer from severe depression, for example, but that is a far cry from schizophrenia) requiring the same nuanced, hands-on, highly trained expertise as any physical condition.

Fortunately, Morris and his team took this this onboard, doing what they can to create a 'friendly' atmosphere for those who use their services, while allowing the professionals to get on with their work and advise where appropriate.

But how did the ticketing initiative come about?

Hendon Town
Hendon Town

Lawrence remembers Dermot Drummy as a star player for the club throughout much of the eighties. "He was an absolute legend, a fantastic footballer."

After retiring, Drummy went into business before returning to the game as a coach at Arsenal, Chelsea and then Crawley. He died in 2017, with the coroner's verdict later ruling suicide.

It came as a huge shock to those who remembered a charismatic and popular player.

Lawrence says he was - and is - always blown away by the quick-wit, social intelligence and humour of people like Drummy as they converse with each other in the changing room.

"If I'm in a dressing room, I can see the conversation going around me, but don't feel able to jump in and lead it. Having seen the speed of thought of people like Dermot Drummy, it was hard for me to understand how someone so bright and intelligent, a magnet for so many people, could go on to commit suicide."

Hendon Town
Hendon Town

In the wake of Drummy's death, Lawrence developed an initiative encouraging fans to get in touch if in need, offering free tickets to league matches in the hope that it may help in some small way, as part of a wider road to recovery.

"If someone is man or woman enough to stand up and say 'I have mental health problems, I feel depressed, I feel lonely, I'd like a ticket to watch a Hendon game... I'm not going to ask them to share their diagnosis or prognosis," he says.

It's been a long time since I was a Hendon season ticket holder; though I do vaguely remember Simon. I can hazard a guess that the club's on-field success means a lot to him, but it's clear his drive to get people out of the house and away from isolation is first and foremost in his mind.

Hendon Town
Hendon Town

"The thing I want in return [for the initiative] is for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say 'My name's so-and-so; you won't remember, but I sent you an email two years ago...'

That, says Simon, would be "better than the three points, better than the win."

*here is a decent explainer on the differences between mental health and mental illness.

Ronan O'Shea

Ronan J O'Shea is a freelance journalist from London who has written for titles including LADbible, Headspace, The Independent, National Geographic Traveller and New York Post. Contact him at [email protected]

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