The Mental Well-Balling Podcast


S2, Ep2: Jake Forster-Caskey

Season 2, Ep. 2
We’ve got another fascinating guest for this episode of the podcast, who has been through some incredibly tough struggles over the past three years. Jake Forster-Caskey is currently recovering from a second ACL injury, suffered at the end of a season in which he felt he had found his peak again after recovering from the first.It was actually Jake who encouraged me to get the podcast going again and call it quits altogether after the first series. Walking around The Valley’s pitch during the final game of last season, just after I had photographed him receiving his deserved POTY trophy, he asked about being interviewed for the podcast. That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass down.It’s obviously taken some time for the interview to take place while Jake has gone through some of the more difficult stages of his recovery, but the strength he is showing at present to deal with the process he’s going through is incredible and shines through during our chat.We talk about how signing a pro-contract at 14 meant that his first exposure to pressure and criticism was particularly tough to take, as well as the support he received from his ex-professional father and step-father at the start of his career and his perception of mental health and its status within the game. Although, of course, much of our chat is centred around his injuries. We discuss the challenge of coming to terms with that first injury, how isolating an experience it is being outside the football bubble and being isolated from your teammates while you grind through the recovery process and how returning to training and kicking a ball around again is actually the toughest part of the process. We also look at the importance of having alternative focuses during the recovery process, how the experience of that first injury has led to him being able to manage the second one more efficiently and with less anxiety, and the strength required to overcome the down days that you can only expect to exist through a challenging journey of recovery.If you’re new here, follow the podcast on Twitter and Instagram @WellBallingPod. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @K_AndrewsPhotos, and most importantly of all, keep well, keep safe, and keep talking about mental health.

Series Two, Episode One: Alex Gilbey

Season 2, Ep. 1
Well then, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Welcome back to the Mental Well-Balling Podcast. A podcast in which football’s association with mental health and wellbeing is explored with the help of a guest from within the professional game.Things are going to be a little different, but only a tiny bit. It will no longer be weekly, and episodes will simply be released when opportunities arise and interviews have been recorded. Less pressure and hopefully content that isn’t rushed. We’ve also got a nice new graphic. I’d love to say I put some effort into that, but Canva is a lifesaver. It’s a bit brighter and hopefully gets across the style of the podcast a little more effectively. It views mental health positively. We get that positive message, particularly around the notion of self-realisation, overcoming moments of self-doubt and pushing forward, from our first guest of the new series, Charlton Athletic midfielder Alex Gilbey, who was kind enough to speak to me after recovering from a nasty battle of Covid, while also managing his recent entry into parenthood and a gold addiction. Among other themes, we chat about the regret he has over his attitude through his childhood despite making it as a footballer, coping with being the relegator – suffering three relegations in three seasons with three different clubs – how his relationship with Conor Washington has helped him throughout his career, the importance of having unity in dressing room and what that means of both mental wellbeing and performance, and how he suffered a crisis of confidence during the first six months of his time at Charlton and his success in overcoming that. Alex spoke excellently, being both really open and offering some great insight into some of the more nuanced elements of professional football. I hope you enjoy our chat. If you’re new here, follow the podcast on Twitter and Instagram @WellBallingPod. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @K_AndrewsPhotos, and most importantly of all, keep well, keep safe, and keep talking about mental health.

Episode 16: Conor Washington

Season 1, Ep. 16
This week, we’re joined by Charlton Athletic and Northern Ireland international forward Conor Washington.Conor took an unusual route into professional football, and approached it with an even more unusual mindset. Where most who enter the game have seen a career in football as an ambition, that was never really a goal for Conor. Never attached to an academy while growing up, he was relatively set on living what you might call a ‘normal’ life while playing for non-league St Ives Town in the United Counties League. Only when he was signed by Newport County at the age of 20, having plundered in plenty of goals in the lower reaches of non-league football, did a career in football seem plausible.We talk about how his attitude towards football while growing up, different to many others in the game, has shaped him and how becoming a professional has not changed his identity, the overwhelming challenge that adapting to professional football posed, the testing elements that exist in player-fan relationships, as well as relationships within a dressing room that have been difficult to build given the restrictions in place as a consequence of the pandemic, the importance of sport psychology and developing conviction in himself as a footballer, and the fact that footballers are just real human beings.If you’re new here, follow the podcast on Twitter and Instagram @WellBallingPod. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @K_AndrewsPhotos, and most importantly of all, keep well, keep safe, and keep talking about mental health.

Episode 13: Matt Crooks

Season 1, Ep. 13
This week, we're joined by Rotherham United midfielder Matt Crooks for what is a rather special episode both for me personally and for the stories and emotions you'll hear.When I began this podcast, I had a small list of people I wanted to speak to who were beyond those I was already connected to. Not necessarily big names, not necessarily those who had spoken about mental health problems before, but those who I either knew would have complex minds to unpick or they had had a significant impact on me and my life. Matt Crooks was on the top of that list.In addition to struggling with mental health problems throughout most of my life, I also suffer from epilepsy. I’ve looked for sources of support throughout those times where I’ve suffered the very worst of epilepsy’s effects. People who have achieved in their life despite living with it. I’ve looked to footballers, as someone whose life is dominate by the game naturally would. I found Matt Crooks. His successes in his career were also mine. Not because I’ve wanted to be a footballer, just that here’s someone making a success of themselves. Why can’t I be a success?To speak to Matt, to thank him for that, was wonderful enough. To speak in greater detail about epilepsy was a wonderful pleasure.We also speak about the terrible passing of his best friend, Jordan Sinnott, last year, but the incredible reaction he has helped to oversee following it. The Shirts for Sinnott campaign is something you can’t have missed if you spend any time on social media, and a foundation trust has been set up in his name since.Finally, there’s also time to talk about football and mental health more directly. The focus on mental health at his current club, Rotherham United, is much greater than many others.If you’re new here, follow the podcast on Twitter and Instagram @WellBallingPod. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @K_AndrewsPhotos, and most importantly of all, keep well, keep safe, and keep talking about mental health.