Professional football clubs and their impact off the pitch

Much attention will be focused towards the on-the-pitch performances of professional football clubs this coming weekends as Wembley is set to host the FA Cup semi-finals, yet professional football clubs are having an increasing impact off the pitch, notably for health. Indeed, football is now considered a vehicle for promoting health in local communities surrounding the stadia, particularly for men.

In this article Dr Kathryn Curran, of Leeds Beckett University and Football Collective member highlights her recent published research  on health promotion with hard-to-reach men at Everton Football Club. The research is entitled, ‘The challenge and impact of engaging hard-to-reach populations in regular physical activity and health behaviours: an examination of an English Premier league ‘Football in the Community’ men’s health programme is the focus of this contribution. 

The Problem

Men from hard-to-reach (HTR) populations frequently report poor health statistics and have therefore been highlighted as a particular area of concern for men’s health practitioners and professionals. It has been argued that participation in regular physical activity (PA) and engagement with health services can significantly improve the overall health and wellbeing of HTR populations. However, research has shown that people from HTR groups often experience difficulty engaging in PA for a sustained period of time and are reluctant to engage with traditional health services. At present, there remains a lack of contextual evidence which provides insight into the difficulties experienced by men from HTR groups when attempting to engage in PA and health behaviours. In order to extend our understanding of why men from HTR groups experience difficulty engaging in physical activity and health behaviours, it is critical to understand the contextual barriers and challenges that such populations encounter.

The Aim

The aim of this research was to investigate the challenges that men from hard-to-reach (HTR) populations encounter when attempting to commit to regular participation in physical activity and health behaviours and to explore the psychological and social effects of participation in a twelve week football-led health improvement intervention.

The Intervention

A twelve week football specific physical activity intervention targeting men from HTR populations was delivered by Everton Football Clubs’ Football in the Community (FitC) scheme as part of a national programme of men’s health delivered in/by English Premier League (EPL) football clubs. Men living in homeless shelters and/or recovering from substance misuse were recruited over a period of three months. The programme consisted of a two hour football session, twice weekly, alongside the dissemination of healthy living messages. Football sessions were conducted by a qualified FitC coach.

The Methods

This research was conducted during a twelve week period of immersed practitioner-research. Ethnographic and observational methodologies were adopted. Psychosocial issues were discussed with participants through informal conversations and data was logged via field notes. Records of attendance were logged. Participants who failed to attend a session were contacted and their reason(s) for non-attendance were recorded.

What happened?

Despite the apparent ambition of the participants to regularly participate in the football programme, adherence to the programme was poor. Economic, environmental and social barriers to engagement in the programme were apparent. Engagement in the programme resulted in positive psychosocial developments; the development of structure, social interaction and social capital.

So what?

It is evident that community based football-led health improvement programmes endorsed by professional football clubs are well positioned to connect with, and attract, men from HTR populations. The evidence suggests that such programmes can improve psychosocial health amongst these populations. However, a bottom-up programme design and management strategy is required in order to reduce the challenges facing HTR participants when attempting to regularly engage in physical activity and health behaviours.


To read this article click here and to contact the author email: or to link up on Twitter @Kathryn_Curran. You will also find more about the author and her other research here on her University profile or Linkedin.

To cite this article:

Curran, K., Drust, B., Murphy, R., Pringle, A. and Richardson, D. (2016) The Challenge and impact of engaging hard-to-reach populations in regular physical activity and health behaviours: An examination of an English Premier League ‘Football in the Community’ Men’s Health Programme. Public Health. Link to article is here.

Related research:

Hulton, A., Drust, B., Flower, D., Richardson, D. and Curran, K. (2015). The Effectiveness of a Community Football Programme on Improving Physiological Markers of Health in a HTR Male Population. Soccer and Society, 17 (2), 1-13. Link to article.

Curran, K., Drust, B. and Richardson, D. (2014). “I just want to watch the match!” A practitioner’s reflective account of men’s health themed match day events at an English Premier League Football Club. Soccer and Society, 15 (6), 919-933. Link to article.

Curran, K., Bingham, D.D., Richardson, D. and Parnell, D. (2014) Ethnographic engagement from within a Football in the Community programme at an English Premier League football club. Soccer and Society, 15 (6), 934-950. Link to article.

Bingham, D.D., Richardson, D., Curran, K. and Parnell, D. (2014). Fit Fans: perspectives of a practitioner and understanding participant health needs within a health promotion programme for older men delivered within an English Premier League Football Club. Soccer and Society, 15 (6), 883-901. Link to article.

Pringle, A., Zwolinsky, S., Curran, K. and Parnell, D. (2015). Sport and Arts- Important Settings for Health Improvement. Perspectives in Public Health, 135, 218. Link to article.

Parnell, D. and Curran, K. (2015). The role professional football clubs could play in delivering pragmatic physical activity interventions in the recovery from mental illness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49 (15), 1026. Link to article.

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