Croydon’s mental health football team, Croydon Eagles F.C, is not just about playing football, but offering support to players through difficult times.
The team formed about eight years ago and was set up by Mind in Croydon as part of their Active Minds Project and now have more than 40 members who train regularly.
Active Minds promotes social inclusion, physical health and positive mental wellbeing through a varied programme of physical activities. These are available to those who have experienced mental health issues in Croydon and the surrounding area.
Michael Harrington, Disability Manager for Palace for Life Foundation, said: “The club offers people the opportunity to feel included in something that they love. Playing football, making friends and feeling better about themselves.
“Everybody deserves the chance to get the benefits from things that the majority of us take for granted. Football has been a major part of my life and others shouldn’t be denied the chance for it to be a part of theirs.”
The team play in the South London Grassroots Football League, which was set up in 2010 by NHS Mental Health Professionals.
The club trains every Wednesday in the CPFC Academy Dome at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.
Harrington spoke about how the club was established into several teams from a few taster sessions. He said: “The demand was obvious so the sessions became weekly and from that the Croydon Eagles team developed. They now have two teams playing in local grassroots leagues and various cups and tournaments.”
Harrington also spoke about the future of the club, saying: “The team ebbs and flows. Players get well and move to other things in their life. Work, volunteering, starting families. My hope is that the Croydon Eagles will always be there to help those who need it when they need it.”
Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed those who do not exercise are almost twice as likely – 44 per cent – to suffer with depression, compared to those who were exercising one to two hours a week.
Dora Crook, Active Minds Service Manager, said: “It’s very important to have groups like this that lend themselves to the struggles of mental health not only because they offer support but they also keep you physically active.
“It has so many benefits and helps people to build their confidence and form new social networks. We have had people find employment and start college due the support groups like this offer.”
Crook also spoke about how the team provides safe space, saying: “It gives people the opportunity to come along to somewhere safe and be with people who understood.”