Author, Dominic Stevenson, discusses his mental health book, ‘Get Your Head In The Game’
The year 2020 will long go down as the year of the global pandemic and for some, good has emerged from within the ensuing madness which ultimately beset the world. One of those individuals in question is new author, Dominic Stevenson, who, via Watkins Publishing in early December, released his first book – ‘Get Your Head In The Game: An Exploration of Football’s Complex Relationship with Mental Health.’
Part biographical, Dominic telling of his own footballing experiences and life following one half of Yorkshire’s well-renowned, Steel City, in his case that of Sheffield Wednesday, the main part is that of broken-down, well-versed ‘interviews’ from people within the beautiful game, and from all walks of life, his leaving pretty much no stone unturned.
In providing a fascinating, yet detailed insight into the complexities of mental health within the world of football, the differing aspects in which Dominic broaches includes that of professional and ex-professional footballers, coaches and supporters, women, refugees, and those from within the LGBTQIA community – everyone can be, and is, affected by mental health.
“So many people won’t, or don’t talk about mental health and, to me, that was the main influence behind my writing the book; the negativity that surrounds it, and how it is perceived, does make it really difficult for people to come forward,” explained Dominic.
“The reason, and a motivation, was when I attended the Sheffield derby (Wednesday’s cross-city rivals are Sheffield United) and their young goalkeeper, Cameron Dawson, was first cheered by the Wednesday fans for saving a penalty, then, not that long after, he was jeered by the same supporters for a miskicked clearance.
“These two moments, right there, got me thinking as to how these people, these fans, can flip their emotions just like you can a switch, so quickly, would be when they got home to their families, their loved ones; and these are predominantly white, male, working class folk, so who is it that cares for them.”
In researching and writing ‘Get Your Head In The Game’ Dominic’s interviewees included that of Sam Hutchinson and Chris Kirkland, Iffy Onuora, Kelly Lindsey and Ella Masar, to name a few, whilst there’s even a foreword from the iconic Cameroon striker, Roger Milla – remember Italia ’90 anyone…
At the end of what is an excellent intro from the former Monaco, Bastia, Saint-Etienne and Montpellier hitman, Milla was well into his career by the time he scored braces against Romania, and Colombia, in Italy, writing that –
“There is a lot of pressure and emotions in football. You must be prepared to cope with it. Determination and the will to do well are things that help support good mental health. So many players were promised a beautiful future, but couldn’t convert their talent into reality as they psychologically crumbled under the pressure, the glamorous lifestyle, etc. Being strong mentally isn’t just useful in sport but in everyday life. It helps a lot.”
Wise words indeed from a very wise man.
“I wanted to have someone who motivated and excited me, and I really love bright colours, it’s something that helps me get through,” explains Dominic about his decision to approach the Cameroonian legend.
“I love Roger Milla’s style and passion and how they (Cameroon) took the tournament (Italia ’90) by storm, so I managed to get in touch with him, asked him if he’d be interested in writing the foreword; he read the manuscript and we shared some really lovely emails and, by the time we got round to my receiving his text, I was in his emails alongside that of Pele.
“He (Milla) told me he replied to me first, I was so taken aback.
“There’s a whole world of ex-professionals out there who didn’t have the facilities in place for them to be able to talk about mental health as current professionals, to a point, do.
“I chose Sam (Hutchinson) as he’s both a current player, and a Sheffield Wednesday hero of mine; then I started looking at refugees, women’s football, to which I was really keen, and the LGBT community, everything else just flowed from there.
“In the choosing of a physio, and a doctor, it provided the insightful experiences of the modern-day footballer away from the top level of the game, but the difficult part for me, was being able to delve into other people’s dark places.
“I wanted to be able to go there and show how they’ve come back from that place and what they’ve gone on to achieve since.”
In discussing the differing ‘stories’ of mental health throughout the beautiful game, the interview with transgender footballer, Blair Hamilton, is particularly insightful; her story, from as recent as 2019, is of a goalkeeper herself wanting to emulate her hero, former Glasgow Rangers shot-stopper, Stefan Klos.
Interviewing her in the midst of the pandemic back in April 2020, Blair would tell Dominic something that is key to all of us, irrespective of life-path.
“When I’ve got no sport, I’ve got no focus, and it’s been so good for me having something to focus on, particularly in the harder time in my life.”
Key to the publication of ‘Get Your Head In The Game’ was Dominic’s feelings of nervousness in regards the reaction from people regarding his work, he shouldn’t be and, although it’s understandable, it’s a brilliant read.
“These people trusted me with their stories and I wanted to make sure that any football fan could pick up the book and have some interest in any part of it; it provides the opportunities to look at the differing parts of the sport and the contributions everyone plays as a whole and captures as wide an audience as possible.
“Overall though it wasn’t about raising mental health awareness, it was more about whether people consider themselves, or could they do more themselves.
“I wasn’t people who read this book to be able to get something from it.”
As for the date in which the contract signing was made for the book, that was 27 November 2019, the eight-year anniversary of the passing of former Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, Sheffield United player, and ex-Wales manager, Gary Speed, who committed suicide due to, at the time, unknown mental health issues – a worthy sign from one whom was a worthy midfield master.
Published by Watkins Publishing (December 2020), Dominic Stevenson’s debut offering, ‘Get Your Head In The Game: An Exploration of Football’s Complex Relationship with Mental Health.’ Is available to purchase now priced at £12.00.
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