Pete Sayers is the National Development Director for the It's a Goal! Foundation and was the original "Coach" when the initiative started at Macclesfield Town in 2004.
Back in 2004 as an overworked, stressed out Community Psychiatric Nurse operating in five local GP surgeries in Macclesfield, Cheshire, the last thing I needed was another initiative to get excited about following an invitation to a seminar at the local football club. Fortunately for me, out of curiosity I attended the seminar, which launched me on a journey that completely turned my working life around and has given me the opportunity to travel, to meet some fantastic people and to indulge the two major passions outside my family, namely football and mental health issues.
The idea behind It's a Goal! is a simple one based on simple generalisations and was prompted by some disturbing figures published by the Government and the World Health Organisation which revealed that young men were committing suicide in disproportionately high numbers. Further examination showed that men, in general terms, were not using the facilities open to them in anywhere near the same way or the same numbers as women, reinforcing the old myth that "men don't talk", particularly about emotional matters.
So if guys weren't using the facilities maybe the facilities were not right for the guys. With this in mind, and presuming that men might feel less stigmatised and more comfortable within football stadiums, I started to invite men who might be depressed or anxious to a tailor made programme using football analogy and metaphor at Macclesfield Town FC, who were kind enough to allow me use of their beautiful facilities. The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation initially sponsored the project, and Sir Bobby Charlton (above), in his role as one of their ambassadors, became passionately interested in the work going on and helped us base a project at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.
That was back in 2006 and I feel that the response since that time has been nothing short of phenomenal. Since creating a franchise for It's a Goal! the word has spread further and following seven fantastic launches that took place in 2011 we are at time of writing, successfully operating in 13 football clubs overall..
My role has changed from delivery of the programme (the Coach) to getting it based in as many clubs as possible, and for me now it is wonderful to hear about all the troubled guys who might not have accessed traditional services feel happy and comfortable working on their problems in a setting that feels right for them.
A famous football manger once said that football was more important than life and death. I'm not sure about that, but I do know that using football in this way may well have proved the difference between the two for a number of young men and I feel humble, privileged and fortunate to have been a small part of that process.