Fr. Chris Ferguson proud to play a role helping Derry City tackle player Wellbeing and Mental Health

A lifelong Derry City supporter, Fr. Chris Ferguson is delighted to be playing a role in improving mental health within his hometown club.

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Sunday, 21st March 2021, 12:32 pm

The popular local priest is part of the club’s new ‘Wellbeing’ team alongside clinical psychologist and family therapist, Gerry Cunningham, and local psychotherapist, Gary McLaughlin, all three providing a support network for players, coaches and staff.

Boss Declan Devine has welcomed the new service which is available across all age groups after it was launched to the first team squad and coaches recently by Mr. Cunningham.

And as life slows begins to edge back toward normality, Fr. Ferguson says it’s crucial people know there is always someone there for them and footballers are no exceptions.

Fr. Chris Ferguson believes player welfare is about mind, body and soul.

“Over the last year everyone has really appreciated the importance of wellbeing and mental health,” he insisted. “Coming out of lockdown and maybe going towards some form of normality, we realise it’s going to be one of the big issues, where people’s heads are at and what struggles they have been having. It’s only human, especially as your connection with family and loved ones has been restricted.

“Daily routines have been hindered so it’s something we can all relate to now. Maybe because of what’s happened in terms of the pandemic, there’s a better appreciation of mental health and hopefully people will be more open to talking about where they’re at and what their struggles are.

“To be honest I’m not sure what the response is going to be because men, especially younger men, are notorious for not talking about their problems.

“In terms of being involved with Derry City I want to be available and approachable and that’s what we aim to be. I’m not saying I have all the answers but at least I want people to feel that they are being listened to.

Fr. Chris Ferguson.

“It’s important to say that if anyone has an issue and they want to talk about it then, while we aren’t experts and I certainly am not, we might know somebody who is.

“The new team is still at an early stage but we’ll have discussions about what we mean by health and wellbeing and how do we plan for that? What opportunities do we give to the players?

“It’s alright having an open door policy but the other side of that is the induction into any team, making them aware of what support is available to them and being conscious of the fact that people come from different back-grounds, different faiths and realising you have to respect that as well.

“That’s one thing. I like to think I take people as I find them and whatever I can do spiritually, just as a human being, I’ll try to support and help them.”

The Shantallow man feels the initiative is a great idea and welcomed the fact his club are leading the way in putting mental health and wellbeing at the top of the agenda.

“As we look at ourselves, as human beings, we really are an amalgam of mind, body and spirit and we have to take all those aspects seriously. They are all interconnected, one doesn’t exist without the other, so the spiritual wellbeing is something we have to take as seriously as the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing,” he added.

“Football, just by the nature of the sport, tends to concentrate on the physical so mentally, emotionally and spiritually, how can we condition people? I think that’s something we have to plan for.

“That’s an attitude towards life as well because one of the big things we’ve learned recently in ministry was about mentoring. Who are the people we walk with? Who can listen to us and give us a bit of advice, support us by putting an arm around us? That’s just a basic human need. It’s a part of who we are. We were never meant to be on our own so it’s about letting people know that you are there for them.

“Derry City is leading by example and that’s great to see. Going forward you are hoping it’s going to be part of the club’s vision with the club leading by example for the community and other organisations, learning from what they are doing. If we are going to take player wellbeing seriously and are treating them as more than just commodities or footballers, it has to be central to your thinking.

“You are also realising that as people, footballers hurt like anyone else. They have difficulties and they have their struggles and we have a duty of care to them as a club.”

The Liverpool and Candy Stripes mad supporter can’t wait to get back to watching live games and says he’s counting down the days until he can finally return to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.

“One of the things we can all relate to during lockdown is trying to watch football. You realise that football is so much more than just a game and the players on the pitch,” he stated.

“People talk about the ‘12th man’ but you really need the supporters. This has shown that clearly and you now realise how deeply the club is embedded in the community. It takes the community to support the team at all levels.

“From my point of view as a supporter, it’s great to be involved but it’s a two way street because we can all be there for the good times and I’m as guilty as anybody. However, being a supporter, as opposed to being a fan, is about being there through the thick and thin.

“The last few years have been hard and because of changes in my own life, it has been more difficult for me to get to the games regularly. I haven’t gone as often as I have wanted because I really enjoy the banter. You had your own ‘community’ around you in terms of people who sit in the seats around you, that was all part of the match night experience. We all know each other’s foibles and that adds to the banter and the good natured slagging.

“To watch football live is a completely different experience from the television and nothing beats a live atmosphere, especially when it’s your home town club. The fans have to encourage and generate the atmosphere for the players and that will hopefully help the players get the result.

“There’s that whole mix which makes you feel we are all in it together and it does create a tremendous bond.”