'There's a stigma about men opening up'

Tuesday 21 May 2024 11:00

Lee 'Fatman' Waterworth's face is the first you see in 'Supporting Each Other' – the latest episode in our One Love series. He's the first voice you hear, too.

The film focuses on Manchester United Supporters FC – an amateur side made up of loyal Reds, who compete against fans representing our rival clubs. Lee is the man between the sticks. The no.1.
The side is principally about football and fun, of course. But the film also shines a light on the more subtle ways in which the squad have an influence on each other's lives away from the pitch. Like when romantic relationships hit choppy waters, or mental health problems hit hard.
Lee – or 'Fatman, as he prefers to be called – has been on both sides of the fence, and believes that Supporting Each Other shows just how critical football can be in such situations.
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"There's a stigma about men opening up, going back to the old days, when they didn't often talk about feelings," he tells us, when we call up to get his reaction to the film's premiere.
"But when you play with a group of lads, you can see it in them [if they are struggling], and they feel more comfortable opening up around their mates. All it takes is one person to go: 'Oh do you know what happened to X?' Then someone else will probably go: 'Oh, that happened to me too.'
"It's a football environment where everybody is kind of relaxed. When you're in a pub chatting to somebody, you're kind of closed up – you don't want to burden people with your problems. At football, you're talking openly and freely, and having a laugh and a joke. All someone needs to say is: 'How come X hasn't been playing?' Then you'll get people texting them then, saying 'I haven't seen you for a bit mate – I hope everything's okay?'"
One of the stories told concerns father of two Calum Beckett, who namechecks Lee and another player, David Spruce, for being there for him when his daily reality got rough.
"We all spotted it with Calum straight away – he came to a game and was very skinny and ill," remembers Lee. "He wasn't going to come to football; he thought he wasn't in the [right] mindset. But then when he did turn up, we all rallied around him. He realised that it's a case of getting out of the rut of what you're doing on a day-to-day basis and you can actually enjoy yourself a bit.
"He's done excellently. He's turned his life around. Sometimes just knowing people are there, if you need them, is a big thing for people. Especially for men, as they don't open up as often. But if you've got people ready to start the conversation, like us guys, then it does help."
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But what of Lee's nickname, 'Fatman'? In a film where mental health is a hot topic, does the goalkeeper not feel uncomfortable with its repeated use?
"When I first started playing football, I wasn't as rotund as I am now," Waterworth explains. "I was quite a stocky lad and I was quick and it was all different. As a bit of a laugh I got the nickname 'Fatman'. It stuck, but I was not as big as I am now. But then I grew into the role...
"When I went to other teams, I'd be introduced as 'Fatman' and people would say: 'I'm not calling him that.' But I'd say: 'That's my nickname and I love it.' I know I'm a big lad. If somebody called me fat I'd just say 'Yeah, I know.' Embrace who you are, because people love you for who you are, not your size.
"My eldest daughter is Fat Face, my son is called Fat Boy and my littlest girl is called Fatty, because they wanted to embrace my sense of humour and my enjoyment of life. They absolutely love it. You'll always get people who try to belittle you, for anything. But in this day and age, people embrace being different. Being different doesn't mean you are any worse."
Lee and his team-mates explain how playing football helps their lives.
There is one problem Lee has with the film, mind you: some of the match footage that has made it in, taken from a United Supporters game against French opposition.
"They showed far too many Lens goals for my liking!" he laughs. "But I think the episode got across the point we were trying to make. It's all about healthy minds and all of us sticking together. 
"I've sent through the link to a lot of people, because I play for quite a lot of teams, and obviously family and friends. And they all thought it was great. My little girl, who's on the video, is currently living in America, so she was absolutely buzzing."
After winning the league title last year, the lads were invited to play on the hallowed Old Trafford pitch.
After a few bad knee injuries, he's working hard to get back to full fitness, and hopes to play on for Manchester United Supporters FC for as long as possible. But whatever the future holds, pulling on the red shirt has already given him some of the greatest buzzes in life.
"The highlight of my footballing career, to be fair, was walking out at Old Trafford," he admits. "It was just madness. We're all grown adults but we were all happy-clapping in the changing room! Even though we've all been on the tour and been in the stands for games, to actually walk out of the tunnel and onto the pitch... I'm getting goosebumps just talking about it.
"Of course, we can't actually play for the first team. But putting that shirt on, you feel like you're representing the club."