Magical Start For The Welcome Wizards

The Welcome Wizards are a mental health football team from Surrey helping positively affect the lives of those who have experienced mental health problems. Player, coach and volunteer Victor talks to Surrey FA about how the team’s first season has gone.

Victor volunteers for Catalyst, a drug, alcohol and mental health charity commissioned to work to promote individual wellbeing in Surrey. Through both Victor and Catalyst’s Welcome Project, the Welcome Wizards, a mental health football team, has been set up with funding from Community Foundation for Surrey and currently play in the Surrey Community Football League - Surrey’s mental health league.

“I am someone who is in recovery myself, and with my own experience of mental health difficulties” said Victor. “In my early days of recovery, I engaged with sports through mainstream clubs and people, but felt that it wasn’t always the most welcoming for me with my difficulties. Eventually I found the mental health football team Guildford and Waverley Revolutions, who also play in the Surrey Community Football League”.

Victor played with Guildford and Waverley Revolutions for a couple of seasons and became captain, in addition to taking training sessions. Victor then re-engaged with Catalyst and the Welcome Project, who he had used during his early recovery, as they were interested in starting a football team in the Surrey Heath area. The Welcome Project is part of Community Connections mental and emotional health and wellbeing support for people in Surrey. Victor proposed to build a team using his experience, starting the sessions as an activity to generate numbers with the view to joining the Surrey Community Football League.

“There is a sense of belonging… and this helps mental health”

“It started out as a few lads and myself, just in a field with poor equipment, just playing football as a fun and enjoyable activity. It was a learning curve for both the Welcome Project and myself - for example sessions were often cancelled for rain and numbers sometimes dropped to 2 or 3 players a week.” However, following more promotion in the community and moving to an indoor facility at the Camberley Arena, numbers grew, so that by January 2016 they had enough players to form a team, and joined the Surrey Community Football League at the beginning of the 2016/17 season.

Victor’s involvement as manager and coach led to funding from Surrey FA, to take his Level 1 in Coaching course. “The course gave me a confidence boost that a lot of the things I was already doing were correct - my coaching philosophy which I use with the team is in accordance with The FA, so it’s good to know I was already doing things well. It has also given me additional tools and ideas to further be able to improve the training sessions I deliver.”

Playing football has also made a big difference to his team mates and players in The Welcome Wizards team. “There is a sense of belonging, being in a team, and this helps mental health, physical health and gives the confidence to socialise again.” The team participates in activities outside of playing football, and some players have been supported by Catalyst to attend an Emergency Aid course with Surrey FA and Woking FC.  

Wellbeing and Inclusion Tournament

The Welcome Wizards have moved from strength to strength, and at the end of their first official season ran a Wellbeing and Inclusion Tournament with Catalyst at Frimley Lodge Park, near Camberley. “The idea was to run a tournament to de-stigmatise mental health and recovery, to be able to invite a diverse range of football teams- including teams from services that have involvement with mental health.”

Surrey Police, Ambulance Services and Community Mental Health services were invited, as well as mental health teams and community teams. “We wanted to get everyone to enjoy themselves playing football, regardless of their background. It was a good opportunity for people in services involved with mental health to see people in recovery with a smile on their face, as they mostly just see the negative side of mental health.” The tournament was a success, with a diverse range of teams enjoying football and coming together to combat stigma surrounding mental health, and is certainly on the agenda to run again next year.

“I have a very firm belief in the link between physical and mental health. Exercise and team sports, specifically football for me, are key components to support physical and mental health. Football breaks isolation, gives exercise and a sense of belonging - there are so many different aspects that can help someone by playing a game of football once a week.”

“Football for me is a lifesaver… It has been part of my recovery; I have had addiction and mental health issues and football and the team has given me the motivation to be able to stop my addictions and to live a healthy lifestyle, through regular exercise which helps my mental health.”  

For more information on mental health and football, or any other enquiries, please contact Tamsyn Woodman ( | 01372384749)

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