Walking’s Brilliant – How the legendary goalkeeper Mark Crossley is giving people a helping hand with their mental health

“Satisfaction wise it is on par with playing. Being able to help people is as good as a three point win, or a two point win as it was when I started playing!”

During his glittering career Mark Crossley was used to giving his team a hand on the field.

Now, via social media and through his new Walking’s Brilliant charity he is still giving men and women up and down the country a hand in life.

The 51-year-old found himself out of work for the first time in 35 years in January and didn’t know what to do.

He took up walking and hasn’t looked back, and his funny videos of going on walks with mates have developed legs and grown.

Along with other ex professionals Steve Howey, Dean Windass, Nigel Jemson, Chris Kirkland and Jon Parkin, Crossley launched the charity to help mental health services within the NHS.

And he has revealed he has been inundated for months with private messages from random strangers who claim the goalkeeper affectionately known as ‘Norm’, has helped them with their mental struggles.

And despite a playing career that spanned 450 games, Crossley admits helping just one person is up their with earning three points.

He said: “Satisfaction wise it is on par with playing.

“Being able to help people is as good as a three point win, or a two point win as it was when I started playing!

“You get messages saying ‘big fella, your walking videos have inspired me and I’ve lost five stone’.

“That is brilliant! The challenge then is to keep it up.”

Crossley is most known for making over 300 appearances for Nottingham Forest and winning eight caps for Wales.

He also enjoyed spells with Middlesbrough and Fulham to name a few.

He left a position at Chesterfield in January and found himself out of the routine of football for the first time in three and a half decades.

A mate noticed that Crossley wasn’t himself, and that is when his love for walking began.

Although as he explains, it almost never started after hearing how long is first walk was going to be!

He explained: “I was ready for a break from football, but at the same time I finished my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer and I went in to a bit of a lull.

“A mate of mine said, ‘you don’t look so good big man, why don’t you come for a walk with me’.

“He was a keen walker like so I asked how far and he said six mile.

“I said you must be joking, but I did it and I never looked back.

“I started putting a few tweets online and that and people were getting in touch saying I’d inspired them to get out walking.

“People are happy to talk about mental health issues now, whereas before they wouldn’t.

“Anyway I spoke with the lads I used to play with an that who are on the after dinner circuit with me, and we got a few comedians involved and decided to do some charity work.

“I know someone in the mental health side of the NHS, and we decided to raise a bit of money for that like.”

If you follow Crossley, or @bignorms as he’s known on Twitter, his feed will be filled with pictures of people out walking and videos of him during his daily walk.

Dean Windass is another who posts daily about his and others struggles with mental health, to the point where the pair are helping random people they’ve never met before.

Crossley added: “I struggled with the day to day routine when I came out of football.

“I never had any family time, and being away from home wasn’t great or healthy so I had to give something back.

“And then you lose the banter and the interaction in the dressing room, but now I get that interaction on social media.

“People want to talk about mental health so I left my direct messages open on Twitter, and the messages on there, you wouldn’t believe.

“A lot of them are private, but people are saying I’ve helped them and I do get a lot of satisfaction out of that.

“I help them and then they also help me too.”

The bulk of Crossley’s career spanned the 80s and the 90s, a time where mental health issues were taboo.

In some clubs, if you admitted a problem you’d probably struggle to get back in the team.

But now things are different, as clubs are flooded with welfare officers and mental health is paramount.

Crossley never had access to that sort of help, but looking back now he admits he would have benefitted from it.

Crossley and Windass out walking with others – Picture – Walking’s Brilliant website

He added: “I wish I could have in my career, there wasn’t enough of it in football.

“A young lady at Notts County who went to work for England was good, she was interested in goalkeeping and what a lonely position it was.

“If you don’t perform well you go home at night having cost your team, and you can be destroyed on social media.

“Everyone has their own right to their own opinion but I didn’t cope very well with abusive messages on social media, it wasn’t nice.

“I don’t think there is enough to train your brain to deal with that.

“There wasn’t enough talk in the 90s, as men we act proud. It is only recently people are willing to talk about their struggles.”

Crossley and his football pals were due to climb Killimangario in July to raise money for mental health causes, but like everything this year, Covid-19 has put paid to it.

It has been moved to 2021, and the boys will be taking on a coast to coast walk in the UK instead this tear.

They’ve had the backing of the top men in football from Pep and Klopp, to entertainment royality in the form of Ant and Dec and the charity is close to getting official charity status.

According to Crossley that will only enhance the work he and others do to help others and keep mentally and physically fit.

And Crossley has challenged others to set targets to keep them active.

He said: “In lockdown to give myself some structure I set a target of 120 miles to walk in a month.

“It gives you that target, stops you from getting a bit lazy and it trains the brain, and it gives you self satisfaction, it is a great feeling.”

After working as a goalkeeper and a coach since he turned 15, Crossley is now in football retirement but far from full retirement.

He now works as a pundit and an after dinner speaker, and the latter has helped him to do something he was never able to do in football, say no.

Retirement has also helped the big Barnsley born stopper to hone his impressions of the late, great Brian Clough.

He said: “I’ve honed in Cloughie, but I still watch his videos and pick little bits up, they go down well on the speeches.

“I’ve done a few in lockdown but the last proper one was January, but they’ve all moved to next year which is good.

“What I love most about it, and this is something you can’t do in football, if a job is put in front of you, you can say no.

“In football, you’re trained not to say no. But now I can, I don’t have to please everyone.”

Crossley admits he isn’t missing being involved in the game enough to get back into it, but like many people say, never say never.

“I’m 51 and there are more important things than football.

“I still love it and punditry and that is the way forward for me with the speaking.

“You’re not under pressure and it is a fine mix.

“I’ve turned down four or five jobs since I left Cheserfield in January.

“I love what I’m doing now and I’m not missing being a part of it, but never say never.”

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