Football team emerges from pandemic to help young men with mental health

Blantyre United was formed after Alan Dunsmore noticed the impact that lockdown was having on his friends.

For Alan Dunsmore, football has always been an escape from the pressures of everyday life.

Since he was first enthralled by the skills of Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho as a youngster, the game has always played a huge part in his life. 

The 25-year-old now coaches his own team, Blantyre United FC in South Lanarkshire.

From the outside, it looks like the average Sunday league team.

But Blantyre United was set up with more than just a love of football in mind.

“Everybody’s there for each other”

In August 2021, like the rest of the country, Blantyre was in and out of Covid lockdowns. 

Alan noticed some of his friends were becoming isolated and withdrawn.

Alan Dunsmore.

He told Scotland Tonight: “It was silly wee things, like you would be playing on the Playstation and one of them would just randomly go off and you wouldn’t hear from them. Even texting in the group chat, you’d normally talk all day, but then you don’t hear from them.”

Suicide is a leading cause of death among young men in Scotland – and men are far less likely than women to seek help for their mental health.

Having struggled with his own mental health since he was a teenager, Alan immediately picked up on the signs that others may need support.

After a chat with a group of friends one night, Blantyre United was formed. Alan says they were surprised by how much interest there was. 

Alan said: “We didn’t really think anything of it. We just put out the message to some people we knew and we went and trained in the public park, and we had maybe 30-35 people there.”

‘The difference is night and day’

Since the club’s formation, it has gone from strength-to-strength. In their first season, they won the Airdrie and Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League following an unbeaten run. The same year they also won a cup – and have since gone on to lift another. 

But it is the community that has been created by Alan and his committee that means the most to the players.

Kevin Springett, 22, has been with the club since its inception.

Kevin Springett.

He said: “I was struggling big time during Covid. It’s not easy to admit it and obviously at the time it was really hard, but I came here, and straight away Alan spoke to us about those things, and said if you’re struggling to let him know.

“I think because I was so young, and I didn’t think anybody would believe me that I was struggling, but I was. I didn’t want to tell my mum or my dad, because they’d be worried, checking up on me constantly.

“[But] now, I go to work a lot happier. Even in the workplace, because I know I can come here, if I’ve had a bad day or I’m struggling I know I can say to Alan. He’s a top guy, he really is.”

If you’re looking for support with any of the issues raised in this piece, the Samaritans have volunteers available 24/7 on their helpline 116 123, or you can email jo@samaritans.org.

You can watch the full Scotland Tonight report – Blantyre United: Tackling Mental Health on the STV Player.

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