Wigan has one of the largest groups of ex-service people living in the North West and Wigan Athletic are a proud supporter of this community, however many veterans can face a range of challenges readjusting to civilian life, including depression, poor health and unemployment.
Taking place every Monday night from 5.30pm-7pm at Robin Park Arena, Wigan Athletic Community Trust’s Football 4 Forces programme provides free football activities for some of these veterans, and aims to improve their health and wellbeing, as well as helping them to feel less socially isolated.
Football 4 Forces participants also have the opportunity to complete coaching qualifications and become volunteers for the Community Trust, while lifestyle workshops are held to raise awareness of subjects such as diet, nutrition, healthy eating and the dangers of drug and alcohol.
Colin Carruthers and Jeff Derbyshire are two veterans that both testify to the difference the programme has made to their lives.
“I’ve been taking part in Football 4 Forces for over 12 months and I’ve had some of the best times of my life,” said Jeff, 49, who left the Army in 1992 after eight years’ service. “It’s given me the opportunity to meet new people who obviously have a similar background to myself and it’s been great mixing and just interacting with them.
“The scheme is a way of keeping fit, but the big thing for me is meeting the other lads because so many of them have done some amazing things during their lives and have great stories to share.”
Since leaving the Army, Jeff has faced a number of challenges, including being homeless for a short while and struggling with alcohol problems, but his involvement with Football 4 Forces is now helping him to improve his health.
“I’ve stopped smoking because of this programme and have taken part in the Wigan 10k too, so the health benefits have been incredible for me. The run was something I didn’t think I could do so I was proud of myself for completing that.
“I’ve got a lot fitter and a lot healthier and my life is much more positive now. I’m feeling younger and fresher and I have so much to thank Wigan Athletic Community Trust for.”
Colin, 39, joined the military as an 18-year-old in 1997, but his period of service ended prematurely due to an accident. When he returned to Wigan he was looking for something to get involved in when he heard about Football 4 Forces.
“I came back to Wigan and saw Football 4 Forces advertised so went along to a session to see what it was all about. I’ve got to be honest and say I was blown away by it all and just how good it was, so I’ve been going ever since and haven’t really looked back.
“I often get asked what the best thing about it is, and for me the answer is I feel part of a community, and that’s massive. I can’t recommend this programme enough.”
Since joining the project Colin has gained his FA Level 1 and 2 coaching qualifications and is now working towards his Level 3.
“The sessions aren’t all about football though because they also highlight subjects such as nutrition and drug and alcohol awareness. That’s a big thing because a lot of veterans do come out and go down slippery paths, but this programme steers you into not doing anything silly.”
One of the main appeals for Football 4 Forces participants is working with a professional football club – something Colin is particularly keen on.
“I’m a Wigan Athletic fan myself so I love representing my club. To wear the Latics badge and play for the club in a veterans programme is a boyhood dream for me. Football 4 Forces really has been the best thing that’s happened to me since I left the military.”
Please email email@example.com or call 01942 318090 for more information about Football 4 Forces.
Mind are the official charity partner of EFL. With over 21 million fans attending EFL matches each season (and 55 million watching on TV), this partnership is a brilliant opportunity for us to promote awareness and understanding of mental health amongst football fans, and to help more people living with mental health problems access the support they need.
Together we are harnessing the power of football to raise awareness of mental health, improve the approach to mental health in sport and raise funds to deliver life changing national and local support.
Text FOOTBALL to 70660 to donate £3 to Mind, and help make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.