My Football Friends journey: A road to recovery

Eileen Wade with Football Friends

Eileen Wade, 70, took part in our very first series of Any Old Irons meetings. She chatted to us recently about the important role it played in her recovery after a breakdown, and why it has inspired her to become a volunteer.

“Three years ago I was living with overpowering anxiety and depression after separating from my husband. I’d virtually become a recluse; I would spend days at home alone, and if I did go out, I would even cross over the road rather than speak to anyone. Then I had a breakdown.

The road to recovery wasn’t immediate; sometimes, perhaps, you have to hit rock bottom, but I became determined to make the best of things.

First steps to recovery

I began to get involved with all sorts of activities: I wanted to push myself. Then I heard about Any Old Irons through the Over 60s club at St. Margaret’s Church, Canning Town. I have always been a West Ham fan – when I was little we lived in walking distance of the old stadium and I can still remember my Dad taking my brother and me to my very first game. It was an evening match with floodlights; I loved it and I was hooked. So I was very keen to get involved with Any Old Irons – I put down both my mobile and my home number!

I went along, and I found that the people are all so friendly. I really enjoy talking about West Ham; my best memories are of going to the 1965 Wembley European Cup Winners Cup Final, and I also went to some of the 1966 England World Cup matches – I always think of that as West Ham’s World Cup because of Bobby Moore and the other West Ham players in the England squad.

Reconnecting with the community

The West Ham stadium and the team were so much part of the local community, even if you weren’t a football fan it was part of everyday life, especially with all the activity on match days. I used to love walking past, hearing the chanting and soaking in the atmosphere.

We’ve done loads of fun things through Any Old Irons. For example, it was great recently when we got tickets for the1966 exhibition at Wembley. There’s a huge photo of the 1966 England squad and the three West Ham players – I had my photo taken standing next to it wearing my West Ham scarf.

And I’ve stayed involved, going to the monthly Sporting Stories West Ham meetings organised by people who’ve done the Any Old Irons programme – they are such a nice crowd!

Coming out into the light

Any Old Irons has been massive for me – it has really brought me out of myself and I am a lot more outgoing.

That’s why I became an Any Old Irons volunteer – I want everyone else to be able to get out and have bit of a life and enjoy themselves too. I have invited a lot of people along – now I can go up to strangers and talk to them about Any Old Irons and what we do, whereas before I was like a little mouse. I do like meeting and greeting people: my sons say I can now talk for England! Everywhere I go, I tell people about Any Old Irons and they all want to come. I know they will enjoy it.

So it’s helped increase my confidence; I would never have been able to do things like this when I was younger. It’s like the person I was meant to be had been buried, but that person has finally come out into the light.

Inspiring others

I was very honoured to win an NHS ‘Moving On’ award for the recovery I have made. Nowadays I am never in! Recently, I took up playing the guitar and I played at my adult education class’s end of year award ceremony with the rest of the acoustic guitar group. It was a terrifying experience and I am not sure showbiz is for me, at the moment, but we didn’t sound too bad though!

I’ve also got involved in befriending work with lonely older people through Friends of the Elderly – I wanted to give something back as a volunteer. I know what it is like to go all day without speaking to someone and it just touched me, to think of other older people on their own. One lady I have volunteered with had lost her partner, and I was able to give her tips on how I got back up and running again after I was on my own – I know what it’s like.

I want to show other older people that you can come back from bad times and mental illness.”

If you or someone you know would benefit from our Any Old Irons programme, find out more today.