Prince William Takes His Mental Health Campaign to Soccer Club in Liverpool
Prince William headed to the soccer-loving city of Liverpool to see the how the power of the sport is helping people in the community.
The 37-year-old royal was hosted by Everton FC on Thursday as he was shown some of the ways the soccer club addresses social issues affecting the area.
At the heart of his visit was the continuation of his Heads Up campaign to put mental well-being on an equal footing with physical health. He met some of the club’s first team players to talk about the importance of encouraging men, especially, to feel more at ease about discussing their mental health.
His office says that Everton is an “exemplary model” of how a club can help the wider area and William was introduced to three of the Everton in the Community’s initiatives: Stand Together, which tackles social isolation among the over-70s, a veterans’ hub that uses sport to support ex-service personnel and Tackling the Blues which focuses on children and young people.
“Everton has done wonders — it’s done so much for 12 years,” the royal said, adding that there was “still a long way to go.”
Prince William joined a huddle of top soccer players to talk honestly about their mental health. Surrounded by Everton premier league players, he heard that despite that enormous riches and privileges the top sportsmen can enjoy, they still faced the same pitfalls as many others.
Dominc Calvert-Lewin told him, “One thing that you cannot prepare for is the opinions of thousands and thousands of people. You cannot please all of the people all the time. We have had a tough time for two or three seasons, and we have had to help each other through that. Having that foundation helps us to get through it and crack on.”
William recognized this saying that there is “fan pressure, emotional pressure and peer pressure,” and said that his hope was that Heads Up will work across all clubs at all levels in the mental health space. “We have got to get passed the idea of getting as much out of a player and then move them on” and added he hoped there would be a more holistic approach to supporting players and their families.
Jordan Pickford — who joined Everton as a young man, leaving his hometown and first team of Sunderland — said, “When I arrived I was away from home, and I came to Seamus [Coleman] here and the experienced players and they helped me settle a lot easier.”
Theo Walcott, who in 2017 joined Everton from Arsenal where he made his name and become an England international, said that there was a good support network at the club. “We are an really tight team. We can chat about anything. We bounce ideas of each other and talk about day-to-day stuff.”
Coleman told William of a former player in Ireland that he knows who didn’t speak about his mental health challenges until he finished playing, “It was only when his career ended that we heard he had a whole lot going on.”
The prince said, “Quite a lot of guys have difficulties in their heads and are still great at football, Just think if you could cure what’s going up here [he pointed to his head] what an even better player you would be.”
Calvert-Lewin praised the prince for the stance he’s taken on mental health: “The subject can be a tough thing to talk about or it can be easy depending on the group of people that you’re in. He spoke on it very well and it allowed us to be able to open up a little bit about it.”
“There’s a stigma around mental health — as a man you’ve got to be macho and put it all to bed,” he added. “But the fact that if we can, as role models to people, start talking about it and opening up then hopefully that will help the people that we inspire to do so, as well.”
Graeme Sharp is a former Everton hero — a winner of the league with the team in the 1980s and was with the older people in their group chat with William. “It was fantastic,” he said. “It was a privilege that His Royal Highness came to visit. These groups are great but they’re just a part of what Everton-in-the-Community does. There’s a lot more than this.”
“He’s absolutely fabulous,” Sharp added. “And he’s happy at the moment because Aston Villa’s got to the final. He’s a wonderful man. Everybody who was involved in the program spoke very highly of him. They were singing his praises. He’s one of those guys who’s approachable and I think everybody feels at ease with him. He gets it and people appreciate that as well. He made a good impression — the older women came out singing his praises so he’s obviously done well!”
Everton is the blue half of Liverpool — the eponymous team in the city wears red and are currently the best team in the country, and are reigning European club champions.
Heads Up is running for the length of the soccer season, culminating in the FA Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium in late May. William hopes that the popularity of the sport in Britain will help engender important conversations around the country about well-being, and help guide people to places where they can get support.
Earlier this month, he said in a PSA that was played before every soccer match, “In life as in football we all go through highs and lows. We can all sometimes feel anxious or stressed. At moments even the little things can seem a struggle. But we can all start to change things.”
William’s 6-year-old son Prince George is already taking after his father when it comes to his love for soccer. The royal was seen bouncing up and down in his seat while watching his dad’s favorite team — Aston Villa — last fall as William excitedly explained what was happening to his son.