Prince William and David Beckham team up to make football 'mentally healthy'

Rhiannon Mills, royal correspondent
·3-min read

The Duke of Cambridge is hoping a declaration signed by the football family to create a "mentally healthy culture" will send a clear message to millions of fans.

Prince William's Royal Foundation has been the driving force behind the document signed by governing bodies, leagues and organisations from across UK football.

William said that players, managers, officials and staff now have a "collective game plan" to tackle the issue.

He is particularly concerned about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people's mental health.

In a video to mark the Mentally Healthy Football Declaration, William said: "I'm delighted to announce that today the entire football system across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has united around a common goal, to develop a mentally healthy culture across the game by signing a landmark Mentally Healthy Football Declaration.

"Football is a team sport and, for the first time, there is a collective game plan to make mental health the top part in the game."

In another video call William spoke to former England captain David Beckham, England Women's captain Steph Houghton, Aston Villa player Tyrone Mings, Crystal Palace's Andros Townsend and Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti.

During the call, they spoke about their own experiences of dealing with challenges during their footballing careers, and the importance of reaching out for support.

Beckham, 45, said: "I made a mistake in '98 [getting sent off versus Argentina in the World Cup] and the reaction at the time was pretty brutal.

"If social media was around when I was going through that time, it would have been a whole different story. But I was lucky, I had a support system within Manchester United, the manager, and obviously family.

"But did I feel it was okay at the time to go to someone and say I need help? No, because it was a different era, and I just felt that I had to keep it all in and deal with it myself.

"Whereas now I'm the one preaching to my kids and to other kids that I talk to out there that it's really important to talk. We all know now that it's okay not to be okay, and it's okay to say that. It's okay to come out and say I need help."

William, who is president of the Football Association, said in the launch video that the aim of the declaration was to create a culture where everyone in football is "encouraged to stay on top of their mental fitness, just as they do their physical fitness".

He wants speaking about a problem to be seen as a sign of strength.

He added: "Not only will this benefit future generations who work and play within the game, but it will also send a clear message to football's millions of fans about the importance of mental health."

The short film also shows senior leaders from across football signing the declaration during a video call with the duke earlier this month.

The declaration has been signed by chief executive officers and chairs from across football, including the FA, the Premier League, the English Football League, the Irish, Scottish and Welsh football associations, the League Managers Association, the Professional Footballers' Association and organisations representing the professional women's game.

In the declaration, they say: "Now, more than ever, is the time for us to support each other and for all parts of society to prioritise mental health.

"We will do everything we can to play our part in this and help make football a 'mentally healthy' environment, now and in the future."

It follows on from William's Heads Up initiative which has been encouraging football fans to talk about issues in their lives and support others.

The FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea is being staged on Saturday and has been renamed the Heads Up FA Cup Final in recognition of the initiative.