‘Football has always been an escape’ Reading FC fan sets up peer support group Talking Royals – Reading Today Online

Picture: Luke Adams

A LIFE-LONG Reading FC fan is inviting fellow supporters to come together for a new project which provides a safe space for people to speak about mental health and football.

Johnny Hunt, who hosts the 1871 podcast, launched Talking Royals earlier this month; the group will meet virtually for the first time later today (Tuesday, September 26) and will continue to run monthly throughout the season.

The initiative’s aim is to normalise the conversation about mental health, a topic particularly relevant during one of the most turbulent periods in Reading FC’s history. The club has received points deductions in each of the past three seasons due to off-the-field issues, including failure to pay HMRC and staff wage bills.

According to Johnny, this uncertainty has had a negative impact on the club’s fans. He said: “It’s not about relegation or promotion anymore, but a fear of not having a club. It’s an absolutely scary threat. Football has always been an escape for my mental health, and from the struggles of life sometimes.

“But now it seems like the football is starting to have a negative impact on people’s mental health because of the uncertainty month-to-month. It does have an effect on people.

“Coming into the winter months and longer evenings, there are a lot of people who might not be able to see others between games. Talking Royals is there to help people talk about mental health and football.”

He stressed that the sessions are not counselling substitutes and that there is no formal structure, with participants deciding how to get the most out of them.

“I know it can be daunting and that it can be quite scary to talk openly about these things, but you can talk as little or as much as you want with your camera on or off,” Johnny explained. “There’s no set rules. There’s no set rules to mental health.”

The nurse has previously spoken out about his personal experiences with his mental health, battling eating and bipolar disorders, but continues to be a stalwart within the Reading fanbase. In 2019, Johnny and fellow Royals supporter Martin Sims and Fulham fan Lee Adams raised £1,000s for mental health charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Despite spending much of his 51 years in different countries across the world, Johnny still considers Reading to be his home by virtue of being born there – his father would share legendary stories of times spent with elusive Royals striker Robin Friday – and the relationships he has built with the people there, particularly at the football club.

He said: “There have been some good games and some not so good games, but the club means the world to me.

“People have helped me, and with this project I just want to give back to the Reading community. If you can help one person, it’ll all be worth it.”

The first Talking Royals meeting takes place at 7pm via the link below.

To access the meeting, visit: https://t.co/mYS8mwWOh2 and for more information, contact: [email protected]

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