I can’t recall exactly when I first read about the Blokes United project but I do remember instantly feeling it would be for me. Being the lazy chap I am (I can’t blame that on my mental health, I’m just genuinely a right lazy bastard) it’s taken me until around two months into the project and countless sessions missed to finally get involved. Below is an account of my first experience.
Firstly it’s important to note that I don’t drive… and Haworth Park isn’t close to home. After getting in touch with co-founder Chris he very kindly sorted me out with a lift. He didn’t have to do that. Neither did a fellow attendee who kindly picked me up on their way. Thank you to them both – it’s exactly the sort of selfless act which Blokes United appears to be built on.
I digress (already). We arrived and naturally, as self-respecting northerners, before anything could commence, all in attendance were offered a brew. With Jammie Dodgers also doing the rounds, that was me pretty much sold already. Some brief introductions informed me I wasn’t the only first timer. Out of the 11 in attendance I was one of three newcomers. A clear indication that word of Blokes United is spreading.
Chris kicked us off by providing an outline of where the project was currently at. Both FC and Rovers have responded enthusiastically (well done them) to talks and touch rugby sessions, in association with the two clubs will be part of Blokes United’s expansion. A meeting with City has also taken place (nice one City) and there is hope something will be announced soon. Thursday’s session took place only a few days before Bloke United’s first XI a-side fixture against staff of Humberside Police and details were finalised. I, myself was offered the chance to get involved if I so wished – so just to recap, I’ve had a brew, been given confectionary and offered the chance to play football and I’ve only been involved with the project ten minutes. Lovely stuff.
After this we moved on towards the real purpose of the evening – to talk and to listen. I’m not quite sure I had any major pre-conceptions going into my first Blokes United session. I felt reassured by the projects social media output that the session wouldn’t be too formal – and thankfully I was proved correct. We dragged out chairs and gathered in a wonderfully unorganised formation, akin to that of recent City offerings (there were 11 of us too remember) before some of the more regular attendees were asked for personal updates. From there the conversation flowed and fellow co-founder Phil asked us new patrons if the previous speakers experience is anything we could relate to – an ideal and non-intrusive way of prompting our first contributions. We were free to agree, disagree, expand or keep schtum and drink more tea.
As far as I’m aware no set agendas were in place with regards topics for the night but one discussion point became our relationships with alcohol. For example I shared that even after a night of fairly light social drinking my mental health can suffer in the ensuing days. No one claimed to be an expert but simply offered practical advice from their experiences. Later, the intricacies of holding down a job whilst suffering from mental illness and the financial pressure on fathers at Christmas to provide for the family were discussed. In addition to all this, time was found to berate those daft City advertising hoardings with the chant lyrics as well as discuss the pros and more pros of Alan Partridge (Monkey Tennis in particular).
To get a full flavour of exactly what was discussed (and how) you really would have to get yourself down. Conversation swung from serious topics to light-hearted ones regularly. Nothing felt contrived and nothing felt planned. I have personally tried other forms of talking therapies previously with mixed results. I came away from Blokes United’s version feeling undoubtedly more positive – I’m still attempting to put my finger on exactly why. Not that the reason is particularly important. It worked! Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions. Blokes United won’t cure an approximate ten year experience of anxiety and depression in one excellently foul-mouthed evening, but even if it provides me with two hours of relief once a fortnight it’s more than I was doing for my mental health last month.
I’m unsure at this stage as to what my future involvement with Blokes United will be. There is a chance I will simply use the sessions as and when I feel they are required – just as I would reach for the Lemsip if ever I was suffering from the dreaded man flu. Or maybe I’ll be involved regularly. The point is that the choice is mine. I can dip in and out whenever I feel like it.
I firmly believe that the stigma of mental health (particularly men’s) has been combated to a great degree. I felt no shame in admitting where I was going that Thursday night – I get the impression no one there did – those days (I think and hope) are long gone. What’s now required is men to be more proactive about addressing their mental health and be provided with projects that support – this is where Blokes United comes in.
The next session takes place Thursday 8th December at Haworth Park from 7:30pm. As I quickly found, all are welcome.