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An extract from Rodney Marshall's new book - Only Connect

19 February 2020

Only Connect is a new book, written by author Rodney Marshall and available on Amazon.

The book details some of the club's work in the local community and over the next few days we will bring you extracts from the book.

Today's extract is very powerful and details how the club helped Andy. Read on:

Andy is sixty years old. He is a lifelong Chelsea fan and lives in the North East corner of Northamptonshire. If anything, Peterborough United has traditionally been his second club to his beloved Chelsea FC.

Until things started to fall apart in his life, he was a secondary school teacher. He kindly responded, through the Community Trust, to my request to speak to someone whose life has been positively impacted by one or more of the Community Trust’s programmes.

Here is part of Andy's story, in his own words.

‘Over the course of a lifetime, starting at twenty-one, I have suffered six episodes of severe mental illness. Normally the episodes would last for six months and I would then recover. The last one was very different, for whatever reason. I felt very fixed in my illness of clinical depression with extreme debilitating anxiety. It was an episode which lasted for five and a half years.

‘It was during this extended period of illness that I saw my life unravel. As it unfolded, my marriage went to pieces and I experienced a period of uncertain housing. My concern was that I would lose my teaching and trade union job, which came to pass. I was then in a situation of being supported by my mum. Then she passed away.

‘During this period of illness, I experienced periods of extreme crisis. By the time I was first referred to Northampton Town Football Club’s “Heads Up” Disability Football session at the Redwell Leisure Centre at Wellingborough, in December 2015, I had been unwell for over four years and I had made five significant attempts on my life. Previously I had always been able to manage my risk, but this was a depth of depression and psychosis that had proved too much for my inner Safety Plan.

‘At that point in my life – we are talking about roughly four years into the illness – I was completely socially isolated. My children were at a distance because it was not appropriate for them to see how unwell I was. I had previously had a wide range of friends, but I had cut myself off from them completely. I got out of my house, at most, a dozen times a year, for a period of two years. The only human contact that I had was with my sister who was my main Carer and support. She would drop shopping off at the start of a week. I had given up, as the mental illness felt fixed.

‘I was still dealing with suicidal thoughts every day, but I was managing them and had, I suppose, come out of that acute crisis. It was then that my Key Worker, Leila, suggested Structured Clinical Management. It offered a glimmer of hope. I started to go to a therapy group of about six or seven people. I thought that there was no way that I was going to make it, but I went anyway, and also met with Leila once a week for an individual follow-up session to the group therapy.

‘After about four months, I did not feel any notable change, but Leila said that there was a community walk which I started to go on. The other opportunity which came up was at the Redwell Centre in Wellingborough where Northampton Town FC did a disability football session.

‘At this point, I was barely able to communicate with other people. I had no self-esteem or self-confidence and I could barely problem solve. The depression was still enormous. At the time I went along to the session for the first time, my anxiety levels were huge. I was out of psychosis, thankfully, but I was a long, long way from recovery.

‘It was a huge barrier. There were perhaps ten or twelve people of different ages. I didn’t want to be anywhere near it, to the extent that my OT, Mariann – who was five or six years older than me – said, “I’ll do the session with you.” Russell Lewis was the NTFC coach, a superb individual with tremendous empathy, a calm manner, and a very understated sense of humour. I can remember the puzzled expression on his face as he looked at Mariann with her trainers on, walking out onto the pitch to participate, with me in tow.

‘Russell had a great teaching manner. I was well enough to see his coaching skills. There was structure to the session; everything was done at your own pace. He would encourage. He had an instinct and an ability to know when to have a word. That day it was: “Take it easy! Stop if you want!”

‘I was very ill, but I could see the people of the community that Russell was dealing with, including some with learning difficulties, some with Down’s Syndrome and some like me with mental illness. It was incredible, his ability to get the maximum out of everyone. You could see the purpose of the coaching and the ball skills. Then he would develop it.

‘I now have an emotional connection with Northampton Town FC. They are genuinely now the second club I look for in terms of results. I enjoy coming along to a match because I see how embedded in the club Russell and Muzzy are.

‘The club offers so much to the community in comparison to many clubs of much bigger means. It is a real credit to them and the part the Community Trust plays to positively impact on so many in the community through the power of football.

‘I know I’ll be forever grateful for the part Northampton Town Football Club played in helping support my recovery, and the part it continues to play in helping me to sustain that recovery as I continue to rebuild my life.’

Only Connect, written by Rodney Marshall is available now from Amazon, priced at £7.99.


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