NEVILLE SOUTHALL: How big Dunc is like Frank Sinatra, how I used Ian Rush scoring four past me as motivation and my views on people still not taking mental health seriously
- Neville Southall has opened up on a range of issues throughout his new book
- The legendary Everton goalkeeper has helped people struggling with problems
- Southall is active on social media and made his Twitter page into a community
- He has revealed all on Duncan Ferguson and shipping four goals to Ian Rush
Never did I imagine that my world after football would involve trying to create a better understand for groups of people who find themselves under siege – sex workers, those struggling with addiction and the transgender community are just a few.
I didn’t even set up my Twitter account, which has been an important part of that work for me. A business associate of mine did, for a project that didn’t really go anywhere.
The principal aim when I started using it was to let people know that I was Neville Southall, not just ex-Everton and Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall. I wasn’t going to be just spouting opinions about goalkeepers in the Premier League. I wanted to convey my thoughts, and then people could either choose to listen to me and follow me, or not.
Former Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall has opened up on a number of subjects in his book
And through that, I began talking to people who were struggling or who just wanted someone to talk to. It grew way beyond my expectations. People with mental health problems needed help in a way I had never imagined.
Someone tweeting me might not know that I’m already dealing with 20 or 30 people at exactly the same time, because they can’t see my direct messages. I try to help them by keeping the conversation going or passing them on to someone from the network of experts I’ve built up.
The simplest things you do are often the most effective – telling people I hope they’re OK or just tweeting an image. There are people who come close to taking their own lives, but something happens that triggers a positive thought – and that keeps them going.
Southall is active on social media and has even turned his Twitter account into a community
One of the myths about suicide is that these people want to die. It doesn’t always work like that. They just don’t know how they can carry on coping with the darkness. It’s about trying to introduce light into that darkness.
I also found I could educate myself on certain topics through Twitter and then keep an eye on those topics. That gave me the idea to make my Twitter account a community, where people could know that, at a specific time each week, someone would be raising awareness of a particular issue. So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they can take over the account for two hours and have a stage to discuss important issues.
Giving a voice to the struggles of the transgender community did cause a slightly negative reaction initially, but it quickly tailed off. I honestly have faith that most people don’t care.
Southall believes his old world, playing football, can make a big difference to his current one
I think people in general have underestimated social media, and its ability to be used for genuine good. It might not be in any psychotherapy textbook, but I’m confident that I’m using it as best I can to help people.
Everton have two million followers on Twitter. If you got 100,000 of those fans to pledge £1 a week (and I know not all can), you’d have over £5million a year, just like that.
Imagine the difference you could make in Liverpool. You could start by putting the money into mental health initiatives, or into stocking food banks. It’s not a lot of money to football, but it is to the vulnerable. My old world can make such a massive difference to the one I now know.
DEADLY DUNC STRUGGLED FOR MOTIVATION
Duncan Ferguson was one of the best strikers in the country. If he’d played Manchester United or Liverpool every week, he would have been the best. He scored five times against Liverpool and scored more goals against Manchester United than against any other team. But there was something within him that meant he didn’t thrive as much against the smaller clubs. He was like Frank Sinatra: brilliant on a Las Vegas stage, but probably not quite at the same level in Coventry.
Motivation is a question of balance, though. You don’t always have it. If you’re feeling great in the warm-up between 2pm and 3pm, you might find it really hard to maintain that feeling until 5pm.
Better to be on edge in the warm-up, because by 3pm you can explode and be at 100 per cent. Does it matter if I let in 10 goals in the warm-up? No. Because no-one has ever paid me for the warm-up. Work on finding motivation when you really need it.
There was something in Duncan Ferguson that stopped him performing against smaller clubs
MERSEYSIDE DERBY IN 1982 ONE OF MY WORST DAYS IN FOOTBALL
We lost 5-0 and Ian Rush scored four against me. I actually didn’t think I played too badly. I went into the match with ulcerated toes which were so bad I ended up going to hospital afterwards. But Howard Kendall responded by dropping me from the first team. He didn’t really speak much to me about it, but then that’s just the way he was.
I just had to refuse to accept my fate. I went on loan to Port Vale, which gave me some competitive minutes, and I made it back in the end. Some players might let the failure haunt them and make them freeze. I tried to use it. I would remember that 5-0 hammering every time we played Liverpool. I’d be thinking, ‘That match f***** up my career for a while and put everything I’d worked towards at risk. I’m not letting you do that again.’ It became a matter of revenge whenever we played them.
MENTAL ILLNESS DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE BETWEEN RICH OR POOR
There was never any sign, for example, that Gary Speed’s passing was coming and I still find it hard to believe that he is gone. He was a perfectionist. He was always chasing the chance to improve, and never settled for anything other than being the best. Maybe that element of his personality caused anxieties to build up inside; ones that he was afraid to confront. I don’t really know whether thinking backwards, using hindsight, is helpful or not.
The problem is that too many people still don’t take mental health seriously.
The ‘man up’ philosophy is incredibly irresponsible. It suggests that your state of mind is a choice. It sets back the tireless work being done to ensure that those who are struggling and want help won’t be told ‘There’s no one to see you today. Come back in three weeks.’
There was no sign Gary Speed’s passing was coming and mental health does not discriminate
Adapted from ‘Mind Games: The Ups and Downs of Life and Football by Neville Southall, (HarperNonFiction, £20) published on September 17.