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INTERVIEW: Football club from Morecambe with a focus on mental wellbeing looks to climb the English pyramid 

Pause United FC after their Presidents Cup win

In Mental Health Awareness Week, Beyond Radio has found out all about a football club in Morecambe which puts player wellbeing first.

Pause United, who play their football at the Trimpell Sports and Social Club, were formed in 2021, playing in the West Lancashire League Division Two.

Pause have a focus on putting player wellbeing at the heart of the club.

On the pitch, they have had huge success this month, getting their hands on the league’s President Cup trophy. 

The club worked very hard to win the trophy and faced challenges in every round, and even before entering the competition.

Manager Aaron Helliwell, who took charge last summer, spoke to Beyond Radio about the cup success, their focus on mental wellbeing and the future ambitions of the club.

“We’re quite a unique club and any of the players who are having any struggles with their life or wellbeing can get support and through the season, we’ve really wanted to push that," said Helliwell.

“This goes for the reserves, the veteran team, players’ family members, anybody at the club: if anyone is struggling with their mental or physical wellbeing they can get support almost instantly as we believe early intervention is the key.

“When someone is struggling and has a change in their behaviour, there’s the option to press a button at Pause and enter the 'build a better life' programme  which will mean that player will get assigned a well-being coach and have five one to one sessions, this will help the player pause, notice and reflect.

“We call this a trusted access point.

“That’s properly started this year, which is really pleasing.

“It was always the idea with the club but because I’ve taken care of the football side of things so that the chairman [Mark Cottee] and others can really push the wellbeing side of things, with the help of our sponsors.

“The lads are loving it, a few of them have accessed the help and it’s had a positive impact.”

On the field, Pause United won the cup in dramatic fashion.

“Because of the rules in the cup, we had to play a certain amount of games [in the league] before we were eligible to play in the cup and because of the winter postponement  that we’d had, that was really tough," said Helliwell.

“By the time we got to the first round of the cup [in February], I think we’d only played two games since late October.”

The first round game was away against Hesketh Bank, who narrowly missed out on promotion from Division One to the Premier Division this season.

Pause were 4-2 winners, progressing to the quarter final.

“We were down to the bare bones and had to ask some players who had stopped playing for the club earlier on in the season to dust off their boots and help me out for a game or two," said Helliwell.

“Hesketh Bank were a really good footballing team, but we were brilliant on the day and it was the start of a really strong run of form for us.”

They went on to beat Turton 1-0 in the rearranged quarter final.

“That was probably the hardest tie because we really like to play football, but the pitch didn’t suit that," said Helliwell.

“We had a difficult goalkeeping situation: we didn’t have one for the game until I brought one in, but he got injured 10 minutes in so our left back had to go in goal, it was real backs to the wall.

“I wouldn’t call it the typical Pause United way of winning but it was good to show we could win that type of game.”

The side took on Stoneclough in the semi final at Fulwood Amateurs’ ground.

“It was a really tricky first half, with gale force winds and losing 2-0.

“In the second half, we turned it around to win 3-2, we were brave on the ball and played out from the back and caused them all sorts of problems.”

The dramatic final took place at Dalton United’s ground.

Pause got a 5-3 penalty shootout win after a goalless draw and, despite the club’s great achievement, Helliwell admits it was difficult to prepare for the game.

“We’d been playing four times a week most weeks towards the end of the season to make up for lost games in the winter so preparations for the final was almost non-existent.

“The team are a great group of lads and we got the job done.

“We came into the game as underdogs. I’d watched Ulverston before the final and they were a good footballing side.

“In the first half, I think nerves played a big part and lads were playing in their shells.

“The half time team talk calmed things down, much like in the semi final, and we went out and played some of the best football we’d played [all season].

“One of our young lads, Ollie Wilson, was sensational in the second half, he played like a young Messi.

“After the game, I asked the players ‘who wants a penalty’ and five lads put their hand up straight away.”

Ollie, and four other players, found the target to give Pause the well deserved Presidents Cup trophy.

“We were so pleased because we’d played about 12 or 13 games in four weeks and players suffering knocks were out for a good few games, whereas players at higher leagues would only be out for one game," said Helliwell.

Pause had a real chance of promotion too with a few games remaining in the league season but finished third behind Astley and Buckshaw and Freckleton.

However, the team have come a long way this season - they finished third from bottom in the 2022/23 campaign - and third place is still something the club are generally happy with.

“Part of me is slightly disappointed because I’d have loved for us to go up but this season was all about bringing a group of players together and building - we’d signed a lot over the summer.

“The foundations have been properly laid and these lads are almost like best mates.

“We’re in the right direction heading into next season.

“I think our fixture backlog played a part and our cup runs had a knock on effect onto the league.”

Helliwell was attracted by the overall project at Pause United, in which the wellbeing is a big factor, but the club have major ambitions to climb the English football pyramid.

“I work in a school for children with special needs and I worked in a care home before that so managing behaviours and linking that into football was a big factor for me.

“When I was in my early 20s, I was doing a lot of gambling and I feel like if I was in an environment where someone could’ve spotted the behaviours, I probably wouldn’t have gone as deep as I did.

“I’ve been able to turn things around, I’m successful in what I’m doing and I’ve got a great home life but that could’ve easily been very different so once I heard about this project that was going to help lads, whatever the issues are, I thought that’s something I can be passionate about.

“The idea is to branch out into other clubs in the future, hopefully FA hear about what we’re doing and help push it so we can train other football clubs at all levels to create access points that will support the well-being of the players in the UK.

“What we’re trying to do is create a trusting environment where lads can talk but if they do display changes in behaviours, they can be passed onto an access point and a champion can pick them up and help them make some positive changes.

“The football club is really ambitious on the pitch too.

“We want to go up the football ladder and the long term ambition is to get to the Football League.

“The project ticks both boxes for me: I’m football mad but I also want to help people.”

Pause United’s reserve team are one of nine teams currently in the North Lancashire and District Football League, which will fold in the next few weeks.

The team have applied to join the West Lancashire League’s reserve divisions and are hopeful that the application will be accepted.

The reserves are currently looking for a new manager.

The club are looking for a “dynamic individual” with “experience in football management” and an “ambitious mindset” who will be a key part of their on-the-pitch and off the pitch future.

Look on the club’s social media pages for more information on the vacancy, the applications for which close on Friday, May 24.

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