To celebrate this year’s World Mental Health Day (10th October), the English Football League embraced their artistic flare and turned some of the country’s most legendary goals in to street art. It was left to the public to vote for their favourite goals and an epic collection ensued: some of the goals selected to be brought to life included Michael Chopra’s goal against Swansea United in 2010 and Kevin Phillips’ goal against Wolves in May 2007.
These phenomenal episodes in football history are remembered as remarkable feats of talent and celebration; now they stand as talking points in eight regions across the country, including Leeds Holbeck Youth Centre. Here, Eddie Gray’s impressive strike against Burnley (1970) can be found in mural form, created by Andy McVeigh, locally known as the ‘Burley Banksy’.
Just why has this creative phenomenon occurred? In conjunction with the Football League’s charity partner, ‘Mind’, the football league launched its ‘Goals Worth Talking About’ initiative in early October, designed to increase the talk around the subject of mental health. Each day, a new feature of street art was curated, culminating with the eighth mural on World Mental Health Day.
The chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, commented that “We hope that by harnessing the passion and emotion fans have about their clubs’ most significant goal through these fantastic pieces of street art, we can encourage more people to start up conversations about their emotions and ultimately their mental health too.”
Football in a holistic sense has been recognised as a platform with considerable potential to make a difference: the campaign highlights ‘how football is often a conversation starter’, which is hoped will facilitate crucial conversations about mental health too.
Joanna Appleby addressed the sentiment of the campaign, tweeting “For many talking about football is easy…talking about how we feel, less so.” This is not the first time the English Football League have tried to raise awareness of mental health issues. The #OnYourSide campaign came about as part of the union between the English Football League and ‘Mind’ and has vocalised some of the struggles faced by footballers. For instance, Joe Bryan shared his experiences in a video posted by Fulham FC, receiving overwhelming support from fans on Twitter.
This could not come at a better time. There has been a recent upsurge in cases of racist rhetoric being chanted in football matches, for instance Tryone Mings and Marcus Rashford being subjected to ‘monkey’ chants by some members of the Bulgarian crowd at the Bulgaria- England Euro 2020 qualifiers on 14th October.
The stress which is being put on using words for good, rather than bad, in order to improve mental wellbeing is explicit, stark and indisputable. These eight murals have immortalised some moments of communal pride in the football community but the deeper message is clear. As Charli Brunning from ‘Mind’ articulates, ‘talking about your favourite goal’ is hoped to start a conversation to ‘help to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.