Tragedy inspires Martin's campaign to curb suicides

February 04 2020

Martin Williamson with some of the drinks mats that bear a vital message

Martin Williamson with some of the drinks mats that bear a vital message

A former football manager from Hanham has launched an initiative aimed at tackling male suicide.
Martin Williamson, who managed a team at AEK Boco from 2004 to 2016, was devastated to hear of the death of former player Sean Finnegan.
Sean, also of Hanham, was 28 when he took his life in August. The news rocked the footballing community and left many thinking about what could have been done to have stopped Sean's death.
Martin himself did much soul searching and came up with the idea of creating drinks mats featuring messages and slogans of support aimed at young males who may be experiencing mental health issues.
They also feature advice as well as phone numbers and websites of organisations which can help. Messages include “Some people say they are ok when they are not. Talk to a friend” and “If you are feeling desperate, depressed, sad, lonely, anxious or overwhelmed...you are not alone”.
Martin, 52, who has two sons aged 20 and 23, says the drinks mats can be placed at sports clubs, bars, pubs, canteens and offices in order to break the taboo surrounding mental health.
Orders are already coming in from across the country as news of Martin's initiative spreads, with 100 per cent of all profits going to mental health charities.
Martin said: “A lot of people said to me that they saw Sean a couple of days before he died and he was fine. You hear this all the time – people somehow manage to carry on and live a normal life when they're at breaking point.
“Mental health is getting to the forefront of the media and news but is that making people talk about it? I don't know.
“It's as though they think killing themselves is somehow easier than sharing their problem with somebody. It's mind-blowing that someone can be in such a state mentally that they think that's the best thing to do. This really got to me.”
Shortly after Sean died, a football game between his club Hanham Athletic and AEK Boco, where he played as a child, went ahead in his memory.
“It was quite emotional and got me thinking whether football clubs do enough for their kids,” said Martin.
Feeling concerned, Martin then sent a text out to his former under 18s team.
“I told them if they ever needed to speak to anyone about any issues they have, I'd like to think they would give me a call.
“I thought they would just make light of it but a lot of replies appreciated my text and seemed really heartfelt. I was taken aback and it got me thinking that we don't do enough.
“There are 16 or 17 lads who are now aged 21 in my former team and statistically four of those will have some sort of mental health issue in any given year.”
Martin has worked in the print industry since he was 16 and, inspired by a photo of a drinks mat posted online by a mental health charity, decided he could use his experience and contacts to do something similar.
After designing two different mats, Martin set up a website, buying the domain name 'Friends Must Talk' for just £3.
He is starting to sell them to sports clubs and leagues but has also come up with one aimed at young women as well as a more generic design more suitable to offices and other non-sports related venues.
After emailing numerous football leagues, Martin was staggered to hear the number of stories about young men taking their own lives or experiencing mental health issues.
“I had someone ring me from a football league in Sussex and he told me that he'd had mental health issues. He ordered 2,500 so he could give 50 out to every club in his league.
“I've not spoken to anyone who doesn't think it's a good idea. They aren't expensive - 300, say, with postage works out at about £29. Take-up so far is promising but I need to make more people and organisations aware that they are available.”
Martin said: “The aim of the drinks mats is to get people talking and make people realise that they aren't the only ones going through this. They could act as a prompt and if they help to save just one life then it will have been worth it.”
You can find out more about the drinks mats by visiting www.friendsmusttalk.co.uk or by searching Friends Must Talk on Facebook.