MAN v FAT Football: Improving Men’s Physical and Mental Health

As a corpulent man myself, I know the social struggles faced by us bigger lads. The fear of a white PVC chair at a barbecue folding like a house of cards beneath us coerces our need for another burger. 

But recently, I found a club for us that encourages exercise, weight loss and laughter. It’s exclusive to those over a certain BMI. So, if you’re thin, you’re not getting in!

The concept is to create a weight-loss community for men through 5, 6 and 7-a-side football leagues across the UK, and now in Australia. The objective is to help overweight and obese men lose weight and improve their physical and mental health. With over 90 leagues created in the UK, and new ones launching, there is a location for everyone. 

You’re split into teams and added to WhatsApp group chat to meet your new teammates and discuss the important things: funny team names and what our ‘last supper’ would be before the first weigh-in. 

I’m a proud member of the O.B City, playing in green. Our opponents include Man Titty in red; Borussia Bunchöffatlads in white; Chunky Smurfs in blue; The Fat Ronaldos in Norwich-yellow and Fatistutas in Fiorentina-purple.

The league is decided not by our footballing prowess alone, but the results of our weekly weigh in. Both the pitch score and the team’s performance on the scales are combined for the weekly result: placing greater emphasis on teammates supporting each other on our weight loss journeys.

If 2 players on the team lose weight, that equates to 1 goal added; 3 weeks of weight loss for each player adds a hat-trick goal; a percentage loss of 5 – 20% of our start weight adds 3 goals. There are goals on offer for keeping an accurate food diary – but I would much prefer to rifle it top-bins personally. 

Games are played weekly, marshalled by an FA qualified referee, after all players have been weighed and the verdicts are returned. But the support is extended beyond matchday. 

MAN v FAT was founded by Andrew Shanahan in 2014. Having struggled with his weight for a long time, he joined his local slimming club.

Your membership includes access to live workouts and exercise plans, as well as a player support team. Similarly, being a part of the MANvFAT Facebook community which shares recipes and positive stories of weight loss.

More importantly, membership includes access to SilverCloud – a digital mental health platform. It is a platform containing modules and programmes to help support, manage and navigate the complexities of a variety of mental health issues. An invaluable tool. 

Naturally, I was anxious about joining a group of strangers to play football. Questions such as “will I be the biggest? Or the slowest? The least fit?” circled my head for weeks. And although I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a player – with no foundation whatsoever – the concept daunted me. That was until we met for the first time to have an informal kickabout. 

A particularly daunting moment was having to approach a group of strangers, asking whether they were from MANvFAT and potentially getting it wrong – just like incorrectly enquiring whether a woman is pregnant. Fortunately, I found them without the need to unintentionally insult anybody.

Although I did tease a latecomer, who approached me asking if he was in the right place. I returned a blank face and an inquisitive “no?”, before bursting out laughing having realised it was harsh to impose the exact same situation that I was anxious about and apologised. 

He laughed, and we discussed how I’d only played for 10 minutes and needed a new set of lungs. Perhaps the initial joke was harsh, but I like to think that we deepened a new bond and that it broke the ice. 

There was an immediate realisation that we were all there for the same thing. We all want to lose weight, improve our health and indulge in the camaraderie that team sport produces. Each of us has different shapes and sizes, are at different starting points and with a variable level of footballing experience, but all supportive of each other. 

The WhatsApp group chats were used to share our anxieties prior to our first friendly game and weigh-in, mainly around letting the team down or not giving a good account of ourselves. Sometimes we all need reminding that we need not worry so much and doing our best should be our only expectation. 

Men tend to bond around experiences, rather than openly discussing our feelings. The collective of men striving for similar goals is often a successful vehicle to build connections and share experiences. Male bonds are often ‘shoulder to shoulder’, in contrast to female connections that are ‘face to face’ and naturally more emotionally activated.

The friendly, welcoming community that I’ve experienced with MANvFAT Football thus far has been perhaps the most enjoyable part. Other men cheering each other on, bonding through self-deprecating humour and having a kickabout. 

For the time we were playing, aside from the realisation of how unfit I have become, I had forgotten all about the other things that regularly consume my mind. It was just me, the rest of them and a game of football. A brief escape from the psychological difficulties the past year has thrust upon us all.

The league formally starts next week after a round of friendly fixtures, where O.B City ran out 3-0 victors against The Fat Ronaldos. The competition now begins for the biggest losers and the highest scorers: the most difficult part will be avoiding a hard-earned McDonalds on the journey home.

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