Neville Southall was a hero to me growing up a as a kid, he was the goalkeeper I wanted to be. He dominated the area, was the best shot stopper and played in an absolutely superb but underrated Everton team in the mid 1980s.
To me, he did his own thing, he was the Robin Friday of goalkeepers - the man who didn’t give a f##k. He was his own man.
Luckily, I got to speak to him recently. He is very forthright on his views on mental health, and is an ambassador for Mental Health FA (@soccer_4_all).
”Something I’ve been interested for a while, not enough is being done in football for younger players. Clubs get rid of players, they are moved on or transferred, it can be devastating news and can take years to get over.
”What I’d like to see is a pathway, say between local clubs at different levels say for example Everton, Tranmere & Chester. Three to four months before a player leaves there is hope for them at another club at a lower level.”
“Clubs should have sessions about what happens if you don’t make it, talk through the career path.”
Why is it not happening?
”At present we rely on individuals or individual clubs to provide support but at most clubs it’s sink or swim.”
So what can be done?
”For players and their parents this can be devastating news, like a bereavement people need to grieve.
“Some players are told by text message they are no longer wanted, imagine if that was applied to say your uncle had passed away, it wouldn’t happen! I’d like to see it be mandatory to have a mental health officer at each club.”
Why don’t they?
”Club’s wouldn’t, as it’s money they don’t have to spend.”
Neville is currently working in special needs education, he feels a lot of lessons could be learnt from their approach.
“Each child (as a young player) should have a learning plan in place focusing on coping strategies, it should call in other agencies as needed, but it doesn’t happen, it’s just a case of get on with it. Why not prepare kids for this, just like you would for an exam.”
He also has concerns for the future of football.
”Football is changing, sometime soon there is going to be a player who is going to come out as as transgender, how will this be managed?”
I asked Neville about how things were different when he played - here’s what he had to say:
“It was horrible to listen to, they were bloody good players who deserved their place in a team. Thankfully things have changed so much.”
On abuse from fans
“It was a wall of sound, don’t really hear it. It didn’t matter to me or bother me I just cracked on, that was my coping strategy.”
How about younger players?
“When working with apprentice goalkeepers, you could tell who could do it or couldn’t do it. Some loved it, some made excuses and didn’t want to do it.”
Neville gives over his Twitter account @nevillesouthall for a mental health hour to @hopevirgo every Sunday. She has talked about her journey and inspires people.
He cares about people - he is just like you and me, and is also a big supporter of mental health advocate Ruth Fox (@foxinthebox05) who is another inspiration to us all.
Let’s help each other by talking to each other. As Neville himself says:
“Everyone is peddling, just at different speeds.”
Take care, Hunty.
Johnny himself is raising money for mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) by walking all the way from the Madejski Stadium to Craven Cottage next week.
Please do check out his JustGiving page, which you can find right here.