We are saddened to learn of the passing of former Manchester City academy player Jeremy Wisten. He had just turned 18 years old. Rest in eternal peace young king. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
Jeremy was born in Malawi, coming to the UK when he was just a baby, living in Trafford before moving to Wythenshawe three years ago. A promising defender, Jeremy joined Manchester City’s U13’s Elite Squad in 2016 and progressed well. He remained on the books until an injury forced his career to a halt.
Mental Health & Football
Football is one of the biggest and most influential sports worldwide. According to FIFA there are 270 million players in the world and during the 2018 FIFA World cup, there were 3.572 billion viewers (half of the world’s population). It is also one of the most profitable industries – the European market alone generated income in excess of £25bn (2018-2019).
It’s not surprising that for many talented young people, the dream of becoming a professional player brings the promise of a fast track out of poverty and challenges faced by their communities but the reality is that the bigger the dream, the harder the fall. Those from Black, Brown and other minoritised groups who dream of making it big on the world football stage, also face persistent wide ranging inequalities which increase the likelihood of being disadvantaged across all aspects of society and there can be little doubt that this makes them even more vulnerable if their dreams don’t come true.
From an early age, young footballers are moulded in talent academies set on a trajectory of fame and fortune, but are they prepared for the day they have to leave? If dreams, hopes and aspirations are destroyed with little warning or preparation for a different future. What happens then? It must be so demoralising and soul destroying. Each young player who goes through this process are high risk and extremely vulnerable.
The mother and father of Jeremy Wisten are now calling for more mental health support for young people both in the education system and in football. In an interview with Manchester Evening Mail Jeremy’s mother Grace said;
“I think that football clubs and schools need to pay careful attention to the mental health of their boys and girls. I also think boys or girls whose contracts come to an end or are released by all clubs need some care beyond that time. I think there is often a focus on this at the professional level in sport but maybe not so much at the lower level. Furthermore, it would be good if mental health education was extended to parents. I think this would help cases like that of our son. We want to prevent a family going through the same experience as us.”
Whether this young man may have become the next England record scorer, or a record breaking coach we will never now know. It’s clear that there needs to be a responsibility to prepare these young people for life outside of the professional game. Jeremy’s mother and father have thanked the staff at the club but his sad death has made us reflect and ask whether football clubs provide essential aftercare for players released from their talent academies and whether they recognise not only how crucial mental health awareness is but whether clubs understand the extra challenges that may face their young black and brown talent on return ‘to the real world’. Communication, guidance, education and support for everyone, at all levels must be essential.
As the Equality and Human Rights Commission has highlighted, an individual from a Black Asian or minority ethnic background is more likely to experience poverty, to have poorer educational outcomes, to be unemployed and to come into contact with the justice system. These in turn, are risk factors for developing mental illness, yet individuals from these communities are less likely to receive care and support when they need it.
Whilst the White Caucasian population experience the highest rates for suicidal thoughts, suicide rates are higher among young men of Black African, Black Caribbean origin who are more likely to experience a serious mental health condition. Talking about it can sometimes feel impossible. We need to look out for each other and continue to break down the stigmas of mental health.
Please don’t suffer in silence.