'Booze was a comfort blanket': North East football figure backs alcohol campaign during Euro 2024

Spennymoor Town FC's sport development officer Matty Arnell
-Credit: (Image: Balance)

Health campaigners are calling on the people of the North East to reduce their alcohol consumption - especially as booze-related advertising ramps up during the Euro 2024 football championships.

A North East football club figure has added his voice to the campaign too - saying he found himself using alcohol as a "comfort blanket" and to "escape reality". Matty Arnell, 32, is sports development officer at Spennymoor Town FC.

Matty said that he started drinking in his teens, but it took losing his job in a gym to help him realise that something needed to change. He said: "Alcohol was like a comfort blanket to me, to escape reality – but when I lost my job, that was the turning point.

"I went sober for five months and now have a much better relationship with alcohol. Where I am now compared to where I was then – it’s like chalk and cheese. I’ve got an amazing job and support."

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Matty is backing the Alcohol is Toxic campaign run by the Balance programme in the North East. The campaign highlights how alcohol is a group one carcinogen and causes at least seven kinds of cancer.

The campaign has been developed in partnership with Cancer Research UK and leading medics. Matty added: "I think campaigns like Balance’s Alcohol is Toxic campaign have got to be shown to people. Seeing adverts about what it can do gives you a reason to think about cutting back.

Dr James Crosbie
Dr James Crosbie -Credit:Balance

"When alcohol becomes such a big part of your life, you’re not thinking about the long term health risks. But alcohol does cause cancer and no one wants to be diagnosed with such an awful disease. Working in football and enjoying sport, I think about my health a lot and looking back, I realise the hugely negative impact alcohol was having on me."

The new phase of the campaign coincides with the European Championships and comes as independent research carried out by Balance found that more than six in ten adults in the North East are now taking steps to manage their alcohol consumption. The same research found that 82% backed campaigns like this one on the issue.

Dr James Crosbie is Clinical Lead for Alcohol in North East and North Cumbria and works as a GP and Consultant Gastroenterologist. He said: “Alcohol is a group one carcinogen, which puts it in the same group as tobacco, asbestos and radiation. The fact is that even one drink a day increases your risk.

"Bowel cancer is already one of the most common cancers and worryingly we are seeing rates rising among younger people. People do of course develop bowel cancer even if they don’t drink – however alcohol is one of the risk factors and bowel cancer risk increases the more you drink."

Dr Crosbie said there was "no demonstrated safe level" of booze, but said that cutting down would reduce someone's risk. Official figures show that more than 3,200 people are diagnosed with an alcohol-related cancer every two years in the North East.

Susan Taylor, head of alcohol policy for campaign group Balance, said: “It is encouraging to see such a strong appetite for vital health information around alcohol so people can make informed decisions about their drinking – including understanding the risks. Only around 1 in 3 people are aware alcohol causes cancer – and the vast amount of advertising by alcohol companies and supermarkets includes little, if any, health information."

The campaign group is Balance is urging people to use its quiz at ReduceMyRisk.tv to see how their drinks may be adding up, find local support and ways to cut down.