‘I was in a dark place’ – agony of footballer forced to retire at just 24

Growing up, football was everything to 46-year-old Brian Kirker.

But when, due to arthritis, he had to stop playing for his club, 22nd Old Boys & Ladies FC in west Belfast, at just 24, he found himself in “a dark place”.

“I loved the game, so having a doctor tell me I couldn’t play anymore was tough. I became depressed and started drinking quite heavily. It wasn’t a good place to be,” says Brian, who had to have a hip replacement.

Brian decided to become a volunteer coach at the club. “I started training for my coaching badges,” he recalls. “It massively helped me turn my life around and gave me purpose. When you see the difference you’re making, it gives you a real lift.”

While Brian’s own mental health benefited from volunteering, it wasn’t until more recently that he realised others at the club needed support too.

“One of the players from another local team was knocked unconscious at a match. His team had his medical details and were able to tell the paramedics about his medications.

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“We thought it was great, so we put a medical form around our club. What we learned prompted us to do more.

“They say around one in four of us have mental health issues and that played out in what we were told. We have 160 members of all ages and some were really struggling.”

Brian got in touch with TAMHI (Tackling Awareness of Mental Health Issues), a National Lottery-funded mental health programme that works with Belfast’s schools and clubs.

Now 22nd Old Boys & Ladies FC use football as a hook to get players to open up. “A few of us have done courses to become mental health first aiders,” says Brian. “We’ve realised that a football club is more than a football club – if we pull together we can make a big difference.

“Every couple of months we’ll chat to the teams about an issue like depression or hand out key rings in the team colours with suicide helplines on them,” says Brian. “On the back of our shirts we’ve printed ‘It’s ok to talk’ – it’s just an easy way to help break down the stigma." 

Volunteer in person, online, over the phone or even from your sofa

In the current crisis, volunteering can be a huge comfort not just to those who receive help, but to the volunteers too – helping them build confidence and giving them the opportunity to learn new skills.

In a recent survey**, more than half of the UK adults who were asked admitted that Covid-19 had negatively affected their mental health – but the same survey also found that wellbeing had been improved by helping others through acts of kindness.

The reality is that volunteering doesn’t need to take a huge amount of time. In fact, in the time it takes to watch an episode of your favourite programme on television, you could have made a bigger difference to someone’s life than you thought possible – and you’ll feel the satisfaction that comes from helping others.

This is why The National Lottery and ITV have teamed up to help you play a part in your community. Small acts of kindness can make a big difference. And even if you’re missing out on your favourite ITV show to help out, you’re not just supporting others – you can benefit too. (And, of course, you can always catch up on ITV Hub later!).

From helping out a neighbour to holding virtual coffee mornings, there are so many ways you can use your time to make a difference to help others, keep communities connected and reach those in need of support.

No matter how much time you can spare or where you live, there’s always something you can do. You don’t even need to leave your home – you can help out online or over the phone from the comfort of your sofa.

While it's true that government rules and restrictions mean we're more limited in what we can do and where we can go right now, it's also the case that many of us have some spare time on our hands which could be used to help others.

There is a way to give a lockdown lifeline to millions more people in this unprecedented situation – and it could take you as little as 60 minutes a week to make a real difference to someone’s life.

**Survey from International Red Cross

     

  • Visit howtohelpout.com for top tips, inspirational stories and volunteering opportunities to make a difference now

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*Based on figures from April 2019-March 2020. Players must be 16+.

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