As posted on the Belfast Telegraph website. Click here to visit the original article.

Warm welcome: Linfield chairman Roy McGivern greets the club’s new chaplain Paul Reid. Photo: Linfield FC.

New Linfield chaplain Paul Reid has praised Crusaders midfielder Jude Winchester for opening up about his mental health challenges.

The Carryduff man is settling into his new role at the Blues after receiving a warm welcome from manager David Healy and club chairman, Roy McGivern.

It’s a huge honour and privilege for Paul who lives off the Holywood Road and has been pastor of CFC (Christian Fellowship Church) in east Belfast for over 30 years.

The lifelong Linfield member has taken on the role from Rev Bill Lavery who became Honorary Club Chaplain back in August.

The 70-year-old now heads up a Sports Chaplaincy team at Linfield which includes James Bell (Linfield Ladies), Johnny McKee (Linfield Boys Academy) and Amy Woods (Linfield Disability).

Paul is supported and trained by Sports Chaplaincy UK and Ireland and he was asked to consider accepting the privileged position by former Blues midfielder Philip Mitchell who is Co-ordinator for Sports Chaplaincy in Ireland.

At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on mental health issues, Paul is now determined to earn trust at Windsor Park and provide a listening ear to players or staff who might need confidential support or encouragement.

Men can find it difficult to talk about issues that are worrying them, but players have bravely spoken out about gambling addictions and life can throw so many other challenges at us, whether it’s in the real world or on social media.

Winchester spoke about the need to focus on his mental health following his move from Ballymena United to Crusaders and Paul said he hoped more players would feel confident to share their feelings.

He recalled: “I went to the doctor’s one day and I asked him ‘how are you doing?’ He said ‘Paul, I spend most of my day dealing with people who have mental health issues.’

“He said it would be another decade before we fully realise the impact the lockdown had on people.

“I mentioned to the team that Jude Winchester had been public about his own struggles and I felt that was very brave and courageous of him.

“Sometimes it’s just not appropriate to talk to the people you work with and it’s nice to have an outside, confidential voice to listen to, but you have to build trust with people before they are able to do that.

“All clubs today have a duty of care and they have realised that it is much more than getting people to the peak of physical fitness.

“It includes emotional health, mental health and of course, spiritual health. Some people need to talk about things outside of the management team or board and they can have an outside voice and confidential conversation with someone if they are struggling with anything.

“I said to the guys I have no agenda other than to get to know you and be here for you. I am not shocked by anything and I will talk about anything at any time.

“It’s about giving the club extra support because they can’t deal with everything.

“There’s great awareness today of the wholeness of a person, it’s not just physical, they have body, soul and spirit and I see my role as supporting the manager and board in that way.”

Paul is married to Priscilla, has four daughters and 12 grandchildren. He jokes: “My family say I have a team now and I can manage them.”

For Paul, it’s an honour to join the Linfield team, but it’s also a privilege to pick up the baton from the hugely popular and respected Bill Lavery who served as the club chaplain for over 30 years.

“It’s a privilege following Bill in the role,” he says. “His duties were restricted by illness and he’s now the honorary chaplain after building up a great relationship with everyone.

“It’s an honour to be involved with Linfield and just to give something back after so many years of pleasure following the team.

“I was a rugby boy who went to Methody. In my second year I sat beside this fella from the Donegall Road called Robert Bowman. I had went to Downey House and I didn’t know anything about Irish League football.

“One day he asked me ‘what team do you support?’ and I said I didn’t support anyone. He said ‘why don’t you come to Linfield with me?’ and that’s what I did. When I was 15-years-old I went 52 times one season, so I’ve been a stalwart Blueman all my life, since my first match in 1964.

“The reality of life is I could have been taken to the The Oval and been a Glenman.”

It’s always been the case that players need to be looked after on and off the pitch, particularly in the modern game when criticism and abuse can rattle anyone.

Off pitch concerns can easily impact a players’ performance. It’s often said that football is the most important of the least important things in life.

“Manager David Healy and chairman Roy McGivern have been absolutely brilliant,” said Paul.

“They have given me a warm, friendly welcome, opened the door and gave me an opportunity to introduce myself.

“I will keep my football opinions to myself, it’s not about that. If someone asks me a question I am happy to talk to them and I do not intend to bash them with a bible.

“There’s a lot of different aspects to Linfield Football Club and I’m here to help in any way I can.

“We should encourage people to talk. People get into trouble because they are sometimes too embarrassed and ashamed to talk about something, but when you open the door to someone it gives them permission to offer support.

“I think the chaplains have done a great job and around 90 per cent of our clubs have chaplains now.

“It’s important to be there and be seen. People will not pour out their heart when you walk in through the door for the first time. If they see me as warm, friendly and accepting, they may open up to me about something in six months and others may do the same.

“Around 700 clubs across the UK and Ireland have chaplains and it’s a universally recognised need. I’ve been warmly welcomed and I’m looking forward to it.”

Many Irish League players use social media and when used constructively it can lift the soul, but when it becomes a forum for abuse it can devastate lives.

“I’m on Twitter myself, Facebook and Instagram and it’s a good way of connecting with people, but I can see the abuse that sportspeople get and it’s beyond staggering, it beggars belief,” said Paul.

“You can see comments about the way someone has played and people go into personalities rather than talk about the game.

“It’s very unhelpful and I think people should desist from it.

“The players in the Irish League know they need to be careful when they use social media and the reality is people will type things that they would never say to someone’s face.”

Paul hasn’t been given a shirt number by kitman Gary Eccles and he won’t experience the hairdryer treatment from Healy, but be left in no doubt, he was a very important addition to the club in the January transfer window.

“I think the league is exciting,” he says. “On any day, any team can beat anyone else and that’s the mark of a decent league.

“It’s not about skill, there have always been skilful players in the league. With the fitness of the players and the attention to detail now, it’s a different game and I think it’s a great product, with attendances up. I’m a Leeds United man myself, but I would recommend anyone to go to an Irish League game.”

He’s now looking after two teams — all his grandchildren and the league champions.