Creative Soccer Culture

FC Not Alone Founder Ian McKenzie Talks Mental Health in Football

There's no question that football holds the power to not only bring people together but universally break down barriers. One group on a mission to galvanise for the greater good is FC Not Alone. Reaching out whilst raising awareness, their objective is positive and powerful. Finding out more, we spoke to the man who started things rolling, Ian McKenzie to get the low down on their latest initiatives.

As an introduction to our audience, can you tell us about FC Not Alone?

First of all, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be featured on SoccerBible, thank you for making it happen. FC Not Alone was launched in April 2018 shortly after my Cousin Matthew had come through a serious battle with depression. Matthew had spent nearly a year struggling with his Mental Health. During this dark period, Matthew and I had kept in close contact and I tried to share my personal experiences without being too preachy/invasive to let him know he was not alone.

In March 2018, the mental health and suicide prevention charity CALM ( launched Project 84 which is a campaign I'd recommend everyone checking out. They alerted the U.K. to the sad fact that 84 Men take their own life every week and suicide is the biggest killer of Men under the age of 45.

The effectiveness of the campaign led to my Cousin feeling brave enough to share his personal story on his Facebook page which I'm sure was a huge relief of his own back. Once I read his post about Project 84 & CALM, I gave him a call and asked if he'd like to try and raise money for them (CALM).

He agreed & before you knew it we came up with the idea of running a World Cup 7aside football tournament coinciding with the 2018 FIFA World Cup raising money for CALM. I wanted to give our tournament/platform a name so we could continue to fundraise and raise awareness and we came up with the name FC Not Alone.

In the 2 years we have been going, we've raised nearly £20,000 for various charities, collaborated with Adidas on a football jersey, ran two large scale football tournaments (the 2019 tournament hosted 36 7 a side teams and Rhian Brewster, Kevin Stewart led a team of Pro's who came down). We also now have an 11 aside team and there are several other exciting projects in the pipeline which are currently on hold for obvious reasons.

A huge focus for us going forward will be to provide enjoyable social football sessions for anyone to enjoy. Ultimately, FC Not Alone is a platform which aims to show the world why football is fundamental to many people's positive mental health.


A bespoke jersey and a short film, there's a strong creative edge to what you're doing - do you see it as an output for people as much as a platform for help and support?

I like to think if anything we create or do can help someone in just the smallest way, then it has been worthwhile. Something as small as seeing a photo of Rhian Brewster lifting our charity tournament World Cup trophy in a CALM orange vest, could lead to someone struggling with their mental health checking out CALM's services. This could even spark a conversation within that person's family. You just never know. I'll be honest and say I do often get imposter syndrome and think we should be doing more, we are not doing enough. Truth be told, there are a lot of wonderful services who can provide direct crisis help and support - we just don't have the resource to be able to do that. Nor do we want to really.

We'd rather create and share stories that feel culturally relevant which hopefully makes people feel more at ease about their own battles with mental health. Society is on a long journey to shifting our perception around mental health. For Mental Health to be seen as just as important or viewed as casually as Physical Health, we need to share as many stories as possible and facilitate the conversation that supports this theory.

The documentary shows how the tribal element of football is naturally present but can be put aside, we're all on the same team ultimately as football fans aren’t we?

Absolutely. At the end of the day, we are all precious humans with emotions. The tears and sadness I personally felt when Spurs lost the Champions League Final will truly never leave me. There are moments of despair and Arsenal fan has felt within their own context too. Football as a game brings out emotions within us Men that sometimes we typically struggle to let out.

Aside from the game, we all go through our own journeys and struggles in the football match that is life. That is what brings us together and that's why when it’s all said and done, we are all on the same team.

It's a powerful piece and the stories of each fan are quite extraordinary, would you say football has been missing this voice or point of contact for a long time?

As we are without our beloved game, it's a good time to reflect on the sport and what it's become. I hate to be cliché and reference Social Media but I'm going to anyway. It feels as if with Social Media and the constant reminding of a loss through Twitter or WhatsApp football fans are on edge more than ever. I feel like sometimes it has made every single football match feel like the world depends on it. With that in mind, we have somewhat lost touch of what football should be about.

With this period of no football, I hope we can miss it enough to stop caring so much about every single decision. Stop slating VAR (me included), stop criticising players for the tiniest of mistakes and ultimately love football for what it is. It's a universal language that helps you build relationships all over the world, it brings people together, it gives you community and by playing the game it keeps you fit and active.


What's the core message you'd like to get across from what you're doing with FC Not Alone?

That’s a tough question. I guess we try to get across that you should not be ashamed of your struggles. I like the phrase ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, because it really is.

What has the response been like and what are the major milestones you've hit? You must be proving a lifeline to many people?

There are two experiences that spring to me which I’m very grateful for.

First of all the proudest moment was watching my Cousin speak to The Duke Of Cambridge in the changing rooms at Wembley Stadium about his struggles and our project. We had the privilege of being a part of The FA & Heads Together’s HeadsUp launch campaign trailer. It was a really bizarre experience, whilst I was very nervous at the time I also consciously thought about how life can change. Never did I think when I first reached out to speak to Matt during his struggles life would take us there. That was a great moment for us.

I will also never forget an experience at our 2019 World Cup tournament. One of the team’s that entered were named ‘Ben’s Groundsmen’ who were playing in honour of their beloved Ben who had sadly taken his own life several months prior.

‘Ben’s Groundsmen’ were drafted into the same group as ‘Slight Edge’ (Rhian Brewster, Kevin Stewart and Lawrence Vigoroux to name a few of their players).

Ben’s Father being a lifelong Liverpool fan over the age of 40 had the chance to play against Rhian Brewster which was just lovely. I think he mentioned a few subsequent broken bones though…

For the lifeline part of the question, it has been touching to receive many messages of support during our inception. As long as we feel like our content and activities are benefitting people, we will continue to try and help where we can.

What are the aims and aspirations looking forward?

Well I have gone on a bit of a personal journey with FC Not Alone. I’ve looked at trying to set it up as something that I could spend 100% of my time doing as it’s a project I really love running. However, that became quite stressful and counter intuitive. So, I’m running it on a more casual basis on the side of my normal employment.

Over the next 24 months, we are aiming to run regular social football sessions, finish a photography art project we have been working on and try creating documentaries, podcasts and further develop our 11 aside team. Why couldn’t FC Not Alone do a Salford and enter the football league? There will be tournaments and other events in there somewhere too.


How can we all support each other more and especially when we're all stuck indoors - what advice would you pass on?

Great question and one I don’t really have the answer for. All I can recommend is to try your best to exercise in any way you can. I’m really getting into my running (I still hate it but you know), I was really pleased with myself today as I managed to clock in a 10km run which is something I’ve not done for a couple of years.

Aside from exercising, do your best to create an efficient working zone. I’m finding it really helpful to have a proper desk at home where I can focus. Previously, I’ve been guilty of working from bed, or working from sofa as opposed to working from home.

It’s interesting times because as quite an anxious introverted individual who has been used to spending days at home like this, I have not found this too difficult yet. I can imagine this is really tricky for more extroverted people who get their energy from other people, outside. Whatever type of person you are, try checking in with your loved ones because I think we’d be surprised at who is finding this situation most difficult.

Also…get your mates to invest in a gaming console and get online on COD…lots of fun to be had there.

We're all talking more at least these days thanks to FaceTime, Zoom, House Party etc - what are the positives we can take from the situation we're all in now and how can we be better at supporting mental health when we come through the other side of this?

The positives are that you can realise how amazing Humans are at adapting. Everyone seems to be doing their part to be creative in a time like this and helping each other get through these dog days. We may see a full trolley loaded with toilet role here and there but I’m confident for the most part, Human’s in the U.K. are genuinely caring for one another and are trying their best to get through what is a hard situation.

I believe in the future we are likely to be more grateful for the simple pleasures in life. We are very privileged to be able to go out with our loved ones, and we sometimes take it for granted.

What this situation has shown us is that you can be a Footballer, a Doctor, an Entrepreneur…whatever, you are not immune to this Virus and your situation is being compromised by it. This grounds us as humans, and I believe it will help us develop empathy for everyone in society. Big up all the Tesco, COOP, Sainsbury’s (etc) workers out there.

You can support and find out more about FC Not Alone here.


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