Walking football has changed this Ramsgate dad’s life following a mental health breakdown

Walking football has changed Alan's life Photo Cemanthe McKenzie

This week (May 8-14) in Mental Health Awareness Week. It is coordinated by the Mental Health Foundation and the theme is “Surviving or Thriving’.

A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of people say they have experienced a mental health problem.

More than four in 10 people say they have experienced depression and more than a quarter of people say they have experienced panic attacks.

But there is help out there – in many different forms.

The Isle of Thanet News spoke to Ramsgate dad Alan Austin about his experience and how the Bay City Strollers walking football team has changed his life:

Alan’s story

A lifetime of being bullied at school and then in the workplace and the suicide of his brother drove Ramsgate dad-of-two Alan Austin to a mental health breakdown.

The former admin worker says his therapist described the process as “being born with a rucksack, that fills up as you go through life until it can’t take any more and explodes.”

“That’s what happened to me,” said Alan.

It was 2010 when things came to a head. Alan’s brother David had committed suicide in 1991 and Alan was the last person to speak to him.

Then there was persistent bullying.

‘Maybe my face just doesn’t fit’

Alan said: “I was bullied from the age of six at school and it just went on from there.

“I never told my parents, I would just get my mark at school when I was older and then bunk off. Then I was bullied at every job I ever had. Maybe my face just doesn’t fit.

“In 2010 I had the breakdown. I just shut down. I lost a lot of weight and was skin and bone.

Photo Cemanthe McKenzie

“I wasn’t sleeping and I didn’t really leave the house for five years.

“It was hard for my family, my wife Diane and the kids didn’t really understand what was going on.

“I had been outgoing and then shut down completely. I didn’t really talk to anyone, I’d lose my temper a lot.

“I used to be a referee doing kids games at Monkton and our matches would always run longest because I’d chat to the parents and kids at halftime and afterwards but then I stopped doing that and would just go straight home. In the end, I stopped ref-fing altogether.”

‘Dragged back down’

In 2011 Alan’s mum Peggy died after battling cancer. The following year his aunt lost her fight with the same disease.

Alan said: “My mum was the only one I could really talk to about how I was feeling. Between 2011 and 2013 there were four deaths in the family so every time I felt a bit better I got dragged back down.”

Walking football

In 2015 Alan was to find a break-through. He visited his doctor at The Grange and it was suggested he try a walking football team to help with diabetes and to get him back mixing with people.

The 52-year-old said: “I thought, ‘I can’t spend my life indoors. So, I looked on the internet and found a club in Margate and then I found the Bay City Strollers who answered me straight away.

Photo Cemanthe McKenzie

“They invited me down to BayPoint and I haven’t looked back since.

“I was shy for the first year but gradually I got better and better.

“I still have bad days but I’m having a lot of better days. If it wasn’t for this team I don’t know where I’d be now”

Life on the other side

Since joining the Bay City Strollers team, which meets at BayPoint every Monday from 7pm to 8pm, Alan has won a highly commended honour in the Thanet Sports Awards for disability player of the year – he was nominated by the club.

Photo Cemanthe McKenzie

He has also appeared on Transworld Sport in a programme about wellbeing, he is playing in a charity match organised by Charlton Athletic in aid of Prostate Cancer on Saturday and has organised this Sunday’s charity match in memory of former Ramsgate FC player and fireman Dave Bambridge.

Alan said: “Dave passed away in 2009 but I didn’t know about it until the end of last year because of what I was going through.

“We played together at Ramsgate, I was on reserves and Dave was reserves and first team back in the 90s.

“It was really nice to get an email from one of Dave’s sisters saying how touched she was that we had named the tournament trophy after him.

“When I came up with the idea I contacted Dave’s wife Mel and she agreed to it and so did the Bay City Strollers. I only expected to get six or seven teams but we have 21. I thought we’d maybe have 6 people from the Strollers and we have 24 who want to play!

“Dave’s mum and other sister will be at the match and there will be about 200 players and then all the people watching.”

Alan is also taking the plunge back into work. He starts as a volunteer at Ramsgate’s British Heart Foundation shop tomorrow (May 10) working three days a week.

He said: “I feel well enough to give it a go.”

‘Give it a go’

Photo Cemanthe McKenzie


And for people who may be in a situation similar to Alan’s, he says get in contact with the team.

He said: “Give it a go. It’s a friendly club. The first time I turned up everyone made me feel welcome. When I have a bad day and do not go training I get emails and calls to see if I am ok, whether I need to talk.”

The Bay City Strollers team is run by coach John McKellar, from Charlton Athletic.

Photo Cemanthe McKenzie

John said: “It’s a very social club, we have events, quizzes, away days.

“We help lots of people, some with diabetes, others come to build up their fitness, some for the social side.

“We do half an hour of drills and skills and half an hour of match play, it’s all about being a team.”

Find the Bay City Strollers on facebook or on the website.

Click here for full details of the Dave Bambridge Memorial Cup tournament

All photos by Cemanthe McKenzie of Lemon Feather Photography