Headed by Prince William- a huge fan of struggling Premier League club Aston Villa- the key message of the campaign was to encourage people to talk more openly about their mental health.
The heads up branding was featured in Premier League stadiums over two weekends of matches, being seen by thousands of fans in the crowd and millions more at home. Additionally, matches in the EFL and FA Women’s Super League supported the initiative.
Using football as a gateway to promote open conversation around mental health, without any of the stigma that can unfortunately surround the topic, was arguably a positive step.
It can be said that the beautiful game has come a long way from the violence seen in decades past where warring factions of hooligan firms and ultras clash in the streets and in the terraces. It is this toxic atmosphere which can often drive people away from football and I myself can attest to the fact that animosity shown in the stands has made me lose a bit of passion for the game I once loved.
However, endorsements from players will certainly help and it’s hoped that endorsements from players such as Troy Deeney, Andros Townsend and Adebayo Akinfenwa, alongside the Duke of Cambridge, will encourage the next generation of fans to not see their struggles as a weakness. It’s also great to see the coverage that the campaign has been receiving on TV and on YouTube, with beloved players setting a strong example for fans, players and even people outside of football who may be struggling.
Former footballers such as David Seaman and Paul Merson have also been talking more openly about their past struggles both in their lives and in their careers. This arguably represents a change in society which is encouraging for fans of the future. A move away from the hateful atmosphere which is a fixture at a lot of stadiums will hopefully encourage a more friendly and inclusive football without a lot of the toxic masculinity which unfortunately still lingers in the game today.
Campaigns such as "Heads Up" aren’t taking the passion out of the terraces. Passion doesn’t come from abusing opposition fans and players and using slurs. It comes from a love for your club, country and the game. You can have all of that without the negative things that happen in the stands. Heads up encourages a real footballing and sporting community that is missing at the moment. It’s a message I truly believe in and I think it’s a really important step which I’m proud that the Premier League is reaching. I’m hopeful that the heads up campaign will continue to thrive and grow and that one day I can go to a match and not feel embarrassed by what goes on in the terraces.