A new Mental Health Champions Scheme, launched by The Football Association, will provide advice and support for Essex County FA-registered grassroots match officials across the county.
As part of the scheme, Essex’s volunteers Adam Gordon and Gary Telling, from within the grassroots refereeing community, will champion the importance of mental wellbeing, encourage conversation and act as points of contact for any match officials aged 18 or over experiencing mental health problems, helping to signpost towards professional support services if required.
The launch in Essex comes as the nation prepares for Mental Health Awareness Week (Monday 10th to Sunday 16th May), with emphasis being placed on stepping up the fight for mental health. 19 County FAs now have a Refereeing Mental Health Champion in place, and the intention is to expand the scheme nationally during 2021.
The transformative scheme, believed to be the first of its kind for grassroots match officials in any sport, aims to create an open environment so everyone involved in the refereeing community in Essex can talk openly about mental health and be supported.
As a founding signatory of the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation and the Heads Up Mentally Healthy Football Declaration, The FA have worked closely with Mind to co-design the Mental Health Champion role and help tackle the stigma of mental health within refereeing.
Richard Glynne-Jones, FA National Referee Manager, said: "The mental health and wellbeing of people is more important now than ever, and The FA is committed to putting important steps in place to support our grassroots match officials.”
“This scheme will help create a culture that promotes positive mental health amongst our refereeing community, encouraging honest and open conversations and breaking down the historic stigmas to inspire positive change. We are grateful for the support of the Essex County FA in driving the scheme forward and we look forward to working with other County FAs on this over the course of the year.”
Hayley Jarvis, Head of Physical Activity for Mind, added: “Mental health is gaining increasing visibility in football, which is hugely encouraging. But, while the mental health of fans and players is now being talked about more than ever, it’s vital that we address the wellbeing of everyone involved in the game, not least referees.”
“They face a unique set of challenges that could affect their mental wellbeing. That’s why we’re delighted to be working with The FA and our training partner, Washington Mind, on this ground-breaking scheme to support the mental health of grassroots match officials across the country.”
Adam Gordon has been a referee in Essex for five years. He is currently a Level Six and continues to enjoy refereeing, hoping to do it for many more years to come. As a husband and father of two (one of whom, his daughter, is following in his footsteps and has now qualified as a referee), Adam has experienced the world of mental illness through some family members.
He’s extremely passionate about three key principles of mental health, namely: removing the stigma; encouraging sufferers to feel safe to talk to someone about their mental illness; building a much better network in wider society of help points for sufferers so nobody finds themselves waiting any longer than necessary for the help they need and deserve.
Gary Telling has been involved in football since the age of ten before becoming a referee, for the second time, in 2010 and he remains an active Level Five referee, Mentor and Observer. Gary has recently completed a degree in Psychodynamics from the University of Essex, which helped him to become more reflective and open up to others more.
He completed his degree whilst continuing to operate as Inclusion Lead at a primary school in South Essex, where he works with children who cannot always cope in a class setting, as well as supporting staff with any day-to-day issues. In all of his roles, Gary is an advocate of everyone talking to someone when they have an issue or problem.
Lukas Wood, Essex County FA Referee Development Officer, commented: “It is important to have a Mental Health Champion for refereeing as mental health is being talked about more and more. Having Gary and Adam in role it will allow us, as a County FA, to further support all of our referees off the pitch and signpost them to the services available.”
“I’ve got to know Gary and Adam well over the past few years, and both of them are very passionate about refereeing, as well as being keen to support all referees with their development. Gary regularly assists with the mentoring of referees at the Southend United FC Academy, while Adam helps with the referee appointments for the Essex County Girls’ League.”
If you’re an Essex match official who would like to have a confidential conversation, please first make contact with Adam via firstname.lastname@example.org or Gary at email@example.com. Details can also be found in the 'Referees' menu above, by following @EssexCountyFA and @EssexReferees on Twitter and by searching for ‘EssexFootball’ and ‘EssexReferees’ on Facebook.