Andy’s Man Club – making 7pm on Monday the time for men who need to talk - Phil Hay
Everybody here has a story to tell and step one is telling it.
Or step two is telling it because you cannot avoid the conclusion that step one is walking into the room. The irony of Andy’s Man Club is that nobody can quite bring themselves to go. When they do, their only regret is that they waited so long.
“It took me five weeks,” says George Willshaw. “Five times I pulled up at the door and didn’t go in. I tried and tried, and then I did.” Hundreds like him know the feeling.
Andy Wilson went to his first meeting with stereotypical doubts in his head. “If I can’t speak to friends and family about my problems, why am I going to talk to a load of strangers?” he asks rhetorically. Alex Pattison drove to Andy’s Man Club (AMC) thinking he would encounter “a load of loons” — and then drove home smiling for the first time in ages. Carl Etherington kept putting the day off until he heard a podcast about the charity and bit the bullet. From there, there was no looking back.
George, Andy, Alex and Carl are facilitators at the Castleford branch of AMC, a charity set up to provide support and space for men with personal anxieties and mental health issues to talk. They are volunteers, all unpaid, and along with Ricky Fisher, the fifth group leader, they are hiding from the rain in the stands at The Jungle, the home of Castleford Tigers rugby league side and the home of their branch.
Together, they represent a certain demographic: Leeds United supporters (not that tribal allegiances matter) and ordinary lads in their twenties and thirties, with stubble, tattoos, big hearts and open minds. They all sought help from AMC before they began volunteering for it. Some of them still require that help. They have arrived early to chat en masse to The Athletic to explain what the organisation’s weekly meetings mean to them. The roof of The Jungle keeps the weather out.
Their stories are unique but the same, of men in dark places finding shoulders to lean on and shoulders to cry on. George, a former prison officer, spiralled into heavy alcohol use and suffered from suicidal thoughts after a traumatic incident at work. Andy tried to take his own life, for reasons he still doesn’t understand. Alex was in the armed forces and developed PTSD after an incident in Afghanistan in 2007, one he prefers not to discuss in detail. Carl felt his mood change sharply after he and his partner suffered a miscarriage. Ricky is a survivor of sexual abuse.
These are extreme pressures on ordinary people: a project manager, a maths teacher, a train maintenance engineer, a police officer and a gas engineer. None of them had met before AMC brought them together but they are good friends now and the connection they forged in Castleford is a part of their lives they never want to lose. “It’s Bank Holiday next week,” Ricky says, the one day AMC doesn’t operate, “so I’ll hate next week.” All of them have come to see the AMC routine as a blessing, a mental reset.
AMC’s mission was never specifically to reach out to football supporters or sports fans, so much as reach out to men in general. But bit by bit, it has tapped into that part of society, one where people might think men are most resistant to opening up; a part of society where outreach is sorely needed. The facilitators at Castleford want groups to form everywhere, to be available, as Andy puts it, “to every bloke whether he can drive or whether he can’t”. They want the day and time that defines AMC to fill diaries across the country: Monday, 7pm.
To continue reading Phil's article, click the link here!
To listen to Phil's podcast, where he speaks of his visit to our group, click here: