A one-of-a-kind West London football club are hoping Women’s World Cup fever can help take their pioneering project to the next level.
Minds United have gone from strength to strength since being founded by Tarik Kaidi in 2019, with the club proving a vital sanctuary for those seeking a sporting aid to their mental health problems.
A women’s side was set up a year later thanks to crucial funding from The National Lottery, with player numbers exploding in the past year following the Lionesses’ victory at last year’s Euros.
At the heart of the club’s expansion of its women’s side is Vicki McGarrigle, whose own story is an exemplar of the transformative impact Minds United can have.
After struggling with her own mental health during lockdown and being diagnosed with diabetes, the 41-year-old turned to football, rekindling a love for the beautiful game that had laid dormant since her teenage years.
McGarrigle apprehensively attended her first training session but has since risen rapidly up the ranks to head up the women’s program and is excited for what will come next for both her club, and the wider women’s game.
“I thought ‘Wow, this is amazing’ I never thought a football club could do so much more than playing football,” she added.
“They really encouraged me that day. I was playing with young lads, and I hadn’t played football for a long time. I remember at the end of the session I was red like a beetroot and out of breath.
“We’ve got mixed ability and mixed mental health and each individual person comes for different reasons. I found that what Tariq said, exercise is the best for mental health.
“We’ve had women with severe mental health that have stayed at the club and its changed how they feel-they feel like they’re part of a family through football.”
The club welcome all players regardless of their footballing ability, with the focus on the positive impact the beautiful game, and exercise more widely, can have on mental health.
And while most of the goals are scored off the pitch, success is not in short supply on it either, with the women’s team fresh from sealing four trophies last season, including the EASI Cup in the Netherlands.
Now, having lifted their own silverware, the club can’t wait to watch the Lionesses go for World Cup glory this summer in Australia and New Zealand, and the continuing snowball effect success could have on the wider women’s game.
“It’s so exciting because when we first started the women’s side up, we didn’t even think of the England women’s side.
“But since the Lionesses won the Euros, that’s around the time that we were building at grassroots level, and it had such an impact.
“That’s when we got more women in the community and outside the community wanting to go ‘If they can do it, we can do it’, and they wanted to be a part of those celebrations.
“If we didn’t receive that funding from The National Lottery, we wouldn’t have been able to start the women’s side up.
“Last year we wouldn’t have been able to do that because the pitches are expensive to hire every week, even just doing one training session a week.
“You’re looking at equipment, you’re looking at kits to go into a league as well, and staff.
“Mostly, in football clubs, people volunteer, especially in grassroots but the funding that we get can reimburse lunch and things like that.
“There are people out there who get thousands of pounds for doing what we do, and we do it from our heart. It’s about a community coming together and building something amazing.”
The club’s noble cause has opened the doors of exciting opportunity to its players and staff, with Lionesses legend Jill Scott visiting the club as well as The National Lottery filming with them ahead of the World Cup.
And the club can’t wait to further ride the wave of women’s football, with hopes that it will encourage even more players to take to the pitch.
“We are so excited because at the end of the day if it is going to go the same way as the Euro’s went, it’s going to be amazing,” said McGarrigle.
“We’ve got a clubhouse and we’re going to have some sort of timetable, where we can all get together for breakfast, especially when the fixtures are early in the morning.
“It’s just about us all coming together and also with our male side as well. It’s about a football family.”
National Lottery players have transformed women and girls’ football in the UK, with more than £50 million invested in the last 10 years alone. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk #TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen