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Duke demands action to tackle ‘outrageous’ racism during football club visit

William spoke with some of the young men who had benefited from the initiative.

Duke of Cambridge during his visit to Hendon FC (Tim Whitby/PA)
Duke of Cambridge during his visit to Hendon FC (Tim Whitby/PA)

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

The Duke of Cambridge has highlighted the importance of tackling racism and improving mental health in football during a visit to a north London football club.

William said racist abuse recently directed at Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Inter Milan player Romelu Lukaku was “outrageous”, adding that he was “fed up” with the issue.

The duke, president of the Football Association (FA), made the comments as he met with staff, coaches and fans at Hendon FC on Friday to learn about their mental health outreach activities.

During a conversation with coaches he highlighted how abuse might be a difficult issue for players to discuss and that racism needed to be tackled.

He said: “People are now talking a little bit about mental health issues but I imagine talking about racism is still quite a difficult subject, especially when it’s happening in such a public fashion with Premier League matches or Champions League.”

The duke added: “We’ve got to do something about it. I’m fed up with it. I’m so bored of it.”

Despite saying the issue “kind of felt like it was getting under control here, it got better”, the duke admitted recent incidents of abuse made it feel like “we’re back there”.

Hendon FC, which plays in the Southern League Premier Division South, the seventh tier of English football, works in partnership with the Brent Early Intervention Service to provide people facing mental health challenges access to its training facilities.

A group of young people have formed Hendon FC Mental Health team and now take part in specially tailored weekly training sessions at the club.

As a match played in the background, the duke spoke with some of the young men who had benefited from the initiative.

Afterwards, Jermaine, 24, a local hospital inpatient, said there had been a “big change” in his well-being since becoming involved in the programme.

“I’ve developed a lot physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said.

“It’s made me more stable and given me more courage to succeed in what I want to do.

“It’s good to bond with new people and mix with people who are going through the same situation. It’s good to learn from people and help each other.”

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The Duke of Cambridge during his visit to Hendon FC (Tim Whitby/PA)

Another programme participant Jahanzeb, 21, who has been diagnosed with psychosis and lives five minutes away from the club, said he used to live a more “secluded” and “closed” life.

“I was at home a lot, I didn’t want to get out of the house,” he said.

But after two years on the programme, he now feels more “active” and “social”.

He added: “I feel like I’m more part of society now, before I was a bit bed bound, lazy. It’s give me hope, motivation and confidence.”

The duke’s visit is part of efforts to promote the new Heads Up campaign, a joint initiative from the FA and the Heads Together charity, which seeks to raise awareness and encourage conversations around mental health – particularly among men.

William’s visit to Hendon also coincides with the launch of new FA guidance for football coaches and managers to help them identify and provide support to players facing mental health issues.

The duke spoke with some coaches working at the club and broached the subject of racism in football.

He acknowledged the impact such behaviour also had on mental health and vowed to help tackle the issue.

The duke noted racism was an issue both in the UK and in Europe, and was
heard describing the treatment of Abraham and Lukaku as “outrageous”.

He said: “Heads Up is about mental health but we are going to start doing stuff on racism as well because it is affecting mental health.”

“Not just the players but also fans.”

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Duke of Cambridge speaks to Rob Morris, co-owner of Silver Jubilee Park and Hon Vice President of Hendon FC (Tim Whitby/PA)

Darren Smith, who uses Hendon’s facilities to run education programmes from the University Campus of Football Business (UCFB), said the issue of racism in football was “huge”.

“It went quiet, but it never went away,” he said, highlighting the way some abusers used anonymous social media accounts to “not be accountable”.

Mr Smith added: “It can’t go untouched, we need to do something about it, because football should be for all, and for certain groups to feel they are not welcome is not right.

“It has an impact not only on mental health but the aspirations of our young people.”

He said: “I have a lot of students that are from minority groups, its stressful going through a degree but also what happens at the end? Am I going to be accepted into the football industry?”

Asked if he felt the duke took tackling the issue seriously, he said: “100%. It sounds like he wants to take it further, which is great, we need more public figures, people with power or positions to take it forward.”

The mental health outreach project at Hendon has been driven by Richard Hay, a support worker for Brent mental health services, who saw the need to find new ways to boost the wellbeing of the people he works with.

He said: “I felt the need to create this programme to take tackle the physical health concerns and tackle the apathy and lack of motivation, to engage them in meaningful activities.”

Mr Hay said participants had found their sleep and stamina improve alongside a reduction in their mental health symptoms.

“This programme breaks down the stigma within the group itself,” he added.

“They needed to have each other and that respect to create some kind of normality.”

“Their health and mental state has improved big time,” he said.

Mr Hay said the duke as “very encouraging” and “caring” as he met with project users and their carers on the pitch.

“He comes across very open and understanding about mental health issues,” he said.

“One of the mother’s got upset and he was very comforting, he was very warm.”

Ahead of the duke’s arrival, fans and staff members took photos of the FA cup sat in the small clubroom.

Hendon are due to take on Little Common in the FA Cup first qualifying round on Saturday.

Another crucial supporter of the mental health project, which launched in 2017, is club vice-president Robert Morris.

“These are all people seriously affected by mental health,” Mr Morris said, who is also co-owner of its ground at Silver Jubilee Park.

“Some have psychosis, some of them hallucinate, some of them self harm, some can’t even get out of bed in the morning.”

He said playing football allowed people to “forget about everything”, and some project participants had already gone on to full-time employment or education.

“We’re now starting to see them socialise, they are in Whatsapp groups together and we’re now seeing some of the older members starting to mentor the newer people, they are starting to help each other which is absolutely amazing.”

Mr Morris said the club had a “huge sense of pride” in the project, adding: “We’re trying to break down the barriers, we don’t want any stigma here, we want everyone to feel safe.”

“There’s something nice happening here, something rather wonderful, and the community and the fans are buying into it.”

PA

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