A new book is tackling the long-neglected issue of mental health in the world of football. Titled Match Fit, the book features candid interviews with players, coaches, and fans from all levels of the game, with the goal of destigmatising conversations about mental health in a sport that has traditionally emphasised toughness and stoicism.
Written by avid football fan Johnnie Lowery, Match Fit includes personal stories from high-profile figures like former Premier League goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, ex-Norwich City manager Paul Lambert, and journeyman striker Marcus Bent. These seasoned professionals open up about the mental health challenges they’ve faced in their football careers, speaking openly about experiences with anxiety, depression, addiction, and the difficulties of adjusting to life after retirement.
As Lowery noted: “The interviewees involved in a sport that has traditionally lauded masculinity and the absence of so-called weakness – can open up about their mental health, then so can anyone.”
In addition to the stories from football stars, the book also examines mental health at the grassroots level. It tells uplifting stories of how football has helped ordinary people manage conditions like PTSD, social anxiety, and depression. For many fans, following and playing football is a key tool in getting through daily life.
Experts like psychologist Dr Misia Gervis provide context on subjects like the sadly endemic issue of gambling addiction in football. The book also looks at the rise of social media abuse and what platforms are doing to curb the problem.
Match Fit covers the experiences of young athletes who go through intensive football academies but don’t make it as professionals, and the mental health resources available to support them. It also explores how an entire community rebuilt after the devastating 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, with football at the heart of their resilience.
While mental health problems have long been stigmatised in the hyper-masculine world of football, Match Fit aims to show that prioritising mental health is vital for success on the pitch and happiness off it. The candid stories demonstrate that even superstar athletes can be vulnerable.
“If the interviewees – involved in a sport that has traditionally lauded masculinity and the absence of so-called weakness – can open up about their mental health, then so can anyone,” Lowery emphasized.
Overall, the book seeks to normalize open conversations about mental health across all levels of football, from Premier League pros to amateur five-a-side players. If star players feel comfortable sharing their struggles, it encourages football fans and the public to do the same without shame.
As Lowery explained: “If the interviewees can open up about their mental health, then so can anyone.” By candidly confronting the stigma, “Match Fit” hopes to spark positive change in both football culture and society at large when it comes to mental health awareness.
Johnnie Lowery, the author behind Match Fit, is a lifelong football fan who follows England and Sutton United home and away. His passion for destigmatising mental health stems from his own experiences with depression as a teenager. With Match Fit, Lowery brings together his loves of football and mental health advocacy, producing a book that aims to make a difference.