Charity funding withdrawal

FA to deny players Sporting Chance?

November 24, 2009
By Mark Lomas

The English Football Association (FA) is threatening to withdraw its £50,000-a-year support for one of football's chief mental health charities, leading the Sporting Chance Clinic's chief executive Peter Kay to ask: "Will it take an English player's suicide to convince the FA that they need to take responsibility?"

• Lomas: Troubled players deserve a Sporting Chance

Robert Enke
GettyImagesRobert Enke's suicide has put the issue of players' mental wellbeing in the spotlight.

ESPN Soccernet has learned that at a time when the wellbeing of players is a prominent issue in the wake of the suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke, the FA is considering ending its funding for one of the English game's best-known support networks, which has seen the likes of Adrian Mutu and Joey Barton pass through its doors.

The Sporting Chance Clinic was founded by former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams in 2000 and is devoted to providing support for men and women who struggle to cope with the pressures and stress of professional sport. The organisation specialises in helping players with depression and addiction, as well as providing training and education for players and coaches.

The charity relies heavily on funding from the football authorities but Kay has revealed that, while the Professional Football Association (PFA) and the Premier League continue to support the work of the organisation, the FA is considering pulling the plug on funding.

"There's a desperate need for this work and the PFA recognised that years ago. The Premier League, League Football Education and Football League have all come on board and worked tremendously hard to help us grow," Kay told ESPN Soccernet.

"Ironically, the FA are in the process of deciding whether to withdraw their £50,000-a-year funding to Sporting Chance, when all around would say this is essential work. I would be able to understand their thinking were we to have upset or angered them, but our relationship over the years has been superb.

"Tony Adams and Sporting Chance have been consistently supporting FA initiatives on mental health, education and the disciplinary commitee, and for all of our endeavours to stop now seems absurd.

"The timing is incredible. If they think that a Robert Enke does not exist in England, they are wrong. My question is: will it take an English player's suicide to convince the FA that they need to take responsibility?"

The FA denied any knowledge of Kay's claims in a statement to ESPN Soccernet: "We are not aware of any plans to remove funding to Sporting Chance. This is not our understanding of the current situation."

But Kay insists that the threat of funding withdrawal is very real and that he has known about it for almost four months after being informed by a senior executive at the FA.

"He warned me in passing and I told him that we can't continue to run as normal if we don't get our funding," Kay said. "But he told me that, with Setanta going under, we and others would be left disappointed.

"Since then I've been trying to get clarification but he's since said, 'I've tried, but can do no more for you'. He went to [FA chairman] Lord Triesman with a letter that Tony Adams sent saying we needed to know what was going on and that we were stunned they were considering scrapping our funding. He suggested to Triesman that he meet with us but he said, 'There's no money - I've got nothing to offer them'."

Kay and Adams have continued to push for an answer with no success and all that is known for sure is that there is an FA charities commission meeting on December 7 at which the issue is expected to be discussed, although the funding is due on December 1.

"I have been told that we are not going to get it," Kay said."My predicament is 'How do I run a business like that?' Tony and I have had three emergency meetings. What we're looking at is actively seeking more funds from the PFA, who have been really forthcoming in discussing this.

"The Premier League have been superb in their support but, in the New Year, we are expecting to lay people off and we will have to curtail some of our educational programmes."

It was recently revealed that the FA were planning to spend more than £50,000 on flying David Beckham to South Africa in December to aid England's 2018 World Cup bid, and Kay says he is shocked that they would prioritise travel arrangements above work concerned with "life and death".

Half of the players Kay has met at the Sporting Chance Clinic have contemplated suicide, and he highlighted the case of former Portsmouth and Aston Villa midfielder Warren Aspinall, who "sat at a train station trying to pluck up the guts to jump in front of a train" after becoming addicted to alcohol and gambling. Aspinall is one of the charity's many success stories after cleaning up his life with the help of Kay and his team.

The PFA admitted it had also heard of the possible withdrawal of funding from Sporting Chance and said it would be disappointed by such a course of action.

"It's very disappointing that - at a time when not only addictive issues but also mental health and mental wellbeing have been brought very much to the fore - the Football Association are considering withdrawing from a facility that does address these issues and provide a very positive benefit," PFA deputy chief executive John Bramhall told ESPN Soccernet.

"At one time, it [mental health issues in football] was ignored. The attitude was that footballers who are training and playing every day, some who receive very good salaries, would have no concerns, and people questioned whether they could be in a position in which they're struggling with depression.

"What has been shown quite clearly is that footballers are human beings and have all the frailties that we all have and money is no obstacle for an illness such as depression, an illness that needs to be treated and the individuals given support throughout that process.

"If individuals don't receive their support, there's potential, unfortunately, for results like we've seen recently in Germany."