A new book, ‘Match Fit: An Exploration of Mental Health in Football‘ explores the mental health aspects of professional football. My Mind News talks to author Johnnie Lowery about the book and its contents and explores how his own experiences with mental health inspired him to put pen to paper.
Background to the book
Published this week by Pitch Publishing, ‘Match Fit: An Exploration of Mental Health in Football‘ shines the floodlights on the stigmatized and much-neglected issue of mental health in the world of football. Covering a wide range of different subjects in detail, the book features candid interviews with players past and present, coaches, and fans engaged at all levels within “The Beautiful Game.”
My Mind News recently sat down to talk to the book’s author, Johnnie Lowery, about what inspired him to write the book and the various subjects examined within its chapters.
What inspired you to write the book?
Having written my first book about the team I have followed all my life (Sutton United) and always had an interest in football, I took my inspiration from my experiences as a teenager.
I struggled with my mental health, and I’d have days where I’d be very low and didn’t want to get out of bed. The adjustment between primary school and secondary school was particularly tough, which I feel I never entirely managed and never really adjusted to.
It wasn’t until I went to university in 2017 that I first really learned about mental health or even heard the term. My first book was written as a form of therapy in lockdown, and it inspired me to write more, as I really enjoyed the experience.
I wanted to write another book about football but also about mental health. Combining the two seemed to be an appropriate approach. So many people in the UK love and follow football, and I knew that if I could write a book about football and mental health, it may create broader conversations around mental health issues.
Through that, I realized I could help people learn about themselves, seek help when needed, and educate people about mental health.
Tell us more about the book’s contents and the subjects covered.
So, there are 13 chapters, each covering a different topic and each being interview-led involving various individuals from the wider football world. This book is entirely different from my first book as it relates to football in the wider sense, not just to Sutton United.
There is a chapter about the big-name players that play in the Premier League. Professional footballers, in general, face unique pressures in football, unlike other workplaces.
Most people have relatively stable jobs or in an office where they don’t face massive emotional highs and lows as in football. Whereas work for most people can be pretty stable, football is very up and down, and your career can be over by the age of 30 to 35. Then suddenly, you have got the rest of your life to worry about.
There is another chapter about managers and coaches who face similar situations, too. If you’re a football manager, the pressure on you can be excessive, in addition to dealing with burnout and potentially facing moving around the country or, indeed, the world. You don’t get to choose where you work as a footballer or manager, so that adds a degree of stress due to the uncertainty that this aspect can entail.
There are also chapters about dependency (such as with alcohol and gambling), and all are interview-led chapters where key individuals who are or have been involved with the game talk about their experiences with anxiety, depression, addiction, and the difficulties of adjusting to life after retirement.
Another chapter addresses the issues surrounding football academies and how historically they have been poor at looking after the youngsters that go through the academy system in terms of managing expectations and handling rejection and disappointment.
I also explore the LGBTQ+ aspects of football, as well as referees and their mental health issues.
One of my favorite chapters looks at the mental health benefits of football, whether it be playing in the park on a Sunday morning or playing professionally. There are quite a few mental health football teams now where those involved have experienced mental; health issues and who are willng to check in on each other.
I spoke to the manager of Grenfell United, where the team and the wider community help people deal with PTSD and emotional trauma related to the fire. So the book contains some really powerful and hopefully useful information.
What would you say are the three key takeaways from the book?
I think certainly one thing for sure that the book emphasizes is that it’s not a weakness to talk about your mental health. Football is traditionally a very stereotypically macho environment. It’s also traditionally been an environment where any perceived weakness is instantly seized upon.
That said, over the past five to ten years, football has started to view mental health and psychology in a broader sense differently. It is actually an area of strength if you can speak to the psychologist and get these feelings off your chest. If you can feel better about yourself, you’ll play better. It’s quite as simple as that.
Talking about mental health is a strength, not a weakness and that’s brought out by people from this environment. If people like Chris Kirkland, Marcus Bent, and Paul Lambert can speak about their demons for a book, then anyone can.
The second point is the idea that participation in football can help your mental health. You can play at any level play and enjoy it, and there’s always something for everyone. You could be a referee if you really don’t fancy playing, or you could do what I did and volunteer at your local club.
The number of people I know now that I have met through football is huge. Just being part of a community can give your mental health a boost.
Lastly, this book is how I want to spread the word and reach as many people as possible who don’t believe in mental health. Hopefully, I can change their minds and help them learn something. I want to try and go beyond the normal audience for similar books about mental health, so I’m not just preaching to the converted.
With football fans, mental health wouldn’t be at the top of the chat in the pub before or after a game. So, if I can present them with a book about football but with the threads of mental health running through it as if it were a casual bystander, then skeptics may engage with the book and embrace the messages and themes within it. That would be satisfying!
My Mind News is very grateful to Johnnie for taking time out to talk to us about his new book. Match Fit (387 pages) is available to buy on Amazon.
According to Amazon –
“Match Fit takes an in-depth look at mental health in football, from the Premier League down to five-a-side, in the hope of destigmatizing this much-neglected topic, with candid contributions from the likes of Chris Kirkland, Paul Lambert, and Marcus Bent.
Subjects such as the issues facing footballers after retirement and the rise of social media are placed under the microscope, and we discover how being a football fan can benefit your mental health. Seasoned pros discuss the challenges they’ve faced in football, speaking openly about personal experiences most of us wouldn’t associate with the glamour of the beautiful game.
From a grassroots perspective, there are uplifting stories of how people have learned to manage their mental health, with football as a critical tool to help them get through their day-to-day lives. If the interviewees – involved in a sport that has traditionally lauded masculinity and the absence of so-called weakness – can open up about their mental health, then so can anyone.”