Mens Team

Steve Howey on tackling Kilimanjaro to help aid mental well-being

Steve Howey on tackling Kilimanjaro to help aid mental well-being
Over the course of an illustrious career, former City and England star Steve Howey never shied away from a tough challenge.

But the former central defender is now preparing to tackle what promises to be his most arduous obstacle yet – a mission to climb Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, with several other ex-professionals in a bid to try and raise help £250,000 in aid of the NHS and mental health charities.

Howey spent three memorable years at City between 2000 and 2003, playing under both Joe Royle and Kevin Keegan, where he experienced both the lows of relegation from the Premier League – and the joy of securing the Championship crown the following season.

Now a respected media pundit, over the past few years, Howey, who also starred for Newcastle and Leicester during his playing days, has also become a passionate advocate for positive mental well-being and earned plaudits for his honesty in opening up about the issues he has had to grapple with at times in his life after football.

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To that end – in the company of five other well-known former stars – Howey is preparing to help both further boost the profile of the issue of mental well-being and raise vital funds for the cause by scaling the summit of Kilimanjaro. All 19,340ft of it.

Howey will be flying out to the iconic Tanzanian landmark next July in tandem with former Liverpool and England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, ex-Hull striker Dean Windass, Nigel Jemson, formerly of Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest, ex-Preston and York striker Jon Parkin and former Nottingham Forest shot-stopper Mark Crossley.

The six have all spoken publicly about their own struggles with their mental well-being at stages in their lives following their football careers and have come together under the acronym WATCH – which stands for Walking And Talking Charity Hikes – to try and affect some positive change.

“There are a few of us who have suffered the trials and tribulations of mental health so we decided to get together and thought: ‘What can we do?’,” Howey reveals.


                        RISE AND SHINE: Steve Howey is on target for City against Portsmouth back in 2002
RISE AND SHINE: Steve Howey is on target for City against Portsmouth back in 2002

“The idea more or less came about from having the likes of Mark Crossley posting all the time under the hashtag #aintwalkingbrilliant and #walkingsbrilliant while Dean Windass has also been busy posting about the importance of getting up out of bed and taking another step. So we got together on a WhatsApp group.

“And, like silly people, we just thought if we’re going to do it, go big or go home. We thought what about Kilimanjaro?

“We have found a company which is going to take us out to Africa. We are looking at sponsors as well, while the PFA have been a big help, and we want to raise as much money as we can. Slowly but surely, it’s coming together.

“We are looking at a start date of July 13th next year. In total we will be away for 10 days but the climb itself will be the longer Kilimanjaro climb which is eight days in total from bottom to top.

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“When you climb up you then have to come back down to sleep which helps you acclimatise to the altitude and to try and stop the altitude sickness.

“It’s long, long hours. The last day will be something like 14 hours, but that will be a necessity as no-one wants to become ill.

“All together there are about 20 of us doing the climb. Not all are former footballers, but they will all be really good lads to have on the trip.

“I think since the COVID-19 pandemic everyone has seen the amazing work of the NHS and also maybe realised the importance of looking after your mental health. We just want to do our bit to help.”

For his part, Howey believes the advances made in both the understanding of and support provided to people struggling with their mental wellbeing have only been hugely positive in helping shine a light on an issue that, in many areas of sport, was considered something of a taboo not too long ago.

And, from his own experiences, Steve says that the prestige and material belongings that professional sport can offer provided no insulation from the effects of mental wellbeing struggles.

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“I first spoke about my own issues a few years ago and I think sometimes people are a little bit afraid of coming forward,” Howey revealed.

“If I had come out when I was playing and said to the lads: ‘Look, I’m feeling a bit low, I’m feeling down,’ the reaction back then probably would have been sort of ‘get a grip.’

“For me, I think to talk about it or to have someone you can talk to helps a lot. We are trying to get away from that stigma. Like the saying goes: ‘It’s OK not be OK. For men and women – it’s something that affects us all.

“It’s great that people feel they can come out and be open and honest about how they feel.


                        NATIONAL SERVICE: Steve Howey in action for England against Portugal
NATIONAL SERVICE: Steve Howey in action for England against Portugal

“A lot of people might see us as ex-players and say: ‘What’s he got to be depressed about?’ He’s had a football career.’

“In fact, you’d probably say 90 per cent of people would want to be footballers and to play at the levels we did.

“People talk about the money you earn, the cars you drive, the houses you live in… but it makes no difference.

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“If you are in a position where your own mental health really gets you down that much, you are not bothered about any of that type of stuff.

“It’s about getting your mind right so this is all we are trying to do. To get people to come out and not be afraid to show their feelings.”

The WATCH group are in the process of setting up a dedicated website ahead of the Kilimanjaro trek but anyone interested in finding out more about the project can follow Steve’s regular updates on his Twitter page @stevehowey624 and message him there.

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