Charity football team Mental Health Muscle United and South Devon Football League club Barton Athletic played a pre-season fundraiser at Watts Blake Bearne's Abbrook Park last Wednesday in memory of two local players who tragically took their own lives.
Aaron Clark, founder of the Mental Health Muscle movement and manager at Mental Health Muscle United, set up the team in the summer of 2018 after the passing of Kyle Deakin, a young man from Kingsteignton who played for Kingsteignton Athletic.
“The motivation behind the team was bringing together the raising of awareness around mental health and suicide prevention within the football communities across Devon, celebrating Kyle’s life as we go and raising funds for #DoItForDeaks at KingsCare League of Friends,” explained Clark.
“In the initial stages, the team was made up of those that knew Kyle very well and those that had played with him or against him, whilst several others had experience with their own mental health battles.
"As time has moved on over the past few years we have been able to recruit a few more players who fully believe in the message and mission of MHM United.
“The game was extra important this time as our opponents Barton Athletic lost Hayden Smith to suicide also a few years ago and to celebrate the lads together in a friendly charity match made perfect sense.”
Dave Rich, club board member and second team assistant manager at Barton, explained how the club were determined to get a team together for the game.
“I said I would take this game on no matter what,” said Rich. “We managed to just about get a team together. Ringing around in the morning, we got some old Barton players who knew Hayden to come back in.
“There was no bar because of Covid but we put donation boxes outside. Every player paid something as did the spectators.”
Clark said: “Our fundraising goals are simple. We 100 per cent support KingsCare and the #DoItForDeaks campaign which helps support people in the local community of Kingsteignton and afar with their mental health struggles.
"All proceeds are given to KingsCare and allocated accordingly within the services they provide.
"Sometimes, we are able to support other areas of the community too but our core focus is with #DoItForDeaks.”
Barton also run their own mental health initiatives and support charities such as Pete's Dragons, a support group formed to help people living through the suicide of a loved one.
“We support them because it is the one that Hayden's dad is linked with,” said Rich.
“Barton Athletic are also running a football social night for anybody to come along. We do that on a Monday night at about 6pm-6.30pm at the Acorn Centre field. We have samba goals set up and it's just a chilled session.
“This is something we're doing to give anybody a game of football and if they want to talk about something, I'm here for them.
"I've had a couple of lads talk about their issues and it's helped them.
"We've also had people come along who have had mental health issues during lockdown and Barton Athletic have managed to get a third team together, just from people who came to that night.
"We've tried to support them as best as we can by giving them football and arranging friendlies.
"Barton Athletic's third team is now in the South Devon Football League.
“We are looking to do an annual tournament to raise money for men's mental health and maybe even for the Acorn Centre.
"Quite a lot of younger people go up there and couldn't use it during lockdown. They are struggling because there are repairs to do.
"We haven't got any dates as of yet, purely because of Covid, but the middle of August might be a good time.”
The charity event was a great example of the South Devon football community coming together as a family.
“WBB Football Club were amazing. Massive thanks to Andy Moore and the club for allowing us to host the game; such a great pitch and facility,” said Clark.
“Our referee, Andy Distin, donated his time for us which was great.
"We were also very lucky to have three match balls donated by Pro-Direct Soccer and photos by Al Macphee so we are very grateful for the support from all parties.
“We also invited, as we do for every game, Kyle’s and Hayden’s families down and were honoured to have them involved.
"It's always nice for the families to come down and see what we are doing for their boys. It's important that we have them with us as we like to think we are a family.”
Clark also spoke about his take on the current situation regarding mental health awareness.
“We are moving forward, albeit slowly,” he said. “We still very much live in a society with masses of stigma and taboo around mental health and suicide, particularly with men, young and older.
"More can always be done but we need education and awareness to become action.
“Behaviours need to change and we must learn to accept mental health exists and to be able to talk about it as normal conversations, not a secret or hiding from it.
“The mental health domain needs more funding, it needs more support and it needs stronger networks so that affective collaborations and partnership working can be created for long-lasting sustainable support and opportunities for those struggling with their mental health.
“If people missed the event, donations and support is always welcomed by donating direct to the KingsCare #DoItForDeaks website.”
As for the match itself, Barton, managed on the day by Josh Ballard, a close friend of Hayden's, ran out 3-2 winners.
“It was a great end-to-end game and we were quite surprised to beat them because we played a few younger lads with the older heads,” said Rich.
“Hard to believe but the football wasn’t the important focus for any of us really,” said Clark.
“It was the memory of Kyle and Hayden and we hope to have done them both proud.
"After discussions with Josh Ballard and Dave Rich, we’d like to see this become and annual event to ensure that work can continue on the football field to remember them both and raise some charitable funds year on year.”
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