Michael Hogg and Rob Waugh were among 11 million over-60s in the UK who faced three lockdowns cut off from the extra care and support many older people rely on daily.
But Football Talks, a Foundation project launched during summer 2020 by the Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing team, offered Michael and Rob the lifeline they needed with an online support group to bring isolated people closer together.
Building on the charity’s popular programmes like Walking Football for over-50s, Foundation staff developed Football Talks – an informal weekly Zoom call where participants could chat, reminisce, catch up and forget about the world around them for a while.
Rob, of Urpeth, County Durham, said: “When covid hit, I got a notification from the Foundation to say they were doing Football Talks and those sessions make you feel as though you’re part of the club – you feel as though you’re part of Newcastle United.
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“It really creates a community spirit because gradually over the months, you’re starting to know more people at the sessions, and they know you too.
“If I couldn’t do Football Talks or the Walking Football, it would be like someone coming and cutting off my legs, I would feel lost.
"It’s a bit like a ‘happy pill’ – it makes you feel good.”
Football Talks falls within the Foundation’s Be A Game Changer mental health awareness campaign, which supports the mental and physical wellness of young people, adults and older participants through various programmes.
Last month, the campaign launched a free mental health text support service to provide thousands of North East football fans with confidential wellbeing advice when they need it most.
Michael, a much-loved grandad from Newcastle, who played football religiously until his 50s, also used Football Talks and Walking Football to help ease feelings of loneliness during the pandemic.
He said: “I wasn’t seeing anyone that I would normally see through an average week anymore and that was difficult.
“To be honest, the hardest thing initially was actually working out how to use Zoom!
“It was really important to me, and I know that it made a huge difference to everyone else – if they didn’t enjoy it, they wouldn’t do it, but we had plenty joining week after week.”
As covid restrictions ease, the pair have recently been able to enjoy their first in-person Football Talks session at St. James’ Park alongside 20 other men and women – many of whom were meeting physically for the very first time.
Thomas Graham, Newcastle United Foundation’s Senior Health and Wellbeing Project Officer who hosts Football Talks sessions, said: “We developed Football Talks in July 2020 – it was during one of the worst periods of the covid pandemic and it restricted us all to staying at home.
“Football Talks has a very special power – we’ve had guys talk about how it’s been like therapy for them and we often have participants say they wish they’d got involved with the Foundation sooner.
“It is incredibly rewarding to be part of and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone involved with our sessions at Newcastle United Foundation.”
For more visit https://nufoundation.org.uk/beagamechanger/