Last month, it was reported that the government had given the Premier League the green light to return in June amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With the football season set to make its return, Prince William joined a video call with members of Arsenal Football Club to shine a spotlight on mental health, as part of the royal’s Heads Up campaign.
Heads Up is a partnership between Heads Together and the FA, which uses football to spark conversation and raise awareness about mental health.
The conversation coincided with the announcement that this year’s Emirates FA Cup Final, provisionally scheduled for Saturday 1 August, will be renamed the “Heads Up FA Cup Final”, in honour of the initiative.
During the video call, the duke spoke with Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta, academy manager Per Mertseacker and players Hector Bellerin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The royal, who is president of the FA, explained that the Heads Up FA Cup Final will be used “as a moment to promote good, positive mental health for everyone”.
“It’s quite timely bearing in mind what we’ve all been through with this pandemic,” the 37-year-old said.
“I think there’s going to be, sadly, a lot of repercussions from this in society, not just in football, in terms of people’s mental health. Hopefully the FA can be a bit of a pivot that people can rally around.”
Arteta said that it is important to create a “safe space” for football players so they can feel comfortable coming to speak to you “without feeling judged, or [worrying] whether that’s going to have consequences for them, whether they’re going to play or not”.
“This is what I’ve been trying to do over the last 12 weeks, by trying to talk individually so they can raise those feelings, their issues, and we can build the club culture that I want, which is based on respect”.
Academy manager Mertesacker recalled feeling uncomfortable speaking about his mental health with certain people when he was a player.
“I thought I needed to be strong, resistant and resilient, and deal with any kind of circumstances,” he stated.
“Nowadays, there are more mechanisms than ever to start a conversation, and to give players tools to really cope with it.”
When speaking about supporting his fellow teammates with regards to their mental health, Arsenal captain Aubameyang expressed his belief that “the most important thing is to be next to them, to try to speak a lot with them, [and] to give them all the space they need for talking”.
“Because I think the best thing is to talk, and to discuss problems,” he added.
Godric Smith, chair of the Heads Up campaign, said the initiative is “extremely grateful to the FA and to Emirates for this unprecedented gesture of support” with the renaming of the FA Cup Final in tribute to Heads Up.
“Dedicating the final of football’s most iconic domestic cup competition to Heads Up is a huge statement about the importance of mental health and their commitment to it,” he said.
“Given the many different impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we talk about our mental health and help support one another, and The Heads Up FA Cup Final will hopefully generate many more of those conversations amongst fans and the football community.”