Inside Mind United – the football team for players with mental health issues

Poor mental health put football fanatic Natalie Sims off playing – until a very special club rekindled her passion for the beautiful game.

“I’d loved the game since the age of six. But by 17 my depression and self-destructive behaviour meant I was on medication and sectioned,” recalls Natalie. “Mental health and hospitalisations pretty much ran my life, so I didn’t feel good enough to play football.”

Natalie started training with Minds United FC, a London club for those with mental health issues, after she met the club’s inclusion officer Vicki McGarrigle, who persuaded her to play again.

And just 10 months later, Natalie, 41, from west London, is coach, welfare officer, striker and stand-in goalie for Minds United FC. As well as all that, she's now a qualified referee and works with both Minds and Middlesex FA at the women's only division in the North West London Mental Health League.

But in her early days at Minds, Natalie had a problem: “We played on a free pitch circled by high-rise flats where people watched us from their windows. We felt uncomfortable.”

Minds then got National Lottery funding, so the team could pay for a block-booking of a proper pitch – with privacy – at a sports centre. Thanks to National Lottery players, over £50million* of funding has been raised for women’s football over the past 10 years.

“The new surroundings made me feel secure and confident enough to do coaching,” explains Natalie. She knows how Minds United FC benefits the mental wellbeing of her players, whose ages range from 14 to 68: “Football makes us feel better as exercise is empowering. And we all support each other.”

To find out how your numbers make amazing happen, visit national-lottery.co.uk/summer-of-sport

*Based on figures from April 2012 to March 2022.

To find out how your numbers make amazing happen, visit national-lottery.co.uk/summer-of-sport

*Based on figures from April 2012 to March 2022.

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