Sunderland AFC stars Lynden Gooch and Carl Winchester discuss the importance of opening up on visit to matchday mental health hub

Sunderland stars Lynden Gooch and Carl Winchester visited the matchday mental health hub last week to discuss the importance of opening up on mental health issues.

The hub is the first of its kind in the UK, run by the Sunderland Branch Liaison Council and Washington Mind. It offers a free, informal and confidential drop-in service with trained volunteers for home and away supporters on SAFC home match days.

Gooch and Winchester also presented a donation by club sponsors Vertu Motors to recognise the work of Cath Reid and Joanne Youngson.

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The players discussed the work of the hub and their own experiences in football on the day.

Sunderland stars Carl Winchester and Lynden Gooch meet Joanne Youngson (centre left) and Cath Reid (centre right)

"Most players have gone through it and it's really important to speak about it," Gooch said.

"Even this season I've gone through some really tough times and I'm really lucky to have great team-mates and a great staff around me who will notice if I'm down or something is not right.

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"I've got some really good ex-teammates as well who I can speak to as well.

"It's a massive part of what we go through.

"It's so important we are willing to talk to each other about these things [in our lives]."

Winchester added: "It's OK not to be OK.

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"You're going to have bad days, maybe bad weeks, and it's so important to talk about it.

"The way you're feeling, someone might have experienced it and they might be able to help you with it. It's massively important.

“Coming here today to see what’s going on is brilliant.

"For me, I know what it’s like going through tough times because I have in the past. My best friend killed himself five years ago, so it’s great to see that people can come and talk to people about this sort of thing and know they’re being heard.

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"To see what Cath and Joanne are doing for people is brilliant.”

Cath Reid, Branch Secretary of the SAFC Branch Liaison Council, said: “We at the BLC wish to thank Vertu Motors for their generous donation to our Matchday Mental Health Hub. This donation will not only help to continue the existence of our Matchday Mental Health hub, but will also help to fund new initiatives we are working on and will be announcing shortly.

“We're proud to have been the first supporters group and football club in the country to provide such an essential support for football supporters attending games at the Stadium of Light.

“Sunderland football club means a great deal to us fans and we will continue to use the love of football and community spirit to change the conversation around mental health.”

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The success of the hub has been such that a number of Premier League clubs have reached out for advice and information as they weigh up similar initiatives at their own clubs moving into the future.

Robert Forrester, Chief Executive of Vertu Motors, said: “We are in awe of what Cath and Joanne have managed to achieve with the Mental Health Hub."