David Preece: Footballers need avenue to talk through problems – church has worked for me

Rev Peter Amos of, Sports Chaplaincy UK at Mawenzi Tarn, just over halfway up Kilimanjaro, as part of his fundraising climb for an ME charity
Rev Peter Amos of, Sports Chaplaincy UK at Mawenzi Tarn, just over halfway up Kilimanjaro, as part of his fundraising climb for an ME charity
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I went to church on Sunday.

Not a regular occurrence, I’ll admit but I managed to get there on time without any fuss. Which can’t be said for last weekend’s win against Hull City.

Despite my best efforts, I failed in my fight against our country’s transport system and unfortunately didn’t make it to the game.

Naturally, as soon as I conceded defeat in my fortnightly re-run of Steve Martin’s role in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, the result was never in doubt.

Had I arrived at the Stadium of Light on time, the game certainly wouldn’t have been so straight forward.

That’s the way my world works, you see.

Anyway, back to church. I’d been invited along to an event through friends of my girlfriend and I bumped into ex Watford, Palace and Barnsley striker Bruce Dyer.

Some of you may remember Bruce from his playing days when he moved from Watford to Crystal Palace in 1994 he became Britain’s first £1 million teenager.

Even though Bruce had left Barnsley before I joined, we got to know each other through the club chaplain at Barnsley, Peter Amos.

When I first joined the club, Peter was one of the first faces to greet me after I’d signed, to welcome me to Oakwell.

He explained to me his role at the club as chaplain and said if I ever needed someone to talk to, that’s what he was there for.

Now, most managers will tell you their door is always open if you need to get something off your chest.

In some cases, that’s actually true. But there are some things on life that you don’t want to tell your manager.

And there are things your manager certainly doesn’t want to hear.

What you need is someone who is impartial, non-judgemental and you can trust. Peter Amos was that man.

At the time, I was spending most of my week in Barnsley living with my football husband, Luke Steele, and the rest of it commuting from Newcastle where my family was living.

It certainly wasn’t ideal and home life had been somewhat strained.

The back story to that was deep and I decided I needed to someone to talk to.

Going to see Peter helped me put things in perspective and talk through my feelings.

I’d worked with sports psychologists before but that’s still on a professional level, not personal.

When you’re talking to a sports psychologist employed by the club, it’s easy to come up with the answers you think you’re manager wants to hear, rather than what you’re actually feeling because you know it will all be recorded and relayed back to him.

Sometimes you just need someone to listen. For you to unload. For them to empathise. Someone who you can confide in confidentially without thinking it will affect your standing within the squad.

You need someone to try and place things in order that have somehow got jumbled up. Peter did that.

Together with his one-to-ones, Peter held regular group gatherings.

Yes, religion and God were at the core but it was also about us sharing about our experiences, especially with the younger players.

To help them realise we all go through the same problems and what they are feeling doesn’t make them weak or different to everyone else.

It’s a place where players like Darren Moore, a player who has multiple promotions to the Premier league to his name, and club legend Bobby Hassell, offered words of advice.

It was a place where you could be open and honest without apprehension.

And it wasn’t just a temporary sticking plaster either.

Of course Peter was there when you needed him but it was real guidance.

You never felt as if you were being told what to do, just offered a different option. A different voice. Another way of looking at life.

Peter isn’t alone in his work.

He’s part of a network of chaplains at Sports Chaplaincy UK who do sterling work helping athletes across a wide range of sports and now, more than ever I think it’s important to highlight the great work people like Peter do inside the game that goes largely unnoticed from the outside.

I believe every club should have a Peter Amos. Living in the bubble of football there’s still enough space to feel overwhelmed and lost but it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

It’s not as if there has to be many words said but when someone asks “How are you?”, it was nice not to just fob the question off with an “I’m ok”.

It was a welcome relief to say “Actually, I’m not alright. Can we have a chat?”.

Then we’d find a quiet corner of the ground and take five minutes to talk it though.

When I finished my playing career, I had some day-to-day difficulty adjusting to life without it and contacted the PFA for someone to talk to. Which they gratefully provided.

Even recently, making the adjustment from spending days outside in the fresh air coaching, to spending more time in front of a laptop at home or a screen in an office, takes some getting used to. It feels alien.

I’m physically sat in the chair whilst it feels like my spirit is trying to drag my body out the door.

Luckily for me, Peter has kept in touch and he still there to help if I need it. Not just a sticking plaster, you see?