Jordan Spence signed for Ipswich Town Football Club in January 2017. The East Londoner is 28 years old and has gained a reputation for speaking openly about media stereotypes in the world of professional sport and especially regarding emotional wellbeing and mental health among young males.
University student Maria Lazar, SL photographer George Bentley and I met Jordan after training at the Club’s Playford Road facilities. I had approached the Club’s player liaison team a couple of weeks beforehand to enquire about Jordan’s availability for an interview, having read about his community work in the area and after seeing how he was attempting to help reduce the stigma of opening up about mental health. After initially chatting to Jordan about the Club’s reinvigoration under new manager Paul Lambert, we got stuck into talking about life as a modern-day footballer and the pressures that accompany the job.
“Having been part of this dressing room for 2 years now, there’s definitely a good, strong spirit in there. Football dressing rooms can be interesting places, with players coming from different backgrounds and varying in age. You can create quite superficial relationships because of player changes and it’s difficult to put down roots and get to know people in any real depth”.
Jordan describes dressing rooms as real melting pots, with lots of male energy. I asked how easy it was to spot when a colleague was having a ‘bad day’.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain whether a problem may be related to the team or away from the job. We are trained from a young age to be part of a team, but of course being a sportsman has a singular nature to it as well. Being a ‘man’ can be difficult when it comes to the stigma around talking openly about issues or showing weakness and therefore problems can be difficult to detect”.
Jordan goes on to explain that – for him – communication is key.
“Having an environment where people feel comfortable to speak is key. You would be surprised by the number of players who may have an extrovert approach on the field, but may be particularly quiet off it. Checking in on someone’s mental health is becoming more commonplace in the game and whilst it may not be every player’s style to talk openly, creating a forum for this is the way forward. The Club asks for players to carry out well-being checks in the morning – both physical and mental and these are then recoded on an App. The results are then monitored confidentially by the Club’s staff. This has made players think….how do I feel today? and creates conversations”.
Jordan openly talked about his fascination with the holistic care of human beings and his desire to research the subject.
“As an institution, perhaps football hasn’t reacted as quickly as it could have to emotional well-being. However, the speed at which it is now is exciting”.
Jordan gives a shout out to his wife and family, along with a strong group of friends – eloquently described as a real brotherhood of men who unashamedly talk about any issues that they may have.
“I think that this has come about due to my faith. Recognising my own weaknesses and understanding that I will not always have the answer has allowed me to form a group of friends who are comfortable with the same thought processes. Although very different in many aspects, our working environment will often mirror schools, colleges, universities where it will be difficult sometimes to notice someone who may be struggling and know how best to approach that person”.
Time for the inevitable and difficult question… what’s Jordan’s advice to young people?
“Men are perhaps pre-disposed to keeping their problems to themselves. Communication is key though and we need more education about how we handle situations and create safe spaces. Don’t hold it in. When I have experienced sharing a problem, the weight of that problem is reduced. Friends, family, Suffolk Mind, Samaritans….there is a whole list of people who are there to help”.
His time permitting, we hope to invite Jordan into an ambassadorial role with our mental health work, so watch this space.