Omar Beckles feels times are changing for footballers and he wants to be at the forefront of making them more relatable.
The Leyton Orient defender has been mental health champion for the Professional Footballers Association at a time when the subject is being taken more and more seriously in sport.
Beckles, who began his career at Millwall and arrived at Brisbane Road via Jerez in Spain, eight non-league clubs and three more in the Football League, is one of the game’s thinkers.
After losing his dad Linton six years ago, during Beckles’ time at Aldershot, he started to experience feelings he had never had before, leading to a fight with depression and anxiety.
Having set up the HUB 365 Foundation in his dad’s memory, he now speaks at suicide prevention conferences and has been an advocate of getting people, not least footballers, to open up on their own struggles. He recalls the reasons behind his own mental health battle.
‘Dad made people feel special, he was multi-talented, a pastor, he did it all,’ Buckles tells Metro. ‘He was so passionate about the community.
‘But I internalised it all. We’re not robots, we’re human beings, and we have to get rid of the stigma that comes with mental health. Sportsmen and women are leading that conversation.’
The 30-year-old was at Accrington in 2016-17 when team-mate Billy Kee, scorer of 74 goals in four-and-a-half campaigns at the club, fought bulimia, anxiety and depression, before retiring from the professional game at 29.
Beckles watched, unable to process why Kee was not coping before his own internal battle began.
‘I never got it, I was so judgmental until I had my own experience with it,’ he admits. ‘When I lost my dad, I went into fight mode. I was never clinically diagnosed but it got so bad I was grinding my teeth in my sleep and had to have a mouthguard made.’
Linton was lead singer of 80s R&B and soul band Central Line. Ironic, then, that Omar’s career has headed back down one of the Underground’s main arteries to the O’s.
They host ninth-placed Hartlepool, who are two places higher in League Two, tomorrow and Beckles jokes: ‘I couldn’t get a club any closer to home! My family was very supportive of my football growing up but the area wasn’t great and there was a lot of destruction. Football was a way out of it.’
(By Matthew Nash, METRO, 02.11.2021)