Real People

“I’ve been suffering from depression for a few years now and though it’s been manageable with medication and support from people around me, there’s rarely been a time when I have felt in complete control of it.

Like a lot of people with long-term illness, I have good days and bad: my medication usually works but there are times when I feel really low.

My depression leaves me feeling physically and mentally exhausted and it is only with wonderful support from my family, friends and work that I have been able to cope.

As a lifelong Rugby League fan, I was really interested to hear more when my daughter, who had been involved in ‘Fit to Tackle’ at Warrington Wolves, said the club was getting involved in a new men’s fitness project called Offload.

I’d heard nothing but good things about Rugby League Cares and knew a bit about the great work that State of Mind do, and after speaking to James Howes at Warrington I signed up straight away.

That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Offload has made a huge difference to my life, it’s been inspirational and given me new coping mechanisms to deal with my illness and live my life to the full.

The ‘fixtures’ on Tuesday nights have been the highlight of my week and I know from speaking to the other men at the sessions that I’m not alone: we all love it and have benefited immensely.

People can contribute or get involved as much as they like: some people are happy to talk openly about their situation whilst others like to sit back and listen.

The presentations from people like (former Super League referee) Ian Smith, Phil Veivers, Paul Highton and Jimmy Gittins, who have all spoke about their own coping mechanisms, have been brilliant. The professionalism of James Howes has been exemplary.

In my working career, I have attended a lot of seminars and courses down the years but Offload is by far the best. It’s a revelation, especially when you consider the project is in its infancy.

It’s shown me that depression affects people on so many different levels and that it is possible not to let it control your life.

The big first step is having the confidence to be able to speak to someone about it: I’m fortunate in that I know my family and friends are there for me but there are people who feel they don’t have anyone.

Offload is a great way to begin to tackle depression or, for people like me, to better handle the illness.

All the team members look forward to the Offload fixture every Tuesday: we have learned so much about ourselves and each other through the power of Rugby League.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be involved and I hope it becomes a permanent fixture across the whole sport.”


For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write about sport. As a kid, you always dream of playing for your team, running around on a patch of grass pretending to be your hero. Pretty early on I realised I wasn’t going to be the next Steven Gerrard, but I thought why not try to make a living from sport in another way.

So, when I was given the opportunity to be the media manager at Rochdale Hornets, it was by far the proudest moment of my life. I felt like I had made it, and that news was something I wanted to share with everyone.

The first person I spoke to was my mum. I picked up the phone and told her the great news, and of course she was very proud. I went to do the same with my dad, but I thought about how amazing it would be to see that pride on his face if I told him in person. He was my best friend, we did everything together, and he was always supporting me in achieving my dreams.

My plan was to wait until the following week, when I would see him next. I worked – and still do – at a Wetherspoon’s and when on the late shift I’d go back to his flat to save me a 45 minute walk home. It also meant I got to spend some time with him.

It was a Wednesday night, I got out of work at 1.00am on the Thursday morning and walked to his flat, not forgetting to put the bin out as he had asked me too. I set my temporary bed down on the couch, waiting for the morning to come so I could share my news. As I got settled he came out of his bedroom to go to the toilet and on his way back he said ‘Goodnight son’.

Then it happened. I heard a thud. I walked into his room and he was on the floor.

I had to ring an ambulance and administer CPR which they talked me through, but I knew he was gone. He died in my arms, and took his last breath there. Even though I knew he was gone, I kept a glimmer of hope on the way to the hospital, but around 3.15am they called time on his life.

I’d watched all the failed attempts to bring him round, and when they stopped I left the room where he lay. I walked into the corridor, fell down a wall onto the floor and let all of my emotions out. I was screaming. It felt like an eternity but it was 30 seconds at the most. It coincided with my mum walking in, and she dropped her things and held me. My instinct took over, I pushed my emotions deep down and I ran for my younger brother to console him. It felt like the most important thing to do at the time, because he needed to know everything was going to be okay.

Ever since that day I have been doing the same, pushing my feelings deep down so they don’t come out. I know that isn’t the right way to deal with things, but I’m a bloke and we don’t typically talk about our emotions. We should though, and recently I’ve been working hard to get better at that.

It all came from opening up to my girlfriend, Becky. For some reason I felt like I was able to let go of all my pride and let her in on my feelings and emotions so easily. She could have run away from it all but she didn’t, she vowed to be by my side through it all. I’ve been open with her more than I have anyone else, and after pouring my heart out I always felt better.

I was still afraid of talking though, until I built up the courage to tell my mum that I was in a bad place mentally. I told her I would be taking steps to get better, and that I wanted to tell my story in a way I was comfortable. That way is through my writing, as it has always been the way I have expressed myself.

The first step I took was speaking to my girlfriend and my mum, which felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Then, I decided to attend an Offload fixture at Widnes Vikings, which just so happened to be hosted by Danny Sculthorpe. I’d heard his story before, and why it helped me so much was because he spoke about the importance of talking. In his own words, talking saved his life, and although I hadn’t quite reached the brink of suicide I felt that it had saved me from venturing down that path.

It’s hard to come to terms with the loss of my father, especially because of the circumstances in which it happened. The timing of it was also tough, as it happened exactly two weeks before Christmas, which makes that time of year difficult.

I’m also haunted by the fact that I never got to tell him the news that I’d landed my dream job with Rochdale. I have spent three seasons with the club and I am preparing for my fourth year at the moment. Although it’s alongside my full-time job, it gives me something to work towards at the end of every week when game day comes along. It’s tough to take that my dad will never know just what I am achieving. However, knowing how proud he would be is all the motivation I need.

I’m sure that I’ll never fully get over it, but I am taking positive steps to get through it and to better myself mentally. Being able to tell my story, through writing, is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and hopefully if there is someone out there going through something similar, this can persuade them to talk. Speak to one person and the weight will be lifted, and then you will be able to open up to more people.

It’s not weak to speak, it’s actually the most courageous thing I have ever done.

I have struggled with mental health since I was 17. I had a really difficult relationship with my stepmum and things seemed to spiral.

The low point for me came a couple of years ago when my dad died. We were very close and had a strong common bond through Rugby League.

When he died I went off the rails. I tried to take my own life by drinking the best part of a bottle of morphine.  It was a dark, scary time and I wasn’t in a good place but for the sake of my wife and daughter I decided I was going to sort myself out.

I saw a post on Facebook about Offload taking place at Warrington Wolves and thought I’d give it a try. It’s the best decision I have ever made.

Although I live in Warrington I’m a St Helens lad born and bred – my dad coached at Blackbrook – and it felt strange walking through the door at The Halliwell Jones Stadium for the first Offload fixture. Once the session began, though, I knew it was for me.

It’s not easy talking about mental illness but when you’re with a group of blokes who have so much in common with you it’s like a weight being lifted.

I have made some great friends through Offload, friends who will stay with me for life. They’ve told me that when I first came along I was a very angry man and seemed unapproachable. Hopefully that’s not the case anymore.

Our squad has set up its own Facebook group and are always in touch on Twitter. My involvement has inspired me move forward with my life. Things are now easier at home because I don’t get wound up as easily.

There’s so much variety within the fixtures and I’ve been able to take something from everyone. Ian Smith, the former Super League referee, has been incredibly supportive.

I was going through hell and speaking to Ian really did turn my life around.

He talked through the situation I was in at the time and together we found a way through it. We’ve become good friends, although that doesn’t stop me giving him some stick from time to time about his refereeing!

It’s also been great listening to people like Phil Veivers. I’ve looked up to Phil since I used to watch him from the terrace at Knowsley Road and it’s great enjoying banter with him at Offload fixtures.

I spoke to my doctor and told him about Offload. He questioned it on the grounds of equality because it’s a male-only thing but he’s impressed by the difference it’s made to me.

Offload provides something men like me can’t get within the NHS.