Heads Up: Kick Off A Conversation About Mental Health

Posted on: February 7th, 2020 | by Laura Murdoch | No Comments

Mental Health

For the next two weekends, the FA is joining forces with the Heads Up campaign to open up conversations about mental health. Teams from across the Premier League, English Football League, The National League, The Barclay’s Women’s Super League, The FA Women’s Championship and the FA Women’s National League will dedicate their matches to Heads Up. As the Duke of Cambridge said earlier this week, the campaign is “going to use one of the most powerful, unifying forces in our society – football – to start the biggest ever conversation on mental health.”

Heads Up

The FA teamed up with Heads Together, a campaign co-ordinated by The Royal Foundation, to run a season-long campaign about being more open with mental health issues. The weekends of the 8-9 and the 15-16 will aim to highlight the power of talking as a way to support one another. It wants to normalise the subject of mental health and help remove any stigma that might still surround talking about it.

To celebrate the launch of the campaign, The Duke of Cambridge took part in a table football tournament with male and female football players. The Duke played in an eight-person game with Watford forward Troy Deeney, Chelsea Women’s forward Fran Kirby, and Wycombe Wanderers forward Adebayo Akinfenwa.

Heads Up Weekend

Over the next two weekends, clubs at all levels will feature Heads Up branding throughout their stadiums, programmes and kits. It will unify all areas of the sport to get the nation talking openly about mental health. Every club will also release a short film featuring players talking about mental health and the work that they do to help their communities.

Mental Health Conversation Support


The Heads Up weekend comes out of a new survey that was carried out among 2,014 football fans. It showed that:

  • Football is the number one topic of conversation between fans and their friends.
  • Only 1 in 3 football fans regularly talk about mental health with their friends.
  • Male fans were less likely to do so. Only 27% of male respondents said yes compared to 47% of women.
  • Male football fans were over 3 times more likely to talk to their friends about football than their mental health.
  • 40% of football fans find it easier to talk about their mental health when they are busy with other activities. For example, when walking, running, driving, going to the pub, or watching sports.
  • 32% would find it easiest to have a face-to-face conversation at home with no distractions.

Changing the conversation

These statistics show that there is still some stigma surrounding mental health, which seems to be particularly strong for men. The Heads Up weekend aims to show the importance of being open with your friends and family. The Duke of Cambridge has written a message that will appear in every matchday programme over the next two weekends.


“Imagine if we talked about mental health as much as we talk about football…. Many of us won’t go a day without talking about it. And whatever team we support, every single fan, player and manager has one thing in common – we all have mental health, in the same way that we all have physical health. We will all face ups and downs in life which will affect it. It’s time we start taking our mental fitness as seriously as we do our physical fitness, and that starts with talking.”


Football brings people together in support of their team. So, why not use it to encourage people to seek support for themselves?

Football coach talking to player

A necessary part of the game

The conversation about mental health does and should include people in every part of the game. Understanding your mental health struggles and those of other people is an important part of coming together as a team. Leon McKenzie, former Norwich and Crystal Palace striker, says it’s important to understand player issues outside of football.

McKenzie retired from football in 2013 after an 18-year career. His career ended after he attempted suicide and suffered from severe injury problems. In a recent interview with Sky Sports, he opened up about how his injuries had led to his declining mental health. “I’d been bottling things up for many months, subconsciously thinking I couldn’t take much more, and that I didn’t have much fight in me.” McKenzie talked about the importance of simply checking in with someone and opening up about their feelings.


“It was interesting for me; it wasn’t because nobody cared, but as human beings, we have this reluctancy; if you see a man crying, that is uncomfortable for us. Really, all I needed was for someone to ask if I was OK. It’s so simple. I wasn’t alright.”


McKenzie’s advice for managers is to simply ask their players about their lives outside of the game. The game needs to be about more than just someone’s performance on the pitch. Keeping an eye on their mood and asking questions will help. Just knowing that there is somebody to talk to could be enough to give them strength.

Every Mind Matters

The Heads Up campaign gets football fans to think about their mental health and there has already been positive feedback. In January, the charity teamed up with PHE’s Every Mind Matters and delayed all matches in the Emirates FA Cup Third Round by 60 seconds. They wanted to encourage fans to “take a minute” and start thinking about their mental health.

A one-minute film was played in stadiums across the country. Narrated by the Duke of Cambridge and starring several big-name players, it urged fans to complete the Every Mind Matters quiz and get their own Mind Plan. This includes simple and practical actions to help you stay on top of your mental health. Over the Third Round Weekend, 87,417 people completed the quiz and got their personalised Mind Plan.

Football Team in a group hug

Join In

The Heads Up Weekends take place over 8-9 February and 14-17 February. If you want to join the conversation yourself then you can use the hashtags #KickOffAConversation and #HeadsUp.

To find out more about Heads up and its charity partners (Mind, CALM, Sporting Chance and Heads Together) visit their website.

If you want immediate support you can text ‘HeadsUp’ to 85258 to connect with a trained crisis volunteer. This is a service run by Shout and powered by Crisis Text Line, which is available 24/7. It is free to text from most mobile networks.

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