“It’s important to know they’re not alone” – meet the Everton fan overcoming his own fears to help others


For the Evertonians who are regulars in away games, many will recognize the face of Jay Deakin.

And for those who know the 31-year-old, or have gone to tell him about his mental health work, many will have noticed a common theme.

Or maybe not.

When he watches Everton on the road, Jay makes sure he has a seat at the end of the row.

“Outside, people came up to me and said, ‘Well done for what you are doing with TALKHUB,’” he said.

“Sometimes it’s people that I don’t know or recognize and it can sometimes be overwhelming because I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and one of the themes is contamination so I can get quite anxious about it. people who come close to me or who come too close, but I try to overcome my fears.

“Being at the game is quite difficult because everyone is so close, I try to get upstairs whenever I can and I always get the end seat in the row so I have a bit of space.”

Football is at the center of Jay’s life, but for many of us taking a seat at Goodison or one of Everton’s away games is something we do without thinking, it’s a long way away. to be simple for him.

The former amateur boxer says many people with his mental health issues couldn’t stand being in a stadium but he overcomes his problems to make sure, at home or away, that he’s there to support his beloved Blues.

Monday evening, he will be in Molineux. But as he explains in more detail, watching Everton is so important to his sanity that he’s ready to fight to make sure he can support the team in person.

“Being at the game can be tough,” he adds.

“I try to avoid the crowd as much as possible. I have to try to limit it as much as possible. But when I’m in my place now, I feel comfortable because I’m used to the environment but to away, I’m trying to go all the way. Some people with OCD might not be able to make it to the game. “

Jay is the founder and driving force behind the TalkHub program, a way for a growing number of men to meet and discuss their mental health.

Ahead of the game with West Ham at Goodison earlier this month, Jay organized a walk from the Bramley-Moore pub to Goodison.

He estimates that between 35 and 40 men, of all ages, joined in what was the last and most prestigious ‘walk and talk’ event Jay has hosted since his TalkHub initiative went from a podcast to a wellness group in February of last year.

The walks, Zoom calls during lockdown, and regular soccer games help over 100 men across the region, and Jay’s determination to help people – on a volunteer basis and despite his own struggles – is hugely impressive.

“When I started talking, it was difficult,” he admits.

“I did a short film three years ago about my OCD story, I was so anxious and nervous. But it made me think I could talk more, random guys were coming up to me at the game in saying, ‘Jay, I saw your video, I know someone with OCD’.

“It gave me more courage to speak up.

“Maybe I can’t help someone one-on-one, but it’s important to know that they’re not alone and that the TalkHub is about giving boys a safe place to talk. what I do is facilitate. I don’t have the answers but other guys can provide peer support. “

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“But it’s nice to see people come and comment,” he added.

“Maybe that’s why people can relate to me and talk, because I’m just one of the guys. I go to the game, I did boxing, I go crazy when I am at the game, I dress the same, I’m no different. “

Jay makes no secret of how much Covid, and the impact it has had on fans attending games, has had on his mental health – and those Blues he spoke to through the TalkHub Zoom sessions.

“I remember how I felt about this time last year,” he said.

“When you go to the game every week, and they take you out when it can be your therapy, that’s where you’re going to socialize. Other people do different things to help, and that was our therapy and that. was a huge thing that is gone.

“Even when the closures were relaxed, some people would go for a meal or a pint on the weekends. It’s their release. Football still wasn’t there for us on a weekend and we had to watch it on TV. . It was hard.

“I have been going to all games since 2010 (Jay has a season pass in Lower Gwladys Street), and have been to all away games and in Europe, including Cyprus for this rubber dead. Whatever, I’m going. It’s such an important thing for a lot of people and for it to be taken out, it was very difficult.

“After a while I got used to watching it on TV, it didn’t hurt too much anymore.

“But when you are back to the game, the defeats hurt more because you invest your energy. QPR in September for example, if it was last year, I would have just turned it off after the game and that would be it. , but we had a four hour trip home afterwards, so it’s a long time to digest the defeat. “

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Liverpool’s move to Tier 2 last December opened Goodison up to 2,000 fans via a ballot, but Jay, from Warrington, was unable to watch games with Arsenal and Chelsea in the league as he lived in outside the eligibility zone, although he was traveling to Liverpool and back five times a week to his place of work.

“It really affected me because in my head what I can control is watching Everton,” he explains.

“There are things I can’t control, but watching Everton is something I can. I felt so depressed at Christmas, it killed me. I could barely watch that Chelsea game.

“It was really hard to come to terms with, with the way my brain worked, because I wasn’t in control.

And when I got home, to United away [in August] when there were 1,500 fans, it was difficult. “

Jay has opened up about his story, but he knows it won’t be unique and that’s why he created TalkHub, to encourage others to feel they can express themselves too.

“We also try to talk about everyday things, football, boxing, whatever,” he says.

“When guys talk about this, they become more comfortable talking about other things and opening up. Most of the time, we just talk about everyday things.

“We might only talk about Everton for two hours and when there was no football it was important that we could talk about it because we missed it.

“We’re not a consultancy or a professional, we’re just trying to be proactive, keeping guys from getting to that level.

“It’s pretty magical, to be honest. My 82-year-old great-uncle Billy lives at Anfield, he’s been on quite a few walks in Liverpool and guys my age are buzzing about him. Guys all talk to him. , invented.

“People have helped each other with jobs or advice in life, they give advice to people. It is also building bonds and relationships.”

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