A new campaign was launched recently called ‘Head in the Game’ urging football fans to look after their mental health and talk about their struggles.
The brainchild of Dundalk fan Dean Arrowsmith and a number of his friends, the group have partnered with charities Shine and Jigsaw to ensure that those who need help get it or at least know where to look for it.
The foundation of Head in the Game was inspired by the tragic death of Dundalk FC videographer Harry Taaffe in July with a promotional video featuring a number of League of Ireland fans and Irish internationals titled ‘Don’t Turn Your Floodlights Off’ attracting over 200,000 views so far on social media.
The poem in that video was penned by former Dundalk FC hitman Dean Arrowsmith, nowadays coaching in Chicago, as his way of dealing with the passing of Harry Taaffe and his uncle Andrew ‘Tik Tok’ Califf who also died from suicide in 2017.
Speaking about its origins to The Argus recently, Dean said: “Myself and five or six others set it up. After the tragic passing of Harry Taaffe, people were rightly saying stuff online about mental health.
“I lost my uncle to suicide back in 2017 and nothing has really changed since then. It’s all well and good that we’re writing nice things and saying these things shouldn’t happen but I just thought action needs to be taken.
“We got together on a group chat on Facebook and just thought about what can we do. We thought about raising money for charities etc but we mostly want to focus on raising awareness amongst football fans and people involved in the game that you can talk about your problems. Basically we want people to open up.
“A lot has come out about Harry since he passed away that he had been struggling for a while. That wasn’t common knowledge with the public but a lot of people at this time, especially with Covid, are struggling because they can’t get out to games. Some people live for their Friday nights at Oriel. I know that personally from when I was involved with the club. I lived for Friday nights and the fact we can’t do that now, people are struggling with it.
“We’re trying to get people to open up about any problems that they may have and just raise awareness about mental health amongst people involved in football. Right now we’re primarily aiming it at supporters of clubs but long-term we’re looking at the broader spectrum of everyone that is involved in the game and everyone that is involved in sport in Ireland.”
Dean, nicknamed Pingu by friends, said he had his own mental health problems in 2013 and said it is important that anyone feeling down speaks out to someone.
“We’re just trying to start a conversation right now about mental health in football and just get people to open up and talk about their problems.
“I feel personally from my perspective when I was involved with the club in 2012 coming off the back of the Save Our Club stuff, I had my own problems that I never really shared with anybody. Once I finally did open up about it, I felt a lot better so I’m just hoping that what we’re doing in the early phases is get people to talk about their problems because it can help them feel a little bit better.
“I broke down probably halfway through 2013 in the smoking room of a pub with one of my mates. The two of us were struggling and we both started crying. Even just having that conversation and getting that bit of emotion out helped me massively with my own mental health.
“It’s about trying to get people to open up and talk to anybody right now but we’re available on our social media platforms as well so if someone doesn’t feel comfortable talking to someone that they know then they can reach out to us and we can put them in touch with the charities that we’re involved with. We just want to help.”
Arrowsmith said he was delighted with the reaction ‘Don’t Turn Your Floodlights Off’ had received.
“It far exceeded our expectations. I wrote that poem the day after I found out about Harry’s passing. That was just my way of coping with it. I presented it to the other lads in the group and said wouldn’t it be great to make a video about it so we just contacted supporters of other clubs and then I’ve a friend who works in sports PR and she was able to get James McClean on board. I annoyed the head out of Andy Reid to get him on board too and we got Blah Blah Studio in Dundalk to put it together. Ryan Duffy did a really good job.
“When we put it out I went for a run because I was nervous about how it would go given it was my words but I think it has now reached over 200,000 people between Facebook and Twitter.
“I think had we got 1,000 views we’d have been happy so for it to reach that many people we were delighted. Mike Treacy, the former Dundalk chairman, text me and said that video alone will help people so that was great to hear. It was the point of why we put it out.
“If that video can help one person then that’s brilliant. We have a couple of things that we hope to follow up on and towards the end of October we’ll have another couple of videos and we hope to do a fundraiser for the charities that we’re involved with before the end of the year. Hopefully then it will just go from there.
“I think we’ve kind of struck lightning in a bottle here a little bit because it is something that everybody has experienced whether that be personally or through family members or friends. It’s something that is not talked about enough, particularly in football circles, so we’re just hoping that we’ll be able to get people to open up and start a conversation about mental health in football.”
A website is planned shortly for Head in the Game but the group can now be followed on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook where various resources can be found.