Pleasance show Result hopes to tackle depression within football
- Credit: Archant
A new show at the Pleasance is raising awareness of mental health issues among young footballers. its co-director Toby Clarke tells Alex Bellotti.
It’s easy enough on a video game like Football Manager to release a youth player – one click and they disappear into the ether. In real life however, where 96 per cent of academy footballers will not play beyond 18 years old, the process can often be a gateway to unemployment, anxiety and depression.
Through the work of organisations such as Time To Change and Kick It Out, Britain’s most popular sport is finally beginning to address the mental health issues which are estimated to affect one in four footballers at some point in their career.
A new play at the Pleasance Theatre, entitled Result, hopes to further such efforts. Centred on the dressing room dramas of six academy players as they try to earn a professional contact, it is co-directed by brothers Toby and Alex Clarke.
As the former explains, the duo’s conversations with those working inside football have suggested that although much still needs to be done, momentum is building.
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“Suddenly it’s not so taboo for sports psychologists or psychology as a profession to be injected into the world of football, which is a predominantly masculine domain,” says Toby, 34.
“Being a young man doesn’t mean that you can’t openly admit that you’re struggling with issues like identity, so although [Result] is set in the world of football, we hope that it can be associated with young men and young women generally as well.”
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Result has already drawn support from ex-England striker Gary Lineker, who called it “a brilliant idea… which could draw attention to aspects of football and mental health and masculinity that people rarely acknowledge or talk about”.
Even amongst successful footballers, depression is a common problem; the suicide of Wales manager Gary Speed in 2011 brought it to the back pages, while former PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle has tirelessly campaigned for more to be done following his own struggles with the illness.
For young players particularly, there is arguably an even greater need for sports psychologists and counsellors to help the vast majority of them through the life-altering experience of being released by a club.
“One of the most important reasons they need to exist more is to take in the fact that these young boys at 18 years old – when you have so much pressure anyway just being a young man – suddenly have everything wrenched from them.
“From the stories that we’ve read or heard about, it is about the fact that they don’t know what to do with their lives. At 18 years old, I was very fortunate as I had a great education so always knew I’d go to university, but at 18, to suddenly be left with nothing and no sense of direction, of course that’s going to have an impact on your mental health.”
Toby has a strong history of working with youth in the theatre: he is currently co-director on the National Youth Theatre’s Playing Up program, which supports and mentors socially excluded young people, and is an associate artist with Only Connect, a charity working exclusively with young adults not in education or employment.
Considering his brother has also worked in the theatre for 10 years, perhaps their only obstacle is that neither of them actually follow football.
“One of the writers turned round recently and said, ‘I think it’s genius, but also bloody stupid that the two writers are writing about football, but don’t have a clue about it.’
‘I can’t understand what it’s like to grow up in that world, but I can certainly empathise because of the contact I’ve had with these young people through NYT.
“I hope that Alex and I have managed to capture the authenticity of what it’s like to be young people, from challenging backgrounds, who can’t manage their emotions properly because they haven’t had enough room to allow that to happen.”
Result runs at the Pleasance Theatre until May 17. Visit pleasance.co.uk