My Thoughts On: Football helping people through times of mental hardship

Gary Sales found out he had stage three bladder cancer and a fifty/fifty survival rate in March 2016. The discovery quickly sent him into a dark spiral of depression of which he was certain he would never reemerge from. Alive and happier than ever, three years on, Gary explains how it was football which eventually pulled him from his darkest times and helped him on his road to recovery. 

“Hearing I had Cancer sent me in to instant shock,” Gary recalls. “It became very real when I had to tell my mum- that is when the tears started streaming. I realised I had a fight on my hands – got all my life insurance and dropped all work projects.” 

He had initially thought he was just dehydrated from working long days in London when he had first experienced symptoms. However,  it was a blood clot which appeared a few months later that forced him to get to the doctors. 

“If I had left my symptoms another few months then it would have probably been stage four, so going to the doctors that day saved my life.” 

Gary had initially only been told by the hospital that he could not travel to a work commitment in New York when he presented them with his abnormal symptoms. Just days later, however, he was told he had Cancer.

 “Luckily it was contained within the bladder,” he explains. “This meant there was a much better chance of a successful surgery.”

Three years on, an invasive operation and lots of treatment later, Gary is now close to the all clear. Founding the local village football team, ‘Real Haynes’, is what he says helped him through it all. 

‘Real Haynes’ – Garys local team

“Our first training session was in about thirty degree heat and about 18 guys turned up, including my son. I had got to a point in my treatment where I was feeling very down. To please myself I thought of what I loved- football. I knew that with my condition (and after too many cheese sandwiches) I would not necessarily be able to play anymore.”

He decided he would manage a new local club. In time, emotionally and spiritually, the team began to make him happy. Good times were back and the football had brought that.

“ I now expect to be classed a survivor of cancer very soon, and football has helped me through the journey. Whilst cancer  initially sent me to a dark place, it also helped me reform a relationship with a sport I have always loved. I love the banter, the changing room politics and thinking of the new tactics needed every week to keep us winning. I find winning addictive.” 

Gary went on BBC Three Counties Radio to speak about how football helped him through his recovery

Unquestionably, football is a sport which has the power to bring happiness and fulfilment to many. The popularity of the sport is patently clear – the sheer numbers of people showing up to games, watching it on the telly and being part of teams in general demonstrates the power it holds over many. Clearly, the sense of community within the game has the ability to pull people from emotional distress, like it has for Gary.

If you find yourself in a time of despair, and have ever enjoyed sport, I sincerely hope you get yourself involved. Football or not, sport allows people to connect and gain a sense of purpose- which is obviously great for personal well- being. For Gary, football brought him through his own mental traumas, but any sport could have the same positive impact on anyone. Feeling down? Game on. Get yourself involved .


Imagine- It is almost midnight and it has been raining all evening. Tonight, Sheffield is especially dark, and you are beginning to wish you had brought a warmer jacket with a bigger hood. In the distance you see a man on a soaking wet bench, he smiles at you and proceeds to ask, “what inspires you?” Would you answer?

CK Goldiing, the creator of a new seven-part series ‘The Bench’ admits himself that he would avoid answering the man on the bench and continue to walk on, branding the very concept ‘weird’ and ‘creepy’. Yet he was still determined to challenge people’s willingness to engage with a stranger and defy the social norms- leading him to create the unscripted docu-series which was released on the 3rd of November 2019. 

CK explains that the series was filmed across 7 late evenings in Sheffield where each night he sat on an anonymous bench. It was 11 pm or later. In each episode, he asked passing strangers one question – inviting them to join him on the bench to discuss it. Questions ranged from matters of love, life, hopes & dreams. He disclosed that some people ignored him, and some people did not. Some people told him trivial things; some people told him deeply personal things. 

In episode 7, as I have previously alluded to, we see a slightly defeatist cold and wet CK sat on the bench where he asks two men what inspires them. To much of his surprise, their answers spiral into beautiful speeches and suddenly CK’s pessimism is replaced by joy as his belief that people do, in fact, want to speak to strangers is reinforced. And this is what ‘The Bench’ is all about. 

Throughout the series, viewers are introduced to different people with different stories to tell. It is quite unbelievable just how powerful strangers opening up to each other can be. If those two men had proceeded to walk past CK, we wouldn’t have ever been told the uplifting story of how much one of them, Jacob, values his brother-in-law so much so that he regards him as a ‘father figure.’ Similarly, as seen in episode 4, if Jason had continued walking, we wouldn’t have ever known how proud he was that he had accomplished caring for his ill mother that past week. The moral of the story being, no matter how big or small, ordinary people have stories to tell which can be just as watchable as celebrity drama. CK acknowledges that the way the series has been embraced suggests that with the right circumstances (and a badly lit street), regular people can be just as compelling. 

Would I have stopped at that bench before? Probably not. However, after watching CK’s heartwarming series I would like to think I would- even if it was freezing cold and chucking it down outside. 

You can watch all the episodes at: