Leading organisations sign Mentally Healthy Football Declaration after Heads Up campaign

Prince William hosted a Zoom call with football stars to launch a new mental health ‘Heads Up’ campaign after details from the new bombshell book on Harry and Meghan was revealed at the weekend.

The Duke of Cambridge initiated a declaration signed by governing bodies, leagues and organisations from across UK football to create a ‘mentally healthy culture’ in the sport. 

It will see governing bodies and leagues across the UK recognising that mental health is as important as physical health, and pioneering a ‘team approach’ on this important issue. 

William convened the call earlier this month with a host of well-known names in football, including David Beckham who spoke about the ‘brutal’ reaction he faced following his 1998 World Cup sending off. 

It comes amid the explosive revelations from Finding Freedom that laid bare the fractious relationship between William and his brother Harry.

Excerpts of the book – released next month – highlighted the Sussexes’ growing bitterness towards the royal family and the machinery of the monarch. 

On the new mental health initiative William said: ‘Not only will it 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. That is a legacy we can all be proud of – following a season we will never forget.’

The Duke of Cambridge (bottom right) during a video call, with 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

England captain Harry Kane gives his support to the Heads Up campaign as The Mentally Healthy Football Declaration is signed by football's leading organisations

England captain Harry Kane gives his support to the Heads Up campaign as The Mentally Healthy Football Declaration is signed by football’s leading organisations

Beckham, who is now co-owner of the US football club Inter Miami, said about his infamous World Cup match: ‘I made a mistake you know, I made a mistake in ’98 and the reaction at the time was pretty brutal.

‘I was constantly criticised on the pitch verbally. Like I said at the start of this, times have changed. If social media was around when I was going through that time in ’98, it would have been a whole different story.

‘But I was lucky. I had a support system in Manchester United and the manager and obviously family, but did I feel at the time it was OK to (go to) someone and say ‘I need help’?

‘I would say no, no, it was a different era and I just felt I had to keep it all in and deal with it myself.’

William asked about his job supporting his players at Inter Miami and Beckham replied: ‘Without a doubt, my role has slightly changed from being a footballer to now being an owner and it’s one thing obviously now being an owner of a football club, the most important thing to us is that our players feel protected.

‘The pressures that your modern day athletes and footballers have, are taken care of, that’s the most important thing.

‘Of course we want to be successful, but more importantly, we want our players to be looked after.’ 

The short film also shows senior football figures signing the Declaration on a video call with Prince William earlier this month, and also features players and managers reaffirming their support for the campaign, including England manager Gareth Southgate, captain Harry Kane, women’s captain Steph Houghton, Scotland captain Andy Robertson, Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis, and Wales women’s captain Sophie Ingle.

Prince William has spearheaded the Heads Up campaign throughout the 2019-20 season

Prince William has spearheaded the Heads Up campaign throughout the 2019-20 season

Following an unprecedented season for football, mental health issues are prevalent. Through the Declaration, which was convened by The Royal Foundation, football has committed to working together to continue raising awareness of mental health, and to embed an environment across UK football:  

  • Where players, staff, managers and officials are encouraged to look after their mental health just as they look after their physical health;
  • Where they feel able to spot the signs that they, a team-mate or colleague might be struggling and know where to access support;
  • Where speaking about mental health is seen as a sign of strength rather than weakness.

The Declaration has been signed by representatives across football. Signatories include The FA, the Premier League, the English Football League (EFL), the Scottish FA, FA Wales, the Irish FA, League Managers Association (LMA), Professional Footballers Association (PFA), Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), League Football Education (LFE), The Barclays FA Women’s Super League, The FA Women’s Championship, The FA Women’s National League, The National League, The Northern Premier League, The Southern League, and The Isthmian League. 

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.’ 

These organisations will form a mental health implementation group next season, formulating a ‘game plan’ for the first time to ensure the mental health of players, staff, managers, coaches and officials is prioritised across the game. 

The group will share best practice and drive progress towards the pledges in the declaration, which include providing mental health training and education to all clubs, and embedding practices which protect mental health.

Chief executive of the League Managers' Association Richard Bevan signs the document

Chief executive of the League Managers’ Association Richard Bevan signs the document

The Declaration has been welcomed by Heads Up’s charity partners Mind, CALM and Sporting Chance, who provided insight and expertise and will continue to work with the signatories next season as they take the commitments forward.

Godric Smith, Chair of the Heads Up campaign, said: ‘There has been fantastic leadership from every part of football on mental health this season and today’s declaration cements the huge culture change underway in the game. It is a first of its kind and an important moment for sport and society more widely. It comes at a time when prioritising our mental health and supporting each other has never mattered more.’

Spearheaded by The Duke of Cambridge, Heads Up is a season-long campaign between Heads Together and The FA to change the conversation around mental health through football. 

This Saturday (August 1) will see the ‘Heads Up FA Cup Final’ dedicated to the issue of mental health, which is expected to be one of the ongoing issues arising from the Coronavirus pandemic.