County Supporter Tony Brown, 54, spoke to Dave Lewis about managing his depression, representing Wales, and volunteering in the Community.
Tony Brown has been a member of the County in the Community (CITC) Walking Football programme since attending his first session in September 2015. Tony had suffered from depression for many years and went through a daily battle to maintain both his physical and mental health but says the regular exercise and socialising helped him enormously.
Tony said: “At first I was not aware of the work that CITC did, but I was delighted to see that there were programmes available to me that I could attend. After the first Walking Football session, and once mastering the walking element, I was hooked.
“Prior to accessing the sessions, I rarely did any form of physical activity apart from the odd round of golf and every now and then I would ride a few miles on my bike, but each of these were weather permitted.”
Tony really enjoys the social aspect that comes with playing Walking Football and believes the most enjoyable part of the programme is, “the fun we have as a group and the great relationships I have forged.” He added: “Being part of a team and socialising has most certainly helped my confidence grow”.
When asked about how the programme has benefited him physically and mentally, Tony replied: “Physically I am definitely a lot fitter than I was. I am now riding my bike each day to work and back three times a week after working a 10-hour night shift which was totally beyond my achievements before I started playing Walking Football.
“Mentally I am now depression-free. When I first started, I was really struggling to cope and I firmly believe the sessions played a major part in me being in a far better place. I am now also a foster carer which at times can be emotionally draining and I find the sessions give me a release”.
Over time, Tony has also brought along members of his family to the weekly sessions held at Llanwern High School. His brother and sons have now also become regular attendees at Walking Football and Tony says he can see how much the sessions have helped them too.
Tony added: “My brother, Dan, has also suffered from depression for a number of years and I felt it would be a great opportunity to introduce him to Walking Football as I was aware of how it benefited me.
“Over the past 18 months I have watched Dan grow as a person and he is now in a better place. My son, Jack, has most certainly grown in confidence since attending and is a different person.
“Jack has also become part of the CITC College Programme and he is thriving in that environment. My foster son, David, had difficulty fitting in with people from any walk of life prior to taking part in the sessions but now can hold conversations and accept people for who they are. Being able to take part in physical activity has helped Dave feel part of our family.”
Walking Football has not only given Tony an opportunity to improve his health and well-being but in September 2018, Tony (along with his brother Dan and teammate Nick Beckett) received international call-ups to the Welsh Walking Football side. The international matches took place at Barry Town’s Jenner Park between Wales and England.
He said: “I received a phone call from the Wales team manager who had come to watch one of our sessions. He invited me and a few other participants to go along to a trial.
“If someone had told me both myself and my brother would represent Wales at Walking Football, I would never have believed them.”
For the past six months, Tony has regularly volunteered at the CITC We Wear the Same Shirt training sessions which take place every Thursday afternoon at Civil 3G Newport and are geared towards people who are struggling with their mental health.
Asked about why he started volunteering, Tony answered: “The main reason is so that I can give back to people who are maybe less fortunate than me. I also wanted to support the great work that all the staff at County in the Community do in helping change people’s lives."
Tony believes that Walking Football has a place for everyone and affirmed this by saying, “It does not matter what ability or fitness level you are at, each person is welcomed with open arms. I truly believe I would not be in the place I am today without attending the CITC sessions. They are fun, supportive, friendly and I am immensely proud to be part of it.”