What an amazing footballer Dele Alli is at his absolute best. One of the best Spurs players I’ve ever seen play in the Lillywhite.
My old flatmate was so jealous seeing him play for Tottenham as an Arsenal fan, he would constantly remind me that he signed him in football video games before he made the move to North London. He always admired his talent, even when playing for his club’s biggest rivals.
In a recent interview, Dele discusses his experiences with mental health in sports, covering rejection, abuse and his struggles with drug addiction with Gary Neville.
Whilst I found this interview challenging to listen to, it’s important to consider the challenges he's faced and their impact - although personal to Dele Alli, mental health affects each and every one of us. In sports, there can be challenges at all levels from amateur to professional.
As I listened, I became incredibly emotional as I was reminded of my own experiences as a rugby player and the dreadful day when I found out we’d lost a teammate to suicide.
After a league promotion, we’d been playing a tough game of rugby against a more established side in the league. We ended up losing the match and Connor felt personally responsible for the loss, he said that he felt he could have done more.
That wasn’t right at all. He had made so many key breaks to keep us in that match. I tried to pick him up, I put my arm around him and said that I’m always there to chat anytime, and we could do some extra training the next week so we would be back stronger.
When making dinner one night during lockdown sometime later, a message came through on my phone that left time standing still - Connor had taken his own life.
I think back to that conversation a lot. I constantly ask myself, could I have done more?
In Scotland, 17% of GP practices have no mental health workers or support. In Moray, we have none - too many areas in Scotland are facing this issue.
We need more mental health support in Scotland, we aren’t doing enough to help people with their mental health challenges.
I don’t want to lose another teammate, or anyone I know and love, to suicide.
It’s a pretty dire situation, but in the face of such challenges, there are beacons of light. People who go out of their way to volunteer and help others.
Moray Mental Health Football Club is one brilliant volunteer group creating a safe space for everyone to discuss their mental health and find support from other like-minded people. What an amazing team, and I am a massive fan.
In the months after I lost my teammate, an amazing person I worked with during my time at Glasgow Caledonian University also lost his battle with mental health. Jamie Shuttleworth was an incredible guy, with an amazing smile. We had some brilliant chats across the friendly rugby/football divide. He was always very open about his battle with mental health and campaigned on the issue publicly. After that horrible day, a group of Jamie’s former teammates raised thousands of pounds for the Movember charity.
Sports can be so powerful in engaging people, but we can do a lot more to help and support people in our communities. If someone at the top of world football like Dele Alli needed more support, then we definitely can be doing a lot more to support our athletes in all sports and at any level, particularly the next generation of young athletes.