22 March 2013

BALP FC to play the Man U Foundation

A local football team made up of people with severe and enduring mental health issues has the premiership well and truly in its sights as it heads north to play the Manchester United Foundation football team.

The friendly game - which takes place on Wednesday 27 March - will be played out on The Cliff Training Ground, where some of football's greatest players - Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best and David Beckham to name a few - have trained. The ground is looked after by the Old Trafford groundsman, so the Bristol Active Life Project (BALP) football team will feel they are truly following in the steps of giants.

BALP FC gives people with severe and enduring mental health issues the chance to improve their physical health and be part of a team. All the players use, or have used, services provided by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP). BALP is a partnership between AWP, the city council and leisure providers.

"The match is the brainchild of one of our players who has a brother playing for the Foundation's team," says Paul Davies, BALP Active Life trainer. "It doesn't really get any bigger than this - playing against the Man U team will give our players an amazing experience.

"Although the match will have a competitive edge to it, winning will not be the main focus," says Paul. "The purpose of the team is to bring people together in a supportive and encouraging environment where they can improve their health and social confidence. It's also about providing football opportunities to people who are not able to access these through mainstream channels."

The team normally plays 7-aside, but the match next week will be an 11-aside affair. "This means our training in the run up to the game will be slightly different as we'll want our players to get used to playing as part of a bigger team and on a larger pitch," adds Paul.

"We are also looking forward to socialising with the other team after the match, perhaps having lunch with them and if time permits taking in a tour of Old Trafford and visiting the gift shop."

Steve Hoy, Health Project Coordinator for the Manchester United Foundation says: "Our work is similar to that of BALP. We want to break down the stigma of mental health and the misconceptions that surround it.

"The players in our team are regular guys who have mental health issues. They come once a week for a two-hour football session. But it's not just about the sport - it's about having fun, exercising, socialising and, together with other members of the team, taking part in other activities like art and photography."

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