It feels appropriate that World Mental Health Day should fall on a weekend when Manchester United’s men’s team have no fixture.
There are no points to pursue or goals to score as another hectic club campaign takes a breather, before it resumes again next weekend and continues to hurtle through autumn.
Today we have time to stop and think about life outside football, and dare we say it, matters that are much bigger than the outcome of our next match.
And in two compelling series on ManUtd.com and our Official App, UTD Podcast and UTD Unscripted, we have been daring to discuss some tough topics that would previously have been taboo for football club media channels.
If anything happens on the pitch, in the arena, under the floodlights, write about it. If something happens off the pitch, in private spaces, in the shadows, forget about it. That, at least, is how it used to be.
With a slight tip of the hat to When The Floodlights Fade, a documentary on MUTV that caught up with former players after fame and sometimes fortune had deserted them, UTD Podcast has heard from a number of ex-Reds who have had a challenging time for a variety of reasons.
But while their tribulations may have had different triggers, the featured guests have the same motive for talking about their tough times – to help others, among our readers and listeners, who may be going through something similar. To gently persuade people that they too would benefit from speaking to someone.
“I talk about it now because I don’t care what people think about me,” he said. “I just want to help – if there are a hundred people and I can help one person then I would be over the moon. There is always someone out there to talk to and that’s what I try to say to people – don’t be shy, talk to them.”
“We need to be there for each other more and ask, ‘are you okay?’ And actually check they are alright.
“I had a dark moment and I was lucky in the end. I don’t mind talking about it now because I want to help people. I tried to call it a day and ended up in hospital. Thankfully, I got through it. By talking, by appreciating things more. But people need to talk more. It [suicide] is happening. It’s real.”
Ex-Reds, Newcastle United and Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie opened up about his gambling addiction in another episode of UTD Podcast.
“It can be beneficial to people who struggle with gambling to see that I struggled with it and have come out the other side,” Gillespie told us. “My autobiography was tough to write but I’ve had so many messages from people saying how it’s really helped them. You want to be helping people.
“Mental health was not a topic when I was a player but I think now it is something that people want to talk about because of stuff that has happened,” he added, referencing an ex-Newcastle team-mate who took his own life. “Gary Speed was an absolutely brilliant character and you had no idea behind the scenes what was going on. So it is very important that the message is out there that it’s good to talk.”
Our UTD Unscripted series has also provided a platform for subjects to open up about their true feelings on all manner of situations.
Tom Cleverley, for example, can reflect on being a Premier League champion with his boyhood club, but can also look back on seeing his lifelong dream drift away from him and the psychological battles which ensued.
Andrew Cole may have achieved legendary status during a stellar career under Sir Alex Ferguson, but his post-retirement health issues provided an altogether different opponent – as ex-Reds winger Mickey Thomas also found during his courageous battle with cancer.
Rising to such challenges provides inspiration to those in similar situations; a sentiment mirrored by Eddie Johnson, who lived through dark periods upon his release from United’s youth system, but is now a key figure in the prominent Sporting Chance clinic, helping others through their struggles, one day at a time.
And if it’s inspiration or motivation you are seeking on this World Mental Health Day – or just a greater appreciation of what footballers sometimes have to go through, when the greasepaint has been removed and the crowd has ceased to roar their name – then look or listen no further than the below editions of UTD Unscripted and episodes of UTD Podcast.