All fixtures in the Emirates FA Cup third round today, tomorrow and on Monday night will kick off a minute later than originally scheduled. For example, tomorrow’s Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton, perhaps the pick of the ties, will start at a minute past four.
It’s not, as one sportswriter a little cynically, if understandably, wondered on Twitter, due to some lucrative sponsorship tie-up.
Rather more admirably, it’s to highlight a campaign to promote better mental health. The idea is to encourage fans to take a minute to look after their own mental health and that of others, though of course the hope is that they will then consider the issue for a lot longer than that.
The timing of the campaign is deliberate. The start of the year is a notoriously difficult time for many after what is often the emotional roller coaster of Christmas and Hogmanay and the potential for family and relationship conflict.
So yes, pausing to reflect for 60 seconds at least seems a good lesson at this time and could have been heeded by those rushing to make fun of Charlie Adam, who, surprisingly enough, learned that sliding on knees to celebrate scoring for Reading at Fulham on New Year’s day after 48 minutes of highly physical exertion while team-mates are leaping on your back doesn’t leave one looking at their most photogenic.
The image sparked the Twitter version of a pile-on. Mostly, it was gentle joshing about Adam’s appearance but you still found yourself wondering, hang on, what if that was me? How would it make me feel? Darryl Broadfoot, the former head of communications at the SFA, clearly had the same misgivings, posting that he was uncomfortable with it, and adding “footballers have feelings too, folks”. Adam himself replied that he didn’t have to worry about him, and that he’d “had it all my life”. He made the point that he does his talking on the park.
Of course, football’s a macho game. No one wishes to be seen to be hurting. Adam himself has very acute knowledge of the devastation wrought by depression.
On world mental health day in 2018, he opened up about his own father’s suicide shortly before Christmas eight years ago at the age of only 50. Charlie Adam Senior was a former professional footballer for Dundee United and St Johnstone, among other clubs. Adam junior played on despite the tragedy, missing only one game for Stoke City in the aftermath, something he later reflected was not perhaps ideal for his own mental welfare.
Not having to bottle things up is one of the messages of the current campaign, which is being backed by FA president Prince William. The news that Chris Barker, who skippered Plymouth Argyle under Paul Sturrock, was found dead at home on New Year’s Day at the age of 39 in what police say were not suspicious circumstances underlines its urgency. He had been working as a coach for League Two side Forest Green Rovers.
It is also, I note, six years next week since former Dundee, Dundee United and Rangers midfielder Ian Redford’s body was found in woods near Irvine. This is still no easier to accept. Ian wrote a book, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, about reaching the top in football while battling severe anxiety. All such cases are different. But it’s important to remember that performing in public is a privilege and also, at times, a curse.