Wiltshire FA is joining a new mental health champions scheme launched by MIND. The FA has worked closely with the charity to co-design the mental health champion role to help tackle the stigma of mental health within refereeing.

Volunteers Sam Gooding and Reverend Dr Father Mark Paris-Haines from the refereeing community will be promoting positive action by encouraging conversation and acting as a point of contact for any match official aged 18 or over who is struggling.

Sam Gooding who has worked in refereeing and is passionate about the cause said: “When the chance came up to give back in regards to mental health it was a no brainer.

“The role that the referee takes on, to be strong, independent and in control. That’s what their role is - to control players on a football pitch, and if they suddenly turn round and say they’re not feeling well, it is potentially seen as a sign of weakness. I think that’s what a lot of people’s problems are in society.”

Mr Gooding noted that mental health does not discriminate and is pushing the message that people should be open to understanding where everyone is coming from.

He said: “What surprises me is it can affect anyone at any age. There’s youngsters out there who people just assume they’re fine because they’re young and they’ve got their whole life ahead of them… You’ve got to appreciate that everyone is in different stages.

“Initially, it’s about providing people with someone to talk to and give that reassurance. Sometimes it’s more difficult talking to a family than a stranger. We try to put a process in place to put them on a path to feel safer and more secure.”

Richard Glynne-Jones, FA national referee manager said: "The mental health and wellbeing of people is more important now than ever, and The FA is committed to putting important steps in place to support our grassroots match officials. The scheme aims to create an open environment in an industry which has neglected conversations around mental health in the past."

Richard added: “ This scheme will help create a culture that promotes positive mental health amongst our refereeing community, encouraging honest and open conversations and breaking down the historic stigmas to inspire positive change.

“We are grateful for the support of Wiltshire CFA in driving the scheme forward”.

Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity for mind, said: “Mental health is gaining increasing visibility in football, which is hugely encouraging.

"But while the mental health of fans and players is now being talked about more than ever, it’s vital that we address the wellbeing of everyone involved in the game, not least referees, who face a unique set of challenges that could affect their mental wellbeing.

“That’s why we’re delighted to be working with The FA, and our training partner Washington Mind, on this ground-breaking scheme to support the mental health of grassroots match officials across the country.”